Categories: environment

Is it cruel to keep my cat in the basement?

Ninety percent of experienced, good cat guardians answering the question would probably agree with me to varying degrees. The answer depends on how long you intend to keep your cat in the basement and the reason for it. Another issue is whether the basement is safe for a cat for a short time. And I am writing on the basis that we are referring to a socialised domestic cat.

Cat in basement. This picture comes from a story about an abandoned cat in a basement.

I have made my point in referring to a ‘short time’. Without wishing to be rude, it would pointless to live with a cat if you intend to keep her in the basement the whole time. How is that living with a cat companion? Domestic cats are meant to be companions. That’s their primary role. It would also be cruel in my view. I remember a person keeping serval cats in their basement, a completely inappropriate decision. Some would say a mad decision.

If you are deciding to adopt a cat with the intention of keeping them in the basement full-time, please don’t adopt a cat. With the greatest of respect a person who wants to keep their domestic cat companion in the basement at all times is unsuited to be a cat owner. Cats need an enriched environment which is as natural as possible. A basement is the opposite to the desired objective: dark or dingy, potentially unsafe and sterile in terms of ambience. It is as far as can be from the sweet smelling outdoors of grass, vegetation, earth and trees. An enriched indoor environment with plenty of interaction can substitute the outdoors and it protects cats and wildlife. The best compromise is probably a cat of some sort or custom enclosure. A basement is at the far end of ‘no good’.

If you have a problem upstairs (e.g. building and decorating) which makes it unsafe for your cat companion and if the basement is safe for a cat i.e. no dangerous substances or cables etc. then it’s okay to put her down there for a short time by which I mean a day or two but no more. The basement should be throughly checked. Cats can get into mischief and trouble when left alone in such places. And they’d probably try to get out which can cause them harm.

And there should be frequent visits and interactions because it’ll be traumatic if the cat is used to having access to all parts of the home and light, space and nice smells. It’d would be dramatically more traumatic if she was an indoor/outdoor cat.

All in all not a good idea to keep a cat in a basement and, yes, I think that you’d find that most people would consider it cruel. I don’t think I am being too tough because if you don’t adopt a cat from a rescue center when you have the intention to put her in the basement that cat will probably be placed in a home where her life would be a lot better.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • Completely agree! We turn down people for adoption when they try to bend a cat to their needs or wants. I have ran into this situation a few times. The answer is never that straight forward as one would expect. It is a very thought provoking question. In the past, a ton of focus was put on the amount of space a cat had accessible to them.

    While space is awesome, it is not the main player in if a cat would do well or not do well in a small area like a basement in my opinion. We are now finding that enrichment and availability of fun things to do are even more important.

    I think every cat should have at least 15 square feet in a shelter or rescue environment - in the home environment I want to see at least 100 square feet For the first cat plus like 50 per additional cat at the minimum.

    Two of my cats live mostly in my room which is roughly 200 square feet. I spend a lot of my time after work in my room doing administrative work. I provide puzzle feeders, play time, and other essentials like scratching postS. They are quite content.

    The people I have a problem with are the individuals who sequester a cat away in the basement with minimal human interaction or very few opportunities to engage in species typical behavior. That is never okay because that often leads to chronic stress which leads the way to illness and unhappiness.

    These situations where the cat is isolated away usually are the result of a family member having allergies, cat disputes or maybe the cat is spraying. In these circumstances I think the owner should re-evaluate quality of life and consider rehoming or solving the behavior problems at hand.

    The average basement is cold, boring, and sometimes they are ripe with mold, water damage and structural damage. Not a great place for a cat to be in many circumstances unless that room is being used in the short term for acclimating a new cat to the household.

    • I agree. If there is excellent interaction with other cats and a person a smallish area is acceptable but a basement strongly implies that the cat is shut away without good interaction.

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