Murderous moggies: should we be locking up our cats at night?
From time to time, on a regular basis, there are calls to restrict the movements of domestic cats in order to protect wildlife specifically birds and in this instance bats. So, the call is for a night-time curfew for domestic cats. The first point to make is that we don't know how many bats are killed by domestic cats at night. I strongly suspect that it is very few indeed. But it might depend where the cat lives. In the UK we just don't see bats flying around at night but perhaps I'm being too casual about it. On a more important point, bats are more likely to be carriers of rabies in the US, for example. This is not an issue in the UK. However, this must be a factor for keeping cats inside at night.
|Where a cat wants to be at night despite the rain. Image in the public domain.|
And with respect to birds, I recently wrote about an RSPB statement that there is no scientific support that domestic cats threaten bird populations in the UK and I would suspect the same applies to other countries. Of course, domestic cats attack, kill and sometimes eat birds but the RSPB states that most often these are injured, infirm, and elderly and dying birds in any case. And therefore, the cat's impact on the bird population is lessened.
But here's the deal: the biggest factor in my view for the failure of a night-time curfew is that I don't think it is practical. This is the scenario: you let your cat go outside for 10 years as an indoor/outdoor cat. His behaviour is deeply entrenched. He goes out at night, every night and he sleeps throughout a part of the day.
You're going to have to put a barrier across the cat flap. Suddenly your beloved cat will be confronted with a barrier across his exit to the outside where all that excitement lies. And he's going to be thoroughly confused, bemused and ultimately pissed off. The problem is that he is going to be bashing at that closed cat flap. He is going to be head-butting it, clawing at it and bashing it with all his might in order to get outside.
He is going to be creating a lot of noise and quite possibly damage to the cat flap. And if he doesn't damage the cat flap the noise will wake you up. Then he'll start wandering around the house meowing and howling. He may well jump up onto your bed and wake you up. He wants attention. He is asking you why he has been kept inside.
You try and get back to sleep. He wanders around the house some more and head-butts the cat flap again. He settles down by the cat flap and snoozes because he has failed to get out. He stays there in the expectation that things might change.
Because he hasn't got outside during the night, he is more restless during the day and he tries to get outside again and finds the cat flap open. But he has to snooze and therefore, exhausted from the previous night's escapades he goes to sleep.
The next night he does the same thing all over again. Any persistently does this but day after day. This is because of his deeply ingrained habit of going outside at night. It is also because his natural body clock, his circadian rhythm, and his instincts drive him to hunt at night. It is almost impossible to train out of a cat's psyche these basic instincts. Domestic cats as you know are crepuscular: dusk and dawn hunters.
Eventually, though, he will admit defeat but I don't think there are many cat owners who could put up with the hassle of it all.
If you have a young cat who has always been a full-time indoor cat, it is obviously a different matter. They don't expect to go outside. There are no routines. However, for these cats there is a problem because very few cat owners enrich their cat's environment. It remains a human environment and therefore, in my honest opinion, they are doing their cat a disservice.
I know for a fact that if I tried to keep my cat inside at night, there would be mayhem. I know for a fact that it would simply prove to be impossible. He would make me miserable. So, I wouldn't try to do it.
And let's be honest again; your typical cat owner keeps their cat inside to protect their cat. They do not keep their cat inside to protect wildlife. People who allow their cat to go outside believe that they have to accept the predation of wildlife by their companion animal. They believe that it is part of the natural world. They don't like it but they feel that they have to accept it because to confine their cat is to prevent their natural instincts and desires flourishing which in turn will lead to a less than content companion animal. Good cat owners want to do all they can to ensure that their companion is content.
Nighttime curfews are an idea that is probably impractical for the reaons stated and in any case how the hell can you enforce it?! Impossible. You'd need a hugely enlarged police force or some sort of animal control task force. It is just not going to work.