Position Statement on Cat Welfare - BC SPCA
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Position Statement on Cat Welfare

The BC SPCA is dedicated to promoting the health and welfare of cats, and celebrating their close bond with people. At the same time, the BC SPCA acknowledges that cats continue to be undervalued by society and born in numbers that far exceed available homes. Therefore, through research, education, advocacy and outreach, the BC SPCA works to address cat overpopulation with the goal of creating humane communities where all cats are recognized for their intrinsic worth, and where humans and cats coexist and enrich each other’s lives.

Cat guardians should provide their animals with the Five Freedoms for the duration of their lives. Provisions for good welfare vary from cat to cat depending on their unique personality, age and health requirements. The BC SPCA recommends housing that balances the behavioural needs of cats with protection of wildlife. Most cats can experience good welfare indoors in an environment that minimizes stressful stimuli and offers species-specific enrichment. Controlled outdoor access can provide additional enrichment and protection from health and safety risks outside such as disease, predation and vehicles, while preventing harm to wild animals.

In addition, guardians should contribute to the reduction of cat overpopulation through spay/neuter and ensure their cats are permanently identified to assist in reunification should they become lost or stolen.

Approved by the Board of Directors – December 2022


All cat guardians should have a plan and provide for the health and welfare of their cats, with considerations made for:

  • An indoor environment that provides areas for toileting, playing, resting and sleeping, places for hiding, perching and scratching, and comfortable temperatures and low noise levels1,2;
  • Safe, suitable outdoor access (e.g., catio, leash walks) that prevents them from preying on wildlife;
  • Enrichment that provides opportunities for physical and mental stimulation to prevent boredom and frustration (e.g., puzzle feeders and toys that encourage hunting behaviour3);
  • Adequate nutrition provided in a way that mimics their natural feeding behaviour (e.g., multiple small meals4);
  • Opportunities to initiate or avoid social contact with people and other animals with whom they are bonded1;
  • Appropriate preventative medical care including regular veterinary examinations, vaccinations, parasite control and dental care;
  • Immediate veterinary care in medical emergencies;
  • Prevention of breeding (e.g., spay/neuter of animals not intended for breeding);
  • Permanent identification (e.g., microchipping);
  • Low-stress transportation (e.g., appropriate carrier design, preparation and training5,6);
  • Humane (i.e., non-punishment-based) handling and training;
  • Grooming appropriate to the breed;
  • Transportation, housing and care in the event of a natural disaster or other non-medical emergency; and
  • Aging and euthanasia.


Cats are social and can benefit from the company of other cats, especially related individuals such as siblings.7 However, in multi-cat households, particular attention must be paid to the number and distribution of resources, including food, water, litter boxes, scratching posts, and perching and hiding spots, to minimize competition and stress.2 Generally speaking, there should be at least one of each resource per cat. Resources should be separated from each other such that each cat is able to engage in the same activity at the same time without feeling threatened.

Management of outdoor cats

Outdoor cats fall along a spectrum of socialization level towards people (e.g., friendly or feral), ownership status (e.g., owned, semi-owned or unowned), confinement (e.g., mostly indoors or free-roaming), level of care (e.g., subsidized or self-sufficient) and environment found (e.g., urban, suburban or wild habitat).8 Assessment of the categories to which an outdoor cat belongs often cannot be determined on casual inspection, and cats may move between categories over time.8

While poor welfare in outdoor environments is not a given9, risks that cats face outside include attacks and predation by wild animals, fights with other cats, collisions with vehicles, diseases and parasites, frostbite and exposure to toxins. Cats are also a significant predator of birds, mammals and other small wildlife.

To address concerns associated with outdoor cats, the BC SPCA supports a collaborative, multifaceted, targeted and culturally sensitive approach that includes both shelter-based and community-based strategies. While these strategies account for both owned and unowned cats, unowned cats likely contribute the most to cat overpopulation and account for the majority of concerns.8

Such strategies may include:

  • Sharing information on the importance of spay/neuter and identification of cats;
  • Development and enforcement of harmonized animal responsibility bylaws that promote and resource spay/neuter and identification of cats;
  • Programs to support low-income cat guardians in accessing and affording spay/neuter, identification and other veterinary services;
  • Sharing information and resources to support guardians in minimizing their cats’ impact on wildlife and transitioning and keeping their cats indoors;
  • Shelter-neuter-return (SNR) programs for free-roaming cats entering shelters in good body condition to be returned to their existing community homes following surgical sterilization;
  • Trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs for free-roaming cats to be trapped and returned to their point of origin following surgical sterilization, together with rehabilitation and rehoming of friendly adults and socialization and adoption of feral kittens;
  • Protection of at-risk wildlife species and habitats through case-by-case relocation of existing cat colonies that are adjacent to ecologically sensitive areas and exclusion techniques to prevent establishment of new cat colonies;
  • Advocacy for increased availability and affordability of pet-friendly housing; and
  • Research into novel, minimally invasive means of sterilizing cats.


When selecting strategies, consideration should also be given to how the strategies may interact with or perpetuate societal systems of oppression. For instance, vulnerable guardians may be disproportionately impacted by punitive approaches involving fines and fees. Those who struggle to afford or access services for their cats may be more likely to be permanently separated from their animals by these approaches.10

Background updated – December 2022


1 Rochlitz, I. (2005). A review of the housing requirements of domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) kept in the home. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 93(1-2), 97-109. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2005.01.002

2 Ellis, S. L. H., Rodan, I., Carney, H. C., Heath, S., Rochlitz, I., Shearburn, L. D., Sundahl, E., & Westropp, J. L. (2013). AAFP and ISFM feline environmental needs guidelines. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 15(3), 219-230. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098612X13477537

3 Scherk, M. (2016). Optimizing an indoor lifestyle for cats. Veterinary Focus, 26(2), 2-9. https://vetfocus.royalcanin.com/en/scientific/optimizing-an-indoor-lifestyle-for-cats

4 American Association of Feline Practitioners. (2018). How to feed a cat: Addressing behavioral needs. https://catvets.com/public/PDFs/ClientBrochures/How_to_Feed_Client_Brochure.pdf

5 Rodan, I., Dowgray, N., Carney, H. C., Carozza, E., Ellis, S. L. H., Heath, S., Niel, L., St Denis, K., & Taylor, S. (2022). AAFP/ISFM Cat friendly veterinary interaction guidelines: Approach and handling techniques. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 24(11), 1093-1132. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098612X221128760

6 Taylor, S., St Denis, K., Collins, S., Dowgray, N., Ellis, S. L. H., Heath, S., Rodan, I., & Ryan, L. (2022). ISFM/AAFP Cat friendly veterinary environment guidelines. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 24(11), 1133-1163. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098612X221128763

7 American Association of Feline Practitioners. (2013). Your cat’s environmental needs: Practical tips for pet owners. https://catvets.com/public/PDFs/ClientBrochures/Environmental%20GuidelinesEViewFinal.pdf

8 Hurley, K., & Levy, J. (2022). Rethinking the animal shelter’s role in free-roaming cat management. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 9, 847081. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2022.847081

9 Thuesen, I. S., Agerholm, J. S., Mejer, H., Nielsen, S. S., & Sandøe, P. (2022). How serious are health-related welfare problems in unowned unsocialised domestic cats? A study from Denmark based on 598 necropsies. Animals, 12, 662. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12050662

10 Hawes, S. M., Hupe, T., & Morris, K. N. (2020). Punishment to support: The need to align animal control enforcement with the human social justice movement. Animals, 10, 1902. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10101902


Cat colony: A term given to community cats living in large aggregates around a food source. Note that not all community cats exist in colonies. Instead, they are typically found in smaller groups of two or three cats, so these groups would not accurately be described as a ‘colony’.

Domestic cat:  The only domesticated member of the family Felidae. Generally speaking, cats have not undergone major changes during domestication and their form and behaviour remain very similar to that of their wildcat ancestors. Many also remain capable of surviving in the wild and can revert to a feral existence.

Feral cat: A domestic cat who has partially or fully adapted to living in wild habitats.

Five Freedoms: A concept first developed by The Brambell Committee, formed by the UK government to examine the conditions on commercial farms. Now internationally recognized, the Five Freedoms are considered applicable to all animals.

The BC SPCA’s Five Freedoms (adapted from the original list) are:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from pain, injury, and disease
  3. Freedom from distress
  4. Freedom from discomfort
  5. Freedom to express behaviours that promote well-being.

The BC SPCA’s Five Freedoms form the basis of the Society’s Charter and describe conditions that must be fulfilled in order to prevent the suffering of all animals in human care. The Society acknowledges that these freedoms are not enforceable and that absolute provision of these freedoms may not be possible, but strongly encourages all animal guardians to strive to provide them.

Free-roaming cat: A term given to a cat who is found outdoors unconfined.

Guardian: A person who or an organization that is primarily responsible for the welfare, care and management of an animal. An owner may be referred to as a guardian, but the term guardian is preferred in order to express that the relationship is one of responsibility for the care of an animal, not just ownership of property.

Humane training: Training or caring for an animal without using pain, fear, physical or verbal intimidation techniques.

Shelter-neuter-return: A type of program through which free-roaming cats are brought to an animal shelter, spayed and neutered, then returned to the outdoor locations where they were found.

Trap-neuter-return: A type of program through which free-roaming cats are trapped, spayed and neutered, then returned to the outdoor locations where they were found.