What Dr Sarah Ellis, a cat behaviourist, is saying may surprise cat owners because in general we see our cats looking content, snoozing and being well fed but she says that our cats are more troubled than we think; they are stressed because there are so many cats they are unable to indulge in their natural behaviour.
She believes that there should be a maximum of one cat per household in urban areas. Having more than one cat, she suggests, is cruel.
Cats are stressed at home because people want to keep more than one cat. In fact, for many years the mantra has been to keep at least two cats as they can be friends to each other.
What Dr Ellis is saying is that cats, being essentially solitary creatures, need their own territory and space and are not getting it when there are too many cats around which causes stress. There is also a lack of appreciation of the emotional requirements of cats.
In addition, when cats are allowed outside the population of cats is so high that they can’t help bumping into one another which causes a lot of disputes between cats.
She claims that when we have more than one cat we are giving them a home (which is good) but they’re not happy with this situation. We are keeping cats in higher densities than they are able to naturally cope with. In short, our love of the domestic cat is letting them down and stressing them up.
She also says that in terms of behaviour, countryside cats are psychologically happier because they have the opportunity to express their natural behaviours in hunting a roaming. On the downside farm cats and countryside cats probably don’t have the same veterinary care or quality of diet that cats receive in the city.
City dwelling cats do not have the same opportunities to express their natural behaviour. She professes that the modern trend for open plan households are a nightmare for the domestic cat because they need somewhere to hide and there is less opportunity for that in open plan households. In addition, people historically tend to stop cats jumping up onto mantelpieces and other high places because they consider it naughty behaviour when this is exactly what a cat needs to do. Cats like to be in high places because they feel more secure off the ground.
Roger Tabor the author of Understanding Cat Behaviour supports what Dr Ellis states. He says that:
“We are choosing to keep too many cats. We are causing stress related crises of behaviour to cats right across the first world. I only have one cat. People are horrified: they say, ‘How can you only have one cat?’ I say, ‘Actually, it is because I love cats.’ The more cats you have the more it becomes a problem for them. They become withdrawn, they don’t want to relate to people, they don’t want to relate to other pets. They crawl into a corner and try to get through life.”
I believe that Roger Tabor is also overstating the case. I don’t think it is nearly as bad as that. It depends on the cat. Many domestic cats have learned to be sociable and to get along in groups. This has been a development over the almost 10,000 years of domestication. The domestic cat is more sociable than many experts believe.
The amount of space that the modern individual domestic cat requires can be quite small and many have adapted to living in multi-cat households. However, that said, there is no doubt that many cat owners make an incorrect assumption that cats in multi-cat households will get along or they ignore the possibility that they might not get along. As stated, it is difficult to tell when a cat is stressed when unable to fully express natural desires and behavior.
Dr Ellis, in her research used GPS collars to track 100 cats for a new BBC television series, Cat Watch 2014: The New Horizon Experiment.
In tracking the movement of cats she noticed that the outside cats were bumping into other cats that did not get on with which thwarted their movements.
The Daily Mail article on this subject has a headline stating that having more than one cat in the city is cruel. I think that this is also very overstated.
According to Dr Ellis, people have adapted well to looking after cats but the cat has not adapted well to modern domesticated life. People have ignored this. She may have a point there because a lot of cat owners and even experts don’t have a complete understanding of the domestic cat’s emotions and therefore they do as they please with respect to the caretaking of their cats without regard for the hidden emotions of the cat.
Dr Ellis says:
“Cats are the ultimate control freaks. They need to be able to control their environment and we’re keeping them in a situation where they can’t always do that, particularly when they don’t have access to the outside – or they do but they can’t control what is available to them.”
She has strong views obviously but they are thought provoking and they do go to the heart of a problem that constantly besets us which is that there are too many unwanted in shelters. The fact that there are very often too many cats in shelters tends to support her view is that there are too many cats in homes. There needs to be more control and there may come a time when cat owners are obliged to take control through regulations and the law.