Sometimes The British Are Wrong to Let Their Cats Go Outside All the Time

Scottish Wildcat
Scottish Wildcat – Photo by Peter G Trimming
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

The British are well-known for letting their domestic cat companions go outside at any time night or day. Almost all domestic cats in the UK are indoor/outdoor cats. It is part of the culture of Great Britain. It is in quite stark contrast to the culture in America where a significant percentage of cats are kept permanently inside. I guess we know that by now. There are often good reasons why Americans keep their cats inside.

There is an interminable debate about the indoor/outdoor cat and what is best for both the cat and native species. I take the middle ground. There are times and there are places when the domestic cat should be a full-time indoor cat and one of those places is Scotland (perhaps I should say “was” because the reason has passed).

About eight years ago the Scottish Wildcat Association (SWA) stated that there were about 400 purebred, genuine Scottish wildcats in existence in Scotland. At that time they said that the major danger for their existence was hybridisation with domestic, stray and feral cats wandering around Scotland. The domestic cat is able to quite freely mate with the Scottish wildcat producing a hybrid called the Kellas cat. A first filial Scottish wildcat hybrid looks very much like a genuine wildcat. It can be hard to tell the difference.

Three years ago the SWA stated:

“However you juggle the figures, it is hard to find anything positive,” says Steve Piper, the association’s chairman. “The overwhelming evidence is that the wildcat is going to be extinct within months.”

Scottish Wildcat painting
1902 Painting of Scottish Wildcat

Over the past eight years there has been more hybridisation of the Scottish wildcat until recently it has been stated by the SWA that there are quite possibly no genuine, purebred wildcats left in Scotland – it is believed that they are now extinct. The problem, as stated, is not really to do with loss of habitat because Scotland has plenty of habitat for this wildcat. Except for the border areas, Scotland has a very low human population density. That is why the wildcat survived in Scotland. At the end of the 19th century all the wildcats in England had been hunted out or became extinct through loss of habitat. The Scottish wildcat was not always Scottish. It was commonplace in England and called the “wildcat”. For the past 50 years, the great danger has been mating with domestic cats.

“Essentially the Highland wildcat is being eradicated by an alien invasive species: the domestic cat,” says Steve Piper. “Estimates suggest that there are now up to 100,000 domestic cats that have gone feral in the Scottish Highlands

Why then did not the Scottish government pass a law many years ago which prevented any domestic cat venturing outside of the home of the owner? The government could easily have made every Scottish domestic cat a full-time indoor cat through legislation. This was not even considered as far as I know. If such legislation had taken place 25 or 30 years ago, or even longer, then today, together with extensive TNR programs, there would quite likely be more than 400 Scottish wildcats in the wild in Scotland. The species would have survived.

I therefore have to conclude that the reason for the extinction of the Scottish wildcat from the planet is because of the culture in the UK of allowing domestic cats freedom to roam outside at all times and the failure of the Scottish government to pass a law which altered this culture.

Sometimes, it is better for the sake of native species to keep the domestic cat indoors within the bounds of the owner’s property which may include a large garden where they could be an enclosure or a specialist wall around the garden which prevents a domestic cat escaping. The British should be open to this. The British don’t consider this possibility seriously enough. It is a failing. There should be more full-time indoor cats in the UK.

This applies to situations in cities. Even in large, busy conurbations cat owners let their cats wander outside. The UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer let his cat wander from his home at No 11 Downing Street. It is time to reconsider this culture.

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

1 thought on “Sometimes The British Are Wrong to Let Their Cats Go Outside All the Time”

  1. I’m not sure that trying to change a cultural mind-set over night by legally obliging cat owners to keep them indoors at all times would have been welcomed or easily enforced. However, the Scottish authorities could have legislated for mandatory neutering of all domestic cats to help avoid interbreeding with the Scottish wild cat.
    Alas as with many governments, the preservation of native wild species was not high on their agenda and still isn’t.

    Whilst it’s true that many of us Brits allow our cats outside during the daytime, I can’t think of a single UK cat welfare organisation or vet, who would encourage owners to let them free roam at night. For me, the dangers of night traffic and more potential for cats fights, mean I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night unless I knew they were safe indoors.

    “There should be more full-time indoor cats in the UK.”

    Interesting comment. Whom do you think those cats should be?

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