Cat theft does happen in the UK, but is it something you should be worried about?
Analysis by Direct Line revealed 261 cats were reported as stolen to UK police forces in 2016.
The number of stolen cats could, however, be much higher. Additional research in 2017 found that 360,000 adults believed a cat had been stolen from their care during the previous 12 months. 55% of these people had their cat returned.
The actual number of stolen cats is likely to be something above 261, but below 360,000. To put these figures into context, there are an estimated 7.5 million cats kept as pets in the UK.
With more awareness, cat owners can protect their pets. After all, they're part of the family.
Why are cats being stolen?
Most theft is about making money, and when it comes to cats this is achieved in two main ways:
Resale. Criminals will try to quickly sell stolen cats to keen buyers who don’t check the history of the animals. To help stamp out cat theft, always buy responsibly. Ask who bred the cat, whether they’ve had their jabs and so on.
Breeding. Cats could also be at risk of starting a new life being bred in horrible conditions. The RSPCA warns about people who've bred a lot from one cat. It tends to show irresponsible breeding.
Another reason thieves could be targeting pets, including cats, is the relatively low chance of being convicted.
Pet owners might not even realise they can report suspected cat thefts to the police. However, you could be disappointed if you do. The maximum sentence for stealing a pet is seven years, but it's more likely anyone prosecuted will end up with a fine or community service. While the cat theft conviction rate isn’t available, it’s reported that only 5% of dog theft cases lead to a conviction.
Do cats need to be microchipped?
Unlike dogs, you're not required by law to microchip your cat. Sadly, this makes it much harder to reunite stolen or lost cats with their owners. We recommend microchipping your cat. As Prit Powar, head of pet insurance at Direct Line, says:
"We urge cat owners to make it as difficult for would-be thieves as possible. Keep your details up to date on the microchip database and let thieves know that the cat is neutered. By putting this extra information on the tag connected to their collar, and spreading the word of your cat's disappearance as quickly as possible, it helps the pet become 'too hot to handle'."
Most commonly stolen cat breeds
Only limited data on the breeds of cats stolen in the UK exists, with just a quarter of police forces recording this information when logging cat theft.
You'd expect expensive pedigree breeds to top the list of cats reported stolen, and the numbers do back this up. However, the Domestic Shorthair (moggy) is also one of the cat breeds most often reported stolen, likely because it accounts for 55% of the UK's pet cats.
How far do cats travel?
Cats can wander far from our homes. In the Surrey Hills, they attached GPS trackers to 50 cats to see just how far they went. As you'd imagine, the results varied.
Scientists discovered that the cats appeared to share territory to avoid confrontation with other cats. They even used this time to visit each other's homes.
While the average kitty roams around 200m from their home, adventurous felines travelled much further and cautious cats didn't stray more than 10m from their doors.
"We don't really know why some cats roam while others are happy to watch the world from the window, but hunting for food is a basic instinct, and although today’s well-fed cats no longer need to find their next meal, some still have a strong hunting urge," says Dr John Bradshaw of the School of Veterinary Sciences at Bristol University, presenter of the BBC's Horizon programme, Secret Life of the Cat.
Would you worry about your cat if you knew where it was roaming?
What to do if your cat is stolen or lost
It's hard to know where your cat is at all times. If you think they're missing, it’s best to check your immediate surroundings first. They could easily be spending time in your own garden, garage or shed, or those of your neighbours.
Remember to ask people if they’ve seen your cat, as they often wander into other homes as if they own the place.
If your cat isn't found after asking and looking around, take the following steps:
Put posters up and spread the word on social media. You can't knock on everyone's door – it's a lot quicker to share posters, both online and on lampposts. Hopefully you'll have plenty of photos so your cat can be identified easily.
Contact local vets and rescue centres. These are places people might take your cat if they find it and have no contact details.
Hand out your contact details to regulars in the area. People such as postal delivery workers and dog walkers will be out and about more often than you. See if they'll take a photo and keep an eye out for you.
Register your cat as missing. There are sites where you can let people know your cat is missing in the hope of being reunited. Animal Search UK is recommended by Cats Protection and has a network of over 82,000 volunteers..
Make sure any details are up-to-date. If you've had your cat microchipped, that's great. Inform your microchip database they're missing and check that all contact details are correct.
If you think your cat has been stolen, report it to the police and get a crime reference number.
Preventing your cat from being stolen
Thieves are often opportunistic, leaping at a chance if they see it. But it's possible to outsmart them and keep your cat safe. You don't want to be paranoid and keep your outdoor cat cooped up all day, so take these preventative steps:
Put a collar on your cat. Collars are useful because you can attach an ID tag containing your contact details. But they've got to be well-fitted and have a quick release feature or it could be dangerous - you don't want your cat's collar to get caught in a tree or bush. Think about buying one with reflective material too, making the cat more visible after dark.
Get your cat spayed or neutered. If you include this information on their ID tag, it could put off thieves who want to make money breeding. It also stops local cats having litters their owners weren’t expecting and will make male cats less likely to roam away from home.
Bring them in overnight. It's possible with some cats to train them to come in when called. It might take weeks, but you can encourage them to come back with their favourite food. Anything you can rattle or shake to make a noise is good.
Be careful when you move house. Keep your cat inside for a while. It allows them to get used to their new home before heading out. If you can, restrict them to your garden for a few more days. Rather than stopping them being stolen, it'll help stop them getting lost.
Being outdoors is good for cats, but pet owners do worry about their feline friends when they’re out of sight. Luckily, technology is on your side. There are new ways to help you keep pets safe, including:
Outdoor cameras. Keep an eye on your cats with well-placed HD cameras. They're great at making a thief think twice about stealing your cat, while also providing video evidence should a theft take place.
GPS trackers. Wearable devices designed for pets can track your cat in real time. It'll help you locate them if you've not seen them in a few days. You'll also get their last known location, even if the GPS is removed by a thief.
Buying cats responsibly
Cat lovers can worsen the problem by unknowingly buying kittens which come from stolen mums. If you’re looking for a new furry friend, why not consider rescuing a pet?
It's rewarding to offer a new home to a rescue cat. Plus, good rehoming places will give pets proper health and behaviour assessments. It's their priority to get animals the best possible home.
If you decide to buy a kitten, you've got to do your own checks. Something's not right if you spot any of these signs:
The seller won't let you see the mother.
The seller expresses no interest in you or the pet's new home.
The price is too good to be true.
There are no documents for the pet's first vet visits, vaccination certificate, breed paperwork or microchip details (not a legal requirement for cats).
The kitten isn’t alert, has dull eyes or generally looks unwell.
How having pet insurance can help you
You might assume insurance is just for vet bills, but more and more insurers are providing cover for other unforeseen situations – like lost or stolen cats.
Direct Line cat insurance offers an optional a 5-in-1 care package, which includes £1,000 towards the costs of advertising if your cat goes missing. You’re also entitled to the purchase price of your pet up to £1,500 if they get stolen or go missing and aren’t found within 45 days.