Too Many Cats In Urban Areas Stresses Cats

Domestic cats roaming and hunting

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

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.

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

22 thoughts on “Too Many Cats In Urban Areas Stresses Cats”

  1. I think Sarah’s scientific qualifications combined with her obvious love of cats and the number of years she spent working with them at Cats Protection, elevate her status way above many of the so called experts.

    Lucky you Michael, getting to meet this amazing lady in person.

    1. Sarah has a scientific, analytical brain. She likes and understands genetics completely which gives us an insight into her thinking. I am not sure she’d be a great presenter on TV though 😉 But I really like her. She has done a lot for cats. When she writes an article for PoC I donate £30 to Cats Protection Chelmsford! Nice teamwork.

  2. Dr Sarah Ellis owns two cats herself!

    Having watched all 3 episodes of Cat Watch, I can’t say I learned anything new from listening to Dr Ellis. The information she provided about cat behaviour was already in the public domain years ago, via books or from on-line web sites.

    I also found her continued mispronounciation of certain words (communial instead of communal) really irritating. I expected better of someone with her level of education.

    I’d have been much happier if they’d replaced her with Sarah Hartwell. Now there’s a lady from whom I can always learn something new and interesting about cats.

    1. I agree. There is nothing new in this BBC series. In fact the “experts” seem to know less than us 😉

      For example one of the ladies said that we don’t know why cats lick their nose but it is more or less accepted that this is displacement behaviour which occurs when cats are unsure what to do.

      I have just seen the third part of the series. Nothing new for me.

      Sarah Hartwell is very knowledgeable. She is more a pure scientist by nature. You may know I have met her and spent some time with her.

  3. This person has conducted an academic study of dubious merit in my opinion. Real life is never that simple. I have always had more than one cat and rarely have had a problem. There are indeed cats who need to be the only cat in a home, but in my experience they are in the minority. It depends on the cat. I think its dangerous when academics write this sort of generalized rubbish, particularly as countries like Australia are already anti-cat and won’t allow TNR etc. So many people seem to dislike cats here. Articles like this seem to appeal to the anti cat brigade who then demonize cats even more. I personally like to see more positive things written about the benefits we humans receive from cats and what wonderful companions they are.

    1. Pippa I agree with you and have made that point in the article. 99% of articles on PoC are positive regarding cats but sometimes I have to at least present an alternative view. There are problems though with cat ownership that need addressing. Thanks for commenting.

  4. I do think she is making a sweeping statement because she is assuming all cats are the same and they want the same thing which they aren’t and they don’t. Cats have personalities.

    That said with regards to the cats in my house at the moment the balance has been upset with the arrival of Mr Jinks. He gets on with the cats and they him but he does feel this need to chase Alfie upstairs as if he is claiming downstairs as his yet he is happy to share this space with Honey and Ozzie, in fact he seems to be Ozzies best mate and vice versa; they are often together. I think Mr Jinks being a young male just wants his own home and person(s) to love now as things can sometimes be a bit tense 🙁
    This is him looking intently at the camera 🙂

    1. Leah hes beautiful I love how hes got that white on the Nose, reminds me of jasmine on her right side of her face. He looks Very Calm& Elegant

  5. Her statements are at odds with those of other experts in the field who say that domestic cats are actually quite social animals as long as they can also have their own space when they need time out. It all depends on the cat(s). Having one cat on its own would be cruel if the cat is the sort that needs a feline playmate.

    1. We totally agree. I think she is an academic who is relying on standard theories about cat behaviour and not recognising that the domestic cat has become a sociable companion animal.

  6. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

    She makes too much of a sweeping statement and what would happen if every cat lover only had one cat at a time, there are too many homeless and killed already.
    Admittedly some cats are happier to be ‘the cat who walks alone’ Our Walter is one, but the rest of the cats we have had/have over 40 years have been happy to live with other cats. It’s just a matter of making sure each cat has private places to go, if they are provided for them, they soon stake their claim to their spot. Also equal love and quality time attention for each cat.
    Indoor/outdoor cats soon sort out their territories, we don’t have many cat fights here and we have lots of neighbourhood cats. The only time there is trouble is from visiting toms courting queens, irresponsible people haven’t had spayed.
    I do wish cat ‘experts’ didn’t think they know it all because no one does. But I do agree with her that it’s bad that some cats have no access to outdoors, most people could provide that in some way, even a small enclosure or balcony made cat proof is better than none.

  7. Yea I Get that from just reading the first few lines of the Article. I think sometimes People who dont really own Cats and dont have the Experience dont really know what they are talking about. Hope Charlie is doing better and you are getting some rest.

  8. Well I disagree with what she has said. My 5 Cats seem rather happy. I think maybe in a house where there is prob over 10, or more they are more stressed. I think also there possibly are other situations where the cats are stressed Like I remember Cassy in the early days was stressed as she was a cat that only like 1 or 2 persons. So I think different Cats react differently. It does take time for Cats to get along but once they have gotta along usual they are friends for life. Thats my Experience with the 5 Cats here.

    1. Kylee, your experiences are similar to many others. I wonder whether Dr Ellis has been too theoretical (based her argument too much on books and what we think we know about cats) in her assessment rather than practical.

  9. Thank you for sharing this article, Michael <3

    I think that a few points of Dr. Ellis are indeed right but as you say that the cats can live in a group inside and outside, is correct but I don't doubt that she loves cats and is interesting in the welfare of cats.

    But she has to understand the fact that has been mentioned by you at the end of the essay.

    Thank you 🙂

  10. Honestly, I’ve never seen any of the discontent that Dr.Ellis describes.
    Maybe my household is a little different since most all began their lives in colonies.

    1. You can see that I think she is exaggerating. It seems her point of view is a little bit entrenched in the past perhaps. The modern domestic and feral cat is quite adapted to colony or group living.

  11. Michael, i just attended the “Whiskas 2nd International Cat Show” in Mumbai and since the crowd was sparse on the first day did chance upon have a interesting conversation with the judges and the organizers on cats. Was baffled to know that German Petra.Muller (President of Middle East Cat Association[MECATS]) and a judge at the show had 325 cats living in her villa in Dubai.She is a authority on cats having founded a new breed called the “ARABIAN MAU” which was basically a stray street cat of the middle-east country’s.What would Dr Sarah.Ellis have to say if she met Cat lady Petra.Muller ? I took a photograph of myself with the cat lady Petra.Muller, a person and name i will never ever forget.

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