Britain's favourite pet is a "detestable" creature, second only to rats according to a poll of gardeners.
Three hundred million wild birds and mammals are killed by domestic cats every year and their toilet habits in other people's gardens don't endear them to neighbours.
But people are judging cats' hunting habits by human moral standards, says animal behaviourist Sarah Heath, and their bloodlust is welcomed in rat-infested cities.
Are gardeners unfair to cats? Should curfews be imposed on cats going out at night? Are we too intolerant of their natural behaviour?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:
Cats, dogs, horses are given a humanlike status by many "pet"lovers. You cannot consider them as meat, you would be considered a murderer . While animals like pigs and cows are as endearing and lovable. Mind you I do not eat cat or dog. I find it wrong that people have lost perspective. Be good to animals but they are animals.
"Dogs value the company of humans, cats merely take advantage of our good nature, goes the argument."
I disagree. My cat, Horatio, takes much pleasure in my company as I do in his. He greets me with purrs and nudges, bitches at me when I leave him out at night, and accompanies me while I walk the premises. He is as loyal as my dog (whom I caught digging in my flower beds).
will never understand the sentimentality that people seem to have in this country for birds, mice and other such creatures. Cats hunt, and if they kill some small creatures, so what!?!? Its not unlike saying, well those lions in Africa are a bit troublesome to the gazelles, perhaps we should keep them locked up too? I really couldn't care less about the pathetic whines of a few "twitchers" and will continue to let my cats out at night!
Will Hopkins, England
It really is pathetic. People need to accept they're not the only things living on the planet. Sort yourselves out - cats hunt mice and people drop bombs on other people, at least cats do it for food. I had a bird make a mess on my car the other day - perhaps we should put a curfew on birds as well.
People need to accept they're not the only things living on the planet
Suburban areas are ecosystems unto themselves. Humans, plants, trees, wildlife, and domestic animals live together in constant struggle. Our cats are part of this. In fact, cats help balance this ecosystem by preying on animals - mice, rats, moles, squirrels, and small birds - that have lost their natural enemies and might otherwise proliferate to excess.
The sheer grace and elegance of cats is enough to make one fall in love with them. They are far more intelligent than dogs. They aren't so irritatingly reliant as dogs and they don't widdle on every lamppost they come to. Plus, they don't slobber all over your crotch when they see you. It has also been scientifically proven that the frequency of a cat's purr is healing, both physically and mentally, long live the cat!
Oliver Robinson, UK
I am an animal lover and that means cats too. If it were not for cats the world would be over ran with rats and that means the black Plague and who knows what other kind of diseases. Stop complaining.
Contrary to the popular belief that cats bury their 'toilet habits', I have seen many cats in my back garden do their business then leave it unburied. Dog owners are legally obliged to clear up after their dogs, why can't cat owners do the same? It's all very well but some people have young children who enjoy playing in their gardens and they shouldn't have to worry about cat business all over the place. Cat lovers are very quick to complain about their cats being mauled by dogs, but are very short-sighted at mauling their cats give birds etc.
I have a deer visiting my garden regularly. She uses the lawn as a toilet and she eats my new plants, but the children and I love to watch her, especially now that she brings her fawn with her.
The mess is quickly cleared up and the garden can be re-stocked.
The trouble with those complaining gardeners is that they're basically mean. Cats can be kept out of gardens if you really don't like them - my next door neighbour manages to keep out my three cats with little trouble and at little expense.
Cats can be kept out of gardens if you really don't like them
Cats are among the more highly evolved species inhabiting earth. Perhaps this animosity of which you speak really represents a certain jealousy or, if not, competitiveness.
I can't quite see why everyone is complaining about cats and their annoying toilet habits. When was the last time anyone trod in cats mess walking in the local park? Dogs mess is by far the biggest problem when it comes to mess caused by domestic animals. Cats might cause a mess in your garden, but the problem of dog turd infested pavements (and particularly in France) is by far a greater health and safety hazard. Its bizarre to hear dog owners complaining about cats mess!!!!
I fail to understand why cats are allowed to roam freely whereas every other domestic animal, with the exception of the homing pigeon, must be kept under control. It really is time that the law was changed to make cat owners responsible for their pets actions. Owners are fined if their dogs foul public areas and it is just as natural for a dog to roam freely as it is a cat's. Horses, Sheep and Cattle are natural roamers but left to their own devices we would soon be up to our armpits in their natural secretions!
Stephen Hogger, UK
Here in Naperville, Illinois. (about 30 miles west of Chicago) we have a cat-leash requirement. I have a beautiful Maine Coon cat (Huckleberry Ferguson) and we have installed "Invisible Fencing". Huckleberry is now "contained" in our back garden. Both my neighbours have requested I let Huck loose as we are being overrun with rabbits eating our flowers, but he stays put in our garden.
Here in Illinois we have a cat-leash requirement.
Joy Ferguson, USA
I agree that you can't blame cats for being dim-witted, claw-slashing psychopaths with deeply annoying toilet habits. It's easier, though, to be dismissive of those cat lovers who look upon them as possessing great intelligence, wisdom and mystical powers. Get with the programme, guys!
It amazes me that a race capable of murdering thousands of its own people with high explosives and shrapnel bombs, feels compelled to complain when a cat kills a bird.
Could someone attempt to breed a domestic cat that can be toilet trained? Might be the right moment for the government to fund a genetically modified moggy that hates gardens and rubbish bags.
Derek S. Wailes,
Cats are all too often 'housepets' here in the US, they even have their claws ripped out so they don't spoil the furniture! So many dogs you meet here in the US are 'cracked' because they are never properly socialised off the lead. Perhaps the interpreters of this survey just twisted things a little? I mean, if asked which mammal I least liked to see in my garden, I might have said a cat but I don't hate them. Try living with pesky raccoons digging up your garden!
Penny Bryafield, USA (British)
People are more cruel than cats, people hunt animals for sport! You have to earn the companionship of a cat, you have to earn their respect. I find them very intuitive, intelligent, fun creatures, and I absolutely love them.
Intuitive, intelligent, fun... I absolutely love them
I have found that it is the average gardener's poor grasp of Feng Shui that causes cats to flock to certain gardens. Try moving your lupins closer to the fence.
Mrs Slocombe, UK
I wonder how many critters get axed by cars, bikes, lorries, trains and planes? How many ants did YOU step on last year you heartless murdering human? Seriously, haven't the statisticians got anything worthwhile to count? Everyone knows that if you eliminate the predator you set nature out of balance, and the biggest, nastiest predator of all is man, so leave the poor old moggy alone!
Richard Hough, UK
It is not that I detest cats but cat owners. They have this view that cats are free spirits and can go where they please. A cat killed one of my Koi carp (it too has a right to live) and I could do nothing, I have no rights. In Australia and New Zealand they have decimated ground feeding birds and mammals, ie the kiwi. I would vote for anyone that made cat owners responsible for the damage their pets did.
Alan Bailey, England
The dawn chorus outside my bedroom window at 04:30 would be much more appreciated at 07:30. Let's hear it for the cats!
Bernard Mccarthy, Wales
If a crow swooped into your garden and made off with a bird, who would you complain to? God? Cats are just as much "wildlife" as a fox or blue tit. "Domesticated" is just a fantasy - yes, they like to sleep indoors and come for food, but you can't take away a cat's instincts. Why the hatred for rats and the love of hedgehogs? It boils down to juvenile issues of cuddliness. Being a part-time nature lover is like being a vegetarian who eats fish.
Who would you complain to? God?
In this day of chemical fertiliser, I feel cats and their natural waste burying habits should be embraced. Perhaps we should take their cue in order to keep our roses blossoming all summer. Cats, you can visit my garden any time you like!
Nikki Brown, UK
I'm prepared to accept that it's 'natural' for cats to kill the birds in my garden and poo on my vegetables. In return, I expect cat owners won't mind if my dog behaves naturally, and kills their cats in their gardens and poos on their lawn. A cat in the house is a pet, a cat roaming streets and gardens is vermin.
People today are control freaks. Since when did we expect not to have animal waste in the garden? Laminate flooring and easy-wipe surfaces are OK in the house, but for Heaven's sake please do not try and make the garden sterile as well.
I am reminded of a great book many years ago: One Hundred Uses for a Dead Cat. My favourite was the umbrella stand.
Best bumper sticker:
"I slow down for horses... But speed up for cats!"
Why is it that gardeners should foot the bill to protect their gardens from neighbours' cats by buying expensive deterrents? I have a pond with many fish, and cats have happily killed some, with cat owners sarcastically saying "What do you want me to do about it?" How can I get compensation or cats permanently out of my garden without taking the law into my own hands?
How can I get cats out of my garden without taking the law into my own hands?
My husband and I have three moggies that we love dearly. One of our neighbours LOATHES cats and constantly demands that we train our cats to not even enter his garden. It's impossible. I wish some neighbourhoods were designated cat-free to keep moggy-haters like my neighbour away from cat owners like me.
Stacey Turner, England
Perhaps we should put curfews on yappy dogs. Frankly the more people I meet in life, the more I love my three cats!
Anita de St Denis,
I can't stand cats. I have the misfortune of having to live with one - it smells, wakes me up at 6am, destroys my personal belongings and begs for food constantly. I'd rather have the rat!
David Gordon, Canada
People have had cats for years - why the sudden change in the sparrow population? In my opinion the apparent loss of sparrows (in particular) is due to folks clearing their gardens of mature foliage to have a low maintenance garden - this is a fairly recent change and encouraged by all these 'do up your garden' type programmes on TV.
Rob Smith, UK
If a dog was to defecate in a garden where children play there would be an outcry (dog owners have to take responsibility) - but cat owners freely allow their cats to defecate anywhere without recourse why?? Surely cat foul is as dangerous as dogs'.
What do you expect? A world with no animals? Indoors is our time away from nature, but outdoors we have to share with animals and that's always been the way. I think we should learn a bit of tolerance for the natural world, and stop trying to control it so fastidiously.
Indoors is our time away from nature, but outdoors we have to share
Chris West, UK
Cats are snooty, arrogant and stroppy... who wants a pet to make you feel bad about yourself? Dogs rule.
OK so cats kill wildlife but when did one last savage a child to death?
Cats are evil, nasty, vile, disgusting, horrid creatures. And some of their owners are not far off. These cat-lovers, these sad lonely individuals who go into a pet store to buy cats, don't give a fig about how their decisions will affect other people or local wildlife. I hate cats. We need a government-led systematic mass extermination of these creatures. We could call it the Feline Solution.
Cats have a high level of emotional empathy and make excellent pets; the independent nature of cats should be respected. In busy congested cities, there are too many dogs allowed to foul pavements and parks. Much as I dislike the fact that cats use flowerbeds they should be applauded for there tidiness. Cats make much better urban pets than dogs!
British cats are usually very well-behaved. They would never do such horrible things like messing up someone's garden. British cats do nothing but purr in front of the fire place and keep old ladies company. Of course the problems with cats are to be blamed on the French. Rumour has it that they have built a cat shelter at Sangatte near the Channel Tunnel. From there, scores of dirty uneducated cats from all over the place sneak into Britain illegally and indulge here in murder and vandalism. It is outrageous!
I have a much larger problem with urban foxes where I live, but if cats are viewed as such a problem by so many, then Gordon Brown should introduce a cat tax for the people who own them.
Gordon Brown should introduce a cat tax
So, cats kill 300 million birds and small mammals each do they? Good! Do we want 300 million extra rabbits/rats/mice running around?
I live in Islington, London. At the back of the garden the Silverlink trains run and at night, rats in the hundreds pour onto the line and into the gardens. My cat keeps the house free of vermin and the garden clear of other cats. Cats are territorial. Problems with a cat in the garden? Get a CAT.
My next door neighbour is an avid amateur gardener and I have a male uncastrated cat. Last week my cat returned with the tip of his tail cut off and bleeding. Believe me they really do hate cats!
Ramsden, Walsall, UK
A key word in your article 'Are cats really so bad?', it refers to a Siamese tom cat. If people were responsible enough to get their cats neutered/spayed, there would be far less problems. Neutered cats are less likely to hunt. It would also save charities thousands of pounds each year in rescuing strays. We should not be blaming cats for being themselves, they make wonderful pets - humans need to take some responsibility for this so-called "problem".
I think it's rats who are getting the raw deal here: what's so bad about them? It's mostly a myth that they spread disease (at least, if they are not in your kitchen), and what harm do they do in the garden? Cats, on the other hand..!
To be regarded as being worse than a rat is a fate worse than death. I bring love and happiness to my owners who kindly adopted me when I was very young. This is zoological correctness!
Although I take great pleasure in watching birds and squirrels in my garden, I also enjoy watching cats wandering around, and they do not appear to be affecting the quantity or variety of birds which spend time in my garden. The philosophy of "keep the cat in at night" is a bit over the top, especially since that is a cat's natural time to explore - remember that cats are a part of nature too!
Cats are a part of nature too!
How can anyone say "cats are detestable"? They are just jealous that cats can lie on their backside for 16 hours a day then get fed whilst doing nothing in return. I wish I was a cat, let me tell you. C'mon the cats!
I think it would be a good idea to make cat owners keep them indoors at night although it would be difficult enforcing it. I have 10 cats and none of these go out but I still get other people's cats coming in my garden.
John Bailey, UK
My wife and I spend many hours in our garden planting flowers and generally keeping it tidy - only to find the next morning the newly planted flowers have been covered over by cats and their mess has been left uncovered.
Ray Spoard, England
Message to Ray Spoard: Cats always bury their droppings. If you're finding uncovered excrement in your garden it's not from a cat - more likely a fox.
To Alan, England.
I'm afraid I have to agree with Ray. I have seven cats surrounding my garden and they all view my garden as their personal toilet. They don't cover up their faeces, they merely leave it uncovered whilst digging up my new plants. I've also lost many a herb pot from my low wall from them jumping up to defecate in them. It's not foxes, I've seen them do it. I'm sure the more they know you hate them then the more vindictive they become.
My husband and I have four cats, three of which go outdoors and our neighbours love that we have cats. Before we moved in there was a mouse and rat problem in the back gardens and the problem has ceased.
If you keep cats in at night the problem will not be solved, they will just start hunting during the day.
If you keep cats in at night the problem will not be solved
Lara Southwell, England
How can you berate any kind of living creature for following its basic instinct? All too often, people 'humanise' animals and call their behaviour 'cruel'. To be cruel implies moral capacity and animals simply do not have this capacity. You might not find it pleasant but unless you want to rid the entire world of all predators, that is the way of things.
Helen Jenkins, Wales, UK
I have cats - all with bells on their collars but, at this very moment, I'm watching a pair of blackbirds feeding their young in my garden and they're eating dried cat food! The parents first came last year and the male would come and take one piece of food and come back many times for more. But when the female came to feed, she would take 4 or 5 pieces and she obviously told her husband what to do because he started doing the same and they raised two lots of babies.
I dislike cats in my garden simply because they defecate all over it. Cats are territorial and don't tend to defecate in their owners' gardens but go further afield to do so.... very irritating, even with a fairly large garden, especially when your neighbour has eight of them.
I think it highly unfair to quote an "estimate" of 300m birds/ mammals killed by UK cats every year. I had a cat that had no interest (thankfully) in killing birds or mammals during her 13 year life. I have another one who does (unfortunately - I am not glad about it). Cats are not all equal in their behaviour. I see many dead birds, hedgehogs and other mammals laying dead on British roads every year - who is counting them?
Cats are not all equal in their behaviour
I have a great deal of sympathy with my gardening neighbours. My wife is a keen bird watcher in our small town yard but no one has a word to say for the ever popular human companion - the cat. My cat stays indoors at night, preferring, it seems the quilt for the jungle. Come on! Cats and gardens can co-exist!
Last year, unfortunately, my cat did kill several birds. However, she also killed a family of moles that had invaded our garden - much nicer than mole traps and it kept her occupied for a couple of days!
PS I do keep her in at night now.