People thinking about adopting a cat might ask themselves if it’s cruel to keep a cat inside? I feel an obligation to try and answer it. However, you can’t answer the question in simple, clear terms because it depends on many variables and if you asked the question 100 years ago they’d think you were mad because almost all domestic cats lived inside and outside the home at that time. There is therefore a very slow trend towards domestic cat confinement led by the Antipodean countries.
It’s important to remember, too, that there are two players, the cat and the caretaker. Many cat caretakers keep their cat inside for their (the owner’s) benefit primarily. It is an emotional issue. Allowing their cat to enter a potentially dangerous environment is too hard to bear for some owners. The cat does not mind.
‘Cruel’ is a strong word. Before I go into what it might depend upon it’s a good idea to define the word. It means to wilfully cause pain or suffering to others or feeling no concern about it. So it includes suffering, which is an elastic term covering a whole range of degrees of discomfort to extreme pain.
Not cruel in the USA
If you asked a hundred people whether keeping a cat inside was cruel, my guess is that about 30% might say it’s cruel but the answer entirely depends upon where you ask it. In America, I would suggest that around 80 to 90% of people would say that it is positively not cruel to keep a cat inside the home full-time for the obvious reason that it is much safer to do so. There are many potential dangers outside. You could successfully argue that it is the opposite of being cruel in America where there are predators such as coyotes who not infrequently attack, kill and eat domestic cats .
There are numerous potential dangers outside the home in any place and in some countries the dangers are more severe than in others which affects how you answer the question. Another major factor in how you answer the question is what it is like inside the home from the domestic cat’s perspective. If the home is designed around the domestic cat and his needs and quite large there is almost no downside to keeping your cat inside the home and the upsides are substantial. Under these circumstances it is probably the opposite of being cruel; it is being kind.
However, taking the typical family home in an average place, it’s probably fair to say that it is probably not particularly well designed with a cat’s needs in mind i.e. it is not environmentally enriched. If the owner is away a lot and the home is quite sterile (particularly open plan and modern) a person probably could successfully argue that it is bordering on cruelty to keep a cat inside. This is because the cat is unable to express his natural desires. Some would say that this is little different to zoo conditions.
Lack of feline harmony
There are other factors to bring into the equation. Let’s take multi-cat households. If a person keeps 10 cat inside all the time and it’s a group of cats which lacks harmony in that one cat bullies others and a couple of cats are timid and submissive, you could say that for some of the cats it’s cruel to keep them inside all the time under the tyranny of a bullying cat.
Saving street cats
Let’s look at another factor. Let us say that there are two cats on the street where they are abused, starving and in a very bad way. Let’s say they had six months to live if they were not rescued. A kind person rescues them, looks after them, takes them into her home where she cares for them tenderly and restores them to full health. She is frightened for their safety so she keeps them inside. She is retired and is able to interact with them every day. She lives in a small apartment. Is she being cruel to these cats? No, she is being extremely kind.
It is not cruel to keep cats inside (usually)
Putting all the variables aside for a minute and taking an average situation, my overall conclusion is that it is not cruel to keep a cat inside because of the great benefits in terms of safety. Safety should be the paramount objective of a cat owner. It’s above everything else and keeping a cat inside achieves that objective. If you could add an outside enclosure in the backyard then you’ve probably got the best compromise in terms of cat caretaking.
Compromise – not ideal
Keeping domestic cats inside is not ideal. It is a compromise forced upon cat owners because humans and nature have created a world which can be dangerous to domestic cats. Some owners accept the dangers on behalf of their cat. Others can’t.
Inside cat advocates
Inside cat advocates strongly argue that letting a cat go outside onto the street, in a busy, built up urban environment is cruel. Many people do this. They still allow their cats outside in the full knowledge that there are predators and cat haters out there. I would not say it is cruel but you could make you claim that it is. There are many cat experts who strongly advocate keeping cats inside. A lot of people think the default cat ownership attitude should be inside cats only. These are often wildlife conservationists but you have to respect their point of view.
In my experience cats want to go outside and explore. That’s their normal attitude. They need the space and nature to live life fully because the raw cat lies just beneath the surface. Inside cats are denied what they desire and need. They get used to it and adapt. They may even become frightened of the outside.