Welfare of Cats
The BC SPCA is dedicated to promoting the health and welfare of cats, and celebrating the close bond and mutual relationship between people and their companion cats. Through education and advocacy, the BC SPCA works to raise the profile and intrinsic worth of cats to encourage society to take responsibility for cats in their communities.
Guardians are expected to provide their cats with a good quality of life based on the Five Freedoms. In addition, guardians are expected to contribute to the reduction of cat overpopulation through early spay/neuter, ensuring their pets are permanently identified should they become lost or stolen and preventing cats from predating on wildlife.
Companion Cat Housing
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 welfare and safety needs of cats with protection of wildlife. Most cats can experience good welfare indoors with environmental and social enrichment. For cats with a strong drive for outdoor access, a secure enclosure and/or walks with a harness and leash can provide additional enrichment and protection from health and safety risks such as predation.
Homeless and Abandoned Cats
The abandonment of cats is a criminal offense under the Criminal Code of Canada and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act. The BC SPCA supports preventing abandonment through public education.
Cats left to fend for themselves suffer poor welfare and, if unneutered, contribute to pet overpopulation. When well-intentioned citizens intervene to provide some aspects of care to a homeless cat, the BC SPCA advises individuals take steps to determine ownership of the cat and return the cat to the guardian. If individuals choose to care for a truly abandoned cat, they should take steps to ensure the cat receives good welfare as per the Five Freedoms.
The BC SPCA recognizes that colonies of cats exist in many regions of B.C. Cats (particularly females) will live in groups (colonies) where resources are available and colonies may be comprised of both homeless abandoned and feral cats. The BC SPCA supports the concept of well managed colonies where the principle goal is ending homeless and feral cat populations.
Good management of a colony includes an effective trap, neuter, vaccinate, identification and release of adult ferals. Emphasis should be placed on ensuring good welfare for the adult feral cats, rehabilitating and rehoming abandoned cats, and the socialization and adoption of feral kittens. A wildlife mitigation strategy should be part of a well-managed cat colony protocol. Management of colonies should include daily monitoring and detailed record keeping.
Approved by the Board of Directors – December 2010
Cats are the number one companion animal in British Columbia with more than 30 per cent of households having one or more cats1. Despite this, the vast numbers of homeless, feral and unwanted cats represent one of the greatest animal welfare challenges facing communities and humane organizations2.
While well intentioned, feeding a homeless cat population without ensuring 100 per cent spay/neuter provides the nutritional resources that result in increased reproductive rate and litter size for the remaining intact animals. This subjects offspring to further suffering and supports the continuance of the reproductive cycle.
Management of free-roaming community cats
Some free-roaming cats are capable of bonding with humans and may have the ability to live comfortably in human homes. If free-roaming cats cannot be humanely housed in traditional shelter or home environments, they require another option. Strong public support for the non-lethal management of free-roaming cats3 has led to an increase over the past 25 years in the practice of trap-neuter-return (TNR)4,5. Trapping and euthanizing cats is not supported by public attitude surveys6,7 and targeted TNR has been demonstrated to be more effective at decreasing cat populations than trap and kill efforts8,9.
When cats are removed and relocated to a sanctuary, their welfare can suffer because it is difficult to replicate the size and diversity of territory they previously occupied.
Housing and space
Research on cat welfare in sanctuary, shelter and cattery environments has demonstrated that space and density have a significant influence on cat welfare. Cats without enough space who must live in close proximity to other cats are more likely to be stressed10 and suffer declines in health11. The risk of suffering also increases where there are no adequate disease protocols in place and cats from different sources are grouped together.
While there is some research available regarding space requirements of social domestic cats in temporary group housing, no studies have been conducted on the housing needs of unsocial free-roaming domestic cats housed in confinement.
Cats who are able to have good welfare living with people should be adopted into appropriate homes. Some cats may not be adoptable due to extreme fear of humans (e.g. feral cats) or behaviour problems (e.g. aggression, inappropriate urination). Some cats who are fearful of people can be taught to enjoy human company over time through behaviour modification.
There is currently a paucity of evidence-based practices for temperament testing of cats to determine their potential sociability to humans. Therefore shelter and rescue workers are encouraged to use individual cat’s history, interactions with humans while in care, and response to behaviour modification training in pathway planning for fearful cats. Further, no validated tests assess compatibility for long-term social housing. Given this gap in scientific research, it is crucial that cats in social housing environments are given appropriate space and options for hiding and escape, and can access food, water and litter boxes without being threatened by other cats in the facility12.
Both owned and un-owned free-roaming cats have a significant impact on wildlife by predating birds and small mammals. Similarly, feeding cats outdoors can attract wildlife and facilitate the spread of disease. Educating cat owners and guardians while strategically reducing free-roaming cat populations (e.g. TNR) are the most effective tools for mitigating the impacts of cats on wildlife. Management plans for free-roaming cat populations should include a wildlife protection strategy.
To prevent conflicts with wildlife, cat food should not be left outdoors overnight or indiscriminately during the day. Free-roaming cats can be trained to visiting feeding stations only during specific time periods, rather than freely providing food at all hours.
The BC SPCA acknowledges that free-roaming cats can have a significant impact on wildlife directly through predation, as well as indirectly through disease transmission. Cat sanctuaries will not necessarily be an effective tool for mitigating harms to wildlife. The physical space required for an adequately sized cat sanctuary is large, it is expensive and difficult to install overhead netting to prevent the entry of birds, and may not be feasible for larger facilities. Even netting will not necessarily prevent birds from freely entering enclosures.
The shift in public opinion on non-lethal management of free-roaming cats challenges the common practice of trapping and bringing a cat to the local shelter. Trapping should only occur where the behaviour of the cat is evaluated to determine if the cat is social with humans and planning ensures the well-being of the cat through the process of rehoming or trap-neuter-return. Traps should not be left unattended13 and individuals trapping cats should follow commonly accepted trapping protocols14. Any large-scale trapping should follow best practices established for targeting to ensure the most significant population decline15.
Background updated – November 2018
1 Humane Canada 2017 Ipsos Reid omnibus polling data (unpublished). Funded by Humane Canada May 25 and 29: Ottawa, ON
2 Humane Canada 2017 Cats in Canada. Humane Canada: Ottawa, ON
3 Wald DM, Jacobson SK and Levy JK 2013 Outdoor cats: Identifying differences between stakeholder beliefs, perceived impacts, risk and management. Biological Conservation 167: 414-424
4 Berkeley EP 2004 TNR Past Present and Future: A History of the Trap-Neuter-Return Movement. Alley Cat Allies: Bethesda, MD
5 Boone JD and Slater MA 2014 A Generalized Population Monitoring Program to Inform the Management of Free-Roaming Cats. Available at: https://www.acc-d.org/docs/default-source/think-tanks/frc-monitoring-revised-nov-2014.pdf
6 Wolf PJ 2015 New Survey Reveals Widespread Support for Trap-Neuter-Return. Available at: https://faunalytics.org/new-survey-reveals-widespread-support-for-trap-neuter-return/
7 Mameno K, Kubo T and Suzuki M 2017 Social challenges of spatial planning for outdoor cat management in Amami Oshima Island, Japan. Global Ecology and Conservation 10: 184-193
8 Levy JK, Gale DW and Gale LA 2003 Evaluation of the effect of a long-term trap-neuter-return and adoption program on a free-roaming cat population. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association 222: 42-46
9 McCarthy RJ, Levine SH and Reed M 2013 Estimation of effectiveness of three methods of feral cat population control by use of a simulation model. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 243: 502-511
10 Kessler M and Turner D 1999 Effects of density and cage size on stress in domestic cats (felis silvestris cats) housed in animal shelters and boarding catteries. Animal Welfare 8: 259-267
11 Polak K, Levy J, Crawford P, Leutenegger C and Moriello K 2018 Infectious diseases in large-scale cat hoarding investigations. The Veterinary Journal 201: 189-195
12 Loberg JM and Lundmark F 2016 The effect of space on behaviour in large groups of domestic cats kept indoors. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 182: 23-29
13 Alley Cat Allies 2018 Community Cat Care. Available at: https://www.alleycat.org/community-cat-care-category/tnr/
14 Best Friends Animal Society 2018 Trapping Protocols. Available at: https://bestfriends.org/resources/trapping-protocols
15 Kortis B 2014 Community TNR Tactics and Tools. PetSmart Charities Inc: Phoenix, AZ
Abandoned cat: A cat who was once in the care of guardian but is now living as an ownerless cat.
Cat colony: A group of free-roaming cats that shares a common food source.
Cattery: A boarding or breeding establishment for cats.
Community cat: A term used to describe outdoor, unowned, free-roaming cats. These cats could be friendly or feral, adults or kittens, healthy or sick, and altered or unaltered. They may or may not have a caregiver.
Domestic cat: A domesticated member of the family Felidae, order Carnivora, and the smallest member of that family.
Feral cat: An ownerless cat born out of captivity, without human socialization.
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:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst
- Freedom from pain, injury, and disease
- Freedom from distress
- Freedom from discomfort
- 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 cat who spends most of his/her time unconfined outdoors.
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.
Sanctuary: Any facility that provides permanent housing to animals in need.
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.