Many cat owners choose to contain their cat within their house or yard.
They understand that contained cats live, on average, about one third longer with road accidents, falls from high places, entrapment and accidental poisoning causing many injuries or deaths. Cats can range widely and territorial disputes among felines are common, leading to injuries including abscesses that require treatment by a vet.
Legal restrictions on cats’ roaming
But in a growing number of locations in Australia, cat owners may no longer have the option to let their cats roam freely.
Since the publication of the Commonwealth Government’s Report of the inquiry into the problem of feral and domestic cats in Australia, local governments are increasingly restricting the freedom of domestic cats to roam. In Canberra now it can cost you $1,600 to retrieve a cat caught off your property at any time and similar regimes are in place in local government areas from Hobart to Adelaide and, soon to be, in Western Australia.
In addition to 24 hour curfews, many other councils are instituting penalties for cats caught off-property during nighttime hours.
Driving this is the large number of native animals that are killed by free-ranging cats. Predation by cats is responsible for the loss of 1.6 billion native animals every year. Feral cats are reportedly responsible for some 1.4 billion of this number. The Commonwealth report estimated that about one million animals were killed by Australia’s 3.8 million pet cats each day.
But local councils are also responding to problems raised by ratepayers like damage to property, noise and the fouling of private gardens and children’s play-spaces.
The health upside
But these compulsory curfews may have health benefits for contained cats and their owners.
Roaming cats spread diseases. Some of these, like fleas or ringworm, are unpleasant but only inconvenient. In other cases cats may being home diseases that are harmful to other cats in the household or even, like cat-scratch disease and toxoplasmosis, dangerous to humans.
A different way of being
In the face of this trend many of us will have to adapt to a different way of being with our cats.
Cats born and raised in a closed environment seem to accept it happily enough. Cat owners have used great ingenuity in adapting their particular back yards and other places to give cats a space in which to get stimulation and exercise. But contained kitties also may require extra time and effort on the part of the owner to engage and provide entertainment and diversion.
The perception of cats as a ’feed and forget’ pet is less true now than ever.
As the legal and social pressures to contain pet cats continue to grow, we will explore the implications and issues for you and your cat in future posts.
May you both enjoy a healthy and happy 2023!