Should pet cats be kept indoors? New research explores attitudes towards wild cats
Should cats – New Zealand’s most popular pet – be allowed to roam free or should they be kept indoors?
According to conservation group Forest & Bird, there are around 1.4 million domestic cats in Aotearoa, with up to 40% of households having at least one.
Lobby group Predator Free NZ says cats kill birds, bats, lizards and native insects, bringing home only around 25% of what they hunt.
On the other side of the divide, many Australian councils have cracked down on stray cats. In Canberra, people will have to confine their cats from July 1, 2022.
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Although there have been calls for similar action in New Zealand, cats have been excluded from the Predator Free 2050 pest list.
Sarah Chamberlain, a masters student at the University of Canterbury, said New Zealand had one of the highest cat ownership rates in the world. She therefore dedicated her research to better understand people’s attitudes towards the confinement of cats.
This could include keeping cats indoors or keeping them indoors at night, cat enclosures, escape-proof fenced yards, and outside cat supervision.
Chamberlain used an online survey to gauge the views of 395 New Zealand cat owners and found that 6% were “engaged”, meaning they were most involved in cat containment and thought it was beneficial for cats.
In contrast, 30% (118) of people were “opposed”. They participated the least in cat confinement and were the least concerned about the negative impacts of free roaming.
“Our results demonstrated that if we are to encourage more cat owners in New Zealand to keep their cats at home, there are a variety of barriers to overcome,” she said.
“It’s not as simple as raising awareness about loose cats, cat owners need to have the ability to engage, the opportunity to be able to keep their cat at home, and the motivation to do so. “
Chamberlain owns cats and keeps them at home in a “catio”, which gives them access to the house and outdoors.
She acknowledges that the containment of cats is a controversial subject, but said it was not about demonizing cats but about protecting them.
“Cats allowed to roam freely can lead to predation of wildlife, including native wildlife, disruption of wildlife behavior, spread of diseases like toxoplasmosis, which poses a threat to our endangered marine mammals and can also be transmitted to humans.
“(Outdoor) cats are also at an increased risk of injury or harm to themselves.”
In the future, she hopes there will be an overhaul of what responsible cat ownership looks like.
“I don’t think it’s just about putting rules and regulations in place at council level,” she said.
“You need to change people’s beliefs and attitudes, educate them about the issue, and give them the tools and resources to facilitate their engagement.”