Normally, it is unwise to feed someone else’s cat unless there is an obvious need to do so. This is a dilemma which confronts probably millions of people in America and hundreds of thousands of people in the UK annually. When cats are allowed to wander outside, they often visit neighbouring homes. The owners or occupiers of those homes may be kind, gentle people who like to feed their little visitor. Perhaps the more normal circumstance is that a neighbour has their own cat and there is food out for that cat. The visiting cat comes through the cat flap and eats the resident cat’s food. The owner allows it to happen. Should she?
There is a story in the online news media today about this dilemma, which prompted me to think about it. A Dundee mum, Nicola, had two cats and they were both allowed outside. Both visited the same neighbour. They were fed by that neighbour. Sometimes they disappeared for an entire night and Nicola became concerned. In the end she rehomed her cats with relatives. She claimed that if a person feeds another person’s cat and that cat then takes up residence in a new home, it is an act of theft. She was concerned that she’d lose her cats.
She discussed the matter with the police but they were unhelpful. This doesn’t surprise me. They don’t want to get involved with this sort of complicated, petty crime. It’s beyond them.
But for the owner of a cat, to see their companion animal spending a lot of time with a neighbour and being fed by that neighbour is galling. It is upsetting. It looks like theft, in a gradual, insidious way.
It happens a lot. Neighbours should not feed other neighbours’ cats, in my view, unless the cat is clearly underweight and underfed. I believe that that is a good starting point. The report indicates that Nicola is an excellent cat guardian by the way.
There are potential complications if you feed a neighbour’s cat. Firstly, the cat may become obese because they’ve lost control of their need to eat. You would think that domestic cats self-regulate the amount of food they eat. They often don’t perhaps because the dry cat food manufactured today is so addictive. And cats are drawn to treats and will eat them even if they’re not particularly hungry and don’t need it. Another reason why domestic gas become obese is because they live artificial lives being fed. You never see fat wild cats!
Also, an individual cat may be a under particular diet for medical reason. If you feed that cat, you will be breaking their diet, which might be harmful.
And if you continue feeding the cat, he may start living with you. In my view, as mentioned, this would be a theft although the police probably wouldn’t know what to do about it or even agree with that assessment. The problem is that domestic cats are not really ‘owned’ as an inanimate object is, at the end of the day. They decide to live with you of their own volition and if they decide they no longer want to live with you, you can’t do much about it.
There must be many neighbour disputes about cat wandering between homes. The neighbour who feeds someone else’s cat might argue that the owner should not let the cat out to wander into their home. They might say that the problem is not theirs but the cat owner’s. I understand that argument. It points once again to the need to keep cats inside full-time. However, this presents problems as well.
To return to Nicola, the Dundee mum, who was so distraught about gradually losing her cats. She says that the scenario that I’ve described is a ‘grey area’ and she said:
“Whilst some may feel feeding a cat is being done with the best of intentions you’ve got to respect this is someone’s pet. We’ve seen first-hand the problems this can create and on doing my research this is a more common problem than you think.”
I agree that it is a grey area. It is a grey area because the concept of ownership of domestic cats is very loose when push comes to shove. Domestic cats don’t consider themselves to be owned particularly when allowed to go outside at will. They live with a human who cares for them and in return they entertain that human and provide company.
The Scottish SPCA said that people should not feed cats that they don’t legally own. They said that feeding a cat might encourage him or her to migrate to a new home which is unfair. And they make the point that I have made which is that if a cat has food allergies and is on a special diet you could harm a cat if you feed them non-specialist foods which they require.
If a visiting cat is underweight and ill, I think you have to track down the owner and discuss it with them. Just feeding the cat might not be enough.
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