The Five Feline Freedoms

Most of us cat owners fall in the middle of a spectrum that has “crazy cat lady/man” at one extreme and cruelty at the other. Still, the love we have for our cat(s) makes us wonder sometimes if we’re doing everything possible to give Kitty the best possible life.

Some animal welfare experts have us covered. They say that every cat has five basic “freedoms.” These also apply to every other household pet.

Freedom from thirst, hunger, and malnutrition

Cats are really easy to take care of: just some kibbles or wet food daily, and fresh water.

What’s more complicated is the nutrition part.

Cats are hypercarnivores, meaning at least 70% of their food must be protein. Also, they can’t synthesize certain vitamins and amino acids and need to get these from their food.

Things can get a little controversial. The vet is your best source of information about cat nutrition. Make the most of this resource by reading up on the basics before the visit.

Freedom from discomfort

This one can be challenging. Cats purr when they’re happy, but they also sometimes purr when they hurt.

And when they have a problem, cats are more likely than dogs to just tough it out quietly, instead of doing something blatantly unusual that might catch your notice.

Probably the best thing here is to look carefully for problems while you’re interacting with your kitty, either physical things like extra-long claws that might be irritating the toes or personality changes (hiding, not grooming, etc.)

And, of course, regular checkups at the vet’s are a good way to catch problems early.

Freedom from pain, injury, and disease

Again, your cat is a stoic, so it may not show pain. And when it is suffering, do you know what are the right treatments?

Drugs for humans, such as ibuprofen, can poison cats. Always check with the vet before medicating a cat (catnip doesn’t count).

Freedom from injury covers a lot of ground. For some people, it means keeping the cat indoors; others believe that lack of natural exercise outdoors is harmful.

All cats need a safe home environment, including the usual safety precautions as well as things such as “cat-proofing” the place, using safe toys that don’t cause choking or contain poison, and protection from unwitting dangers like small children, large dogs, and people and things that come in from outside.

Freedom from disease means vaccinations and regular checkups. This is especially important if your cat(s) go outdoors.

A less well-known health problem comes from genetics. This is not only birth defects but also breed-specific issues like kidney disease or physical deformities. Today tests are available to detect some of these diseases, so they can be treated.

Freedom to express normal behavior

Scratching is normal cat behavior, which leads into the declawing controversy, which I’m not getting into here.

What you might not know is that biologists aren’t sure exactly what “normal” is for house cats.

Even if they knew more about the behavior of Fluffy’s ancestor, the African/Near Eastern wildcat, it wouldn’t tell them much about the domestic cat, which has been living with us for thousands of years.

So this feline freedom is still open ended.

Freedom from fear and stress

Loud noise, heavy traffic indoors and out in the street, emotional or physical violence, lack of food and/or water, aggressive animals or people – these are just some of the frightening things that a cat shouldn’t have to deal with.

Stress is harder to identify. It could be something low-key but long-term, like an overfull litter box or even lack of cover in a completely open room. Cats love cleanliness and privacy.

As a final note, these are just a few thoughts I had today after learning of the “five freedoms.” You can probably come up with more.

Most of us already provide all of these basics out of love. Love is also why we wonder what else we can do for our cat. The “five freedoms” point us in some directions for going this extra distance.

“Thank you.”

Featured: Kitten exploring, by Jonasjovaisis on Pixabay.

Hand petting cat: AdinaVoicu on Pixabay.

Bernstein, P. L., and Friedmann, E. 2014. Social behaviour of domestic cats in the human home, in The Domestic Cat: The Biology of its Behaviour, eds Turner, D. C., and Bateson, P., 71-80. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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