The 5 freedoms and full-time indoor living for cats

There is a policy called the Five Freedoms which applies to farm livestock, and which has been mentioned in a study about the adaptation of domestic cats to confinement. It is something that I had not considered before. There are challenges in keeping a domestic cat confined to the home particularly when it’s a small home. The biggest challenge is finding a way to allow a domestic cat to express their natural behaviour because they live in an unnatural environment.

Window perch for indoor cats
CATROMANCE Cat Window Perch for full-time indoor cats. It uses suction pads and can hold 40 pounds. Image: Amazon.
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The study states that most domestic cats have not been selectively bred to live indoors 24-hour is a day. Nowadays there are millions of cats living that way. The question whether they genuinely successfully adapt to this way of life is worth discussing.

People who confine their cats to the home may say that their cats are happy because they show no signs of being unhappy due to confinement. But they may be misled by their cat’s behaviour. We know that cats are good at hiding emotional discomfort and upset.

Confinement can cause “bad cat behaviour”. This is actually normal cat behaviour as a reaction to not being able to behave naturally. This is where the Five Freedoms comes into the discussion.

The study states that the Five Freedoms can be modified to “assess the welfare of cats housed in confinement”.

The five freedoms are:

  1. Freedom from hunger or thirst.
  2. Freedom from discomfort.
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease.
  4. Freedom from fear and distress.
  5. Freedom to express (most) normal behaviour.

Satisfying the first four “freedoms” are more easily achieved in caring for a full-time indoor cat than they are for a cat that is allowed outside. That’s the easy part.

It is the fifth item which is more challenging. Jackson Galaxy, the American cat behaviourist, has written a lot about making the home environmentally acceptable to a cat confined to it. He recognises the importance.

Another companion animal specialist, Sara Whittaker, in the UK makes quite a nice point. She says that young full-time indoor cats will express their desire to hunt by chasing anything that moves. This is normally their owner. This is the origin of hunting ankles and biting owners’ ankles.

She states that “a cat needs to go through the stalk, chase, catch and kill sequence approximately 30-40 times per day to feel normal”. I have never read that before. It emphasises the need for a domestic cat to express this vital part of their natural behaviour.

When they become older the desire fades which makes them easier to live with for many people. The solution is to let your cat go outside but this is impractical for millions of cat owners because it’s too dangerous. Many owners cannot live with the fear that their cat might be harmed outside which is entirely understandable.

The only other alternative is to play with your cat. Play in this instance means providing your cat with a prey animal to chase. This means a cat tease or a ball of paper or a string which you drag along. We all know about these cat toys.

If Sara Whittaker is correct, the difficulty for cat owners is doing this sufficiently frequently to satisfy their cat.

It is my belief that very few cat caregivers compensate for the frustrations of cat confinement by playing with their cat sufficiently frequently (see link below for more on this). Or, indeed, ensuring that their home is, in the words of Jackson Galaxy, ‘catified’.

The title of the study: Adaptation of domestic cats to confinement. It is published on the Science Direct dot com website.

The big flaw that is never admitted in keeping cats indoors full-time

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