Is it illegal in the UK to stop cats from hunting?

The title is provocative. It’s meant to be as I want to provoke some questions. An article on the Catster website by Dr. Karyn got me thinking (thank you). She advocates keeping cats indoors full-time but she is aware that you need to make the environment inside the home suitable for a cat to enable them to express their natural behaviours. That’s the critical point. Hunting can be real hunting or substitute hunting. The latter needs an enriched indoor environment and a lot of human input. Is it happening?

Indoor live enriched for domestic cats where they can express natural behaviors as per the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the five freedoms
Indoor live enriched for domestic cats where they can express natural behaviors as per the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the five freedoms. The picture is fictional!
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Animal Welfare Act needs

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 sets out “animal’s needs”. A pet owner needs to meet these needs and they are as follows:

For the purposes of this Act, an animal’s needs shall be taken to include—

(a) its need for a suitable environment,

(b) its need for a suitable diet,

(c) its need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns,

(d) any need it has to be housed with, or apart from, other animals, and

(e) its need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

You will note that there is a need to allow a domestic cat to exhibit normal behaviour. A central aspect of normal domestic cat behaviour is hunting. It is the most important type of feline behaviour. The domestic cat is created to be a hunter. They’ve evolved to do it. Their anatomy is perfect as a land-based predator. That’s thanks to millions of years of evolution.

Five freedoms

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 appears to have been based to a certain extent on the Farm Animal Welfare Council of Great Britain rules formulated in the 1970s in which five freedoms were set out guiding people looking after animals. They are as follows:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst, by ready access to water and a diet to maintain health and vigor.
  2. Freedom from discomfort, by providing an appropriate environment.
  3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease, by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to express normal behavior, by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and appropriate company of the animal’s own kind.
  5. Freedom from fear and distress, by ensuring conditions and treatment, which avoid mental suffering.

You will see the “freedom to express normal behaviour” provision. It demands that pet owners provide sufficient space and proper facilities. Those facilities should allow a cat to hunt.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 implies that cat owners should allow their cat to hunt. It states that cat owners need to ensure that a cat’s need to hunt is met.

Indoor life alone is not enough

If you simply keep six cats in a home full-time without any facilities to allow your cats to express their natural desire to hunt, arguably you are behaving illegally but that would be far too harsh assessment in the opinion of many. Nobody is prosecuted for doing that but perhaps they should be because they would be in breach of the above-mentioned Act.

There are some very good and obvious reasons why domestic cats should be kept indoors full-time particular modern world with more road traffic and particularly in urban environments or where there are predators outside. However, you can’t just bang them up inside as if putting them in prison. There are the above-mentioned obligations to meet and they are difficult ones to meet.

It is difficult to truly enrich the indoor environment because it means the home needs to be equally acceptable to the domestic cat and the human caretaker. Very few homes are like that.

Dropping one of the needs?

And therefore, I take issue with Dr. Karyn’s assessment. She seems to accept that it’s enough to provide a cat with four out of the five freedoms mentioned. She writes that, “I can confidently say that most pet cats enjoy lives that are in keeping with at least four of the five freedoms”. She is dropping the freedom to hunt which is the raison d’être of the cat. It goes to the very core of feline behaviour and their lives.

It’s a big statement to say that it’s acceptable to carve out of a cat’s life a form of behaviour which is central to their lives.

Two aspects

In many ways I agree with this veterinarian. She believes that keeping cats indoors is part of being a responsible owner. It certainly might be in many places but it isn’t enough. There are two parts to the process. These are (1) keeping cats indoors to keep them safe and (2) making sure that the indoors allows the cat to express natural behaviours of which hunting is a central part. How many people do it?

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