Should I keep my cat in at night? This is a very often quoted question. There are millions of answers. It’s useful to ask why a domestic cat should be kept at night. Are they good reasons and is the decision sound?
Clearly, a lot of people think that domestic cats do most of their hunting at night and therefore the objective is to stop domestic cats hunting wildlife. That’s perhaps the main reason why people should keep the cat inside at night.
It is not entirely true that domestic cats do their hunting at night. In fact, the best book on wild cat behaviour does not refer to domestic cats hunting at night. Domestic cats behave like wild cats and the book that I refer to, Wild Cats of the World, has a lengthy section on domestic cats.
It is agreed that domestic cats have a tendency to hunt at dawn and dusk and of course at night but also, importantly, during the daytime. It could be argued that domestic cats hunt at any time of the day and night but certainly they are often active at night.
Keeping domestic cats inside at night does not automatically protect wildlife. Simply by keeping a domestic cat inside for half to three-quarters of the 24-hour day reduces their ability to prey on wildlife. That should be true but might they compensate and be more active when allowed out?
As domestic cats are often active at night, the argument is that keeping them indoors stops them being run over by vehicles on the road. I don’t have statistics which supports that argument (there are none) although it may be true. The counterargument is that there is less traffic at night. It may be the case that cats are most often run over in the early hours of the morning i.e. at dawn. This is a time when they can be active hunting. They may be on their way home, crossing a road at 5 am in the morning as traffic starts to build up.
There is, therefore, an argument that keeping your cat indoors at night might help with safety. However, during summer it is light at about 4 to 5 am in the UK so strictly speaking the argument that preventing your cat going out at night is safer for the cat doesn’t work. We need to be more precise with our timings.
On the issue of both safety and protecting wildlife, keeping your cat confined at night will have some benefit but it is not a wonderful fix which solves these problems.
Decisions like keeping your cat inside at night must be based on a balancing act between allowing a cat to behave naturally and having a full life while minimising risk to wildlife and safety. It is not a black-and-white situation.
I have a particular case in point based upon personal experience. My neighbour, two houses down, is poisoning rats with a typical anticoagulant rat poison. I have objected on the basis that many cats use a right of away behind our houses including my cat. My cat is a very able hunter. His life is jeopardised. Their argument is that I should keep my cat inside at night to protect him. But my cat hunts at day and night – anytime. It would not 100% protect him to keep him inside at night. It may lessen his chances of catching a poisoned rat but it would not eliminate the possibility.
In fact, for a hunter like my cat, keeping him inside all night may lead to greater hunting activity during the daytime. Cats are adaptable. And as I said, you can’t really refer to daytime and nighttime as a method of deciding when to keep your cat inside because it is light at 5 am in the UK in the summer. In winter it is dark between 5 pm and 7 am. If you kept your cat inside at night during a British winter you would be keeping them inside for 2/3 to 3/4 of the 24-hour day.
In Britain there are no predators of domestic cats other than perhaps the occasional fox being bold enough to attack a small or elderly cat. Therefore you cannot argue that a cat should be kept inside to protect them against predators. The only reason is to keep them inside for their safety is to stop them being run over by traffic.
If you want to protect your cat from being run over it would be wise to keep your cat inside from 4 am to 10 am rather than the whole night. That’s obviously impractical but it does support the argument that confining your cat for the entirety of the night is a blunt process.
It is a matter of personal decision whether you keep your cat inside at night. There are some advantages as described but it is a blunt instrument and not a magical panacea. Confinement should ideally be at dawn and dusk rather than the whole night.