The only cat in Portugal

October 8, 2012 • 12:02 pm

I have been here a week and have seen elebenty gazillion dogs, but despite having an eye for felids, I’ve seen precisely one cat—this one creeping along the wall of my pension in Porto. I was so excited that I ran into the garden in my underwear to snap it.

It is a basement cat.

Using statistical methodology, I calculate that

a. the ratio of dogs to cats in Portugal is about 750 to 1

b. there are about 1,231.83 cats in this country

40 thoughts on “The only cat in Portugal

    1. Ah well Douglas that’s because Google monitors the type of searches you have performed in the past to weight the results it sends to you now. Hence your comment says more about you than it does about Portugal or cats 🙂

      1. Doesn’t hold water in this case, at least for me. I am on a computer in Europe that is virtually new and the only searches I’ve done are for the local attractions. Now others on this wireless….well that might be another story 🙂

    1. wondering, is there any correlation between wine producing producing countries and dog loving vs. cat loving countries? after all, grain is subject to rodent noms, grapes, not so much. just curious…and Malta does make beer, i’ve had one, Portugal…can’t think of any

  1. I ran into the garden in my underwear to snap it.

    It is a basement cat.

    It rather looks like Fashion Cat, from the critical halfclosed eyes.

    1. I’d probably have an expression like that, too, if someone came charging at me with a camera. To say nothing of charging at me in their underpants.

  2. I’ve seen many cats in Greece, Italy and Turkey… more than dogs! I’ll never forget that cats swarming around the tables in a cafe in Marmaris, waiting for tidbits.

    One thing some of the biologists lurking here might explain: cats in Mediterranean countries always seem to have longer legs than cats in the UK. Is it a matter of climate plus (whisper it not in Gath) evolution?

  3. Jerry- Using statistical methodology, I calculated that the ratio of dogs to cats in Portugal is elebenty gazillion to one. This is the Maximum Likelihood Estimate. What method did you use? 😉

  4. I think I read vineyards are good corridors for wildlife, including a few small wild cat species and of course small rodents. I wonder about the animal cruelty and general regulation laws; in some states here it’s pretty good so more people keep animals indoors; I know in Greece it’s abominable. I also heard (rumor, sorry) that dogs run loose in Spain and that could explain some of not seeing cats, also if they’re all reverting to true feralhood you’re no more likely to see those cats than any other wild animal.

          1. Domestic cats are a massive problem in Australia, where they kill many ground-dwelling small marsupials. Because these animals feeding habits have, over the millennia, helped to create the ecosystems in which they live, the problem is much amplified, although there have been some attempts to fence fence off and isolate small areas in order to return them to their original, natural state, with varying degrees of success.

            In New Zealand, the problem is even worse, because the lack of predators led many bird, and at least one bat, species to evolve into ground dwellers or feeders, making them easy prey for domestic cats and other ‘introduced’ species, such as rats.

            The Stephens Island Wren remains the only recorded instance of a single animal, a domestic cat, killing all members of an entire species

          2. Hi Amelie,

            No, you are probably correct in saying that. It’s supposed to be a report (of the study) – at least, that’s what I’m led to believe.

            I’m at work right now and don’t have time to read it at the moment. I don’t even know how large the document is. I’m having a coffee break right now before a call from the USA (I’m in the UK) and maybe, I’ll have a chance to read it later.

            If you want to, or are interested, in the actual study itself then perhaps I could respectfully ask you to do a bit of digging yourself? Repeatedly saying “that’s not a study” to a couple of people who mention that cats might be a problem isn’t helping advance the argument one way or the other, is it?

            Cats are indeed a problem. The RSPB in the UK will give you as much information as you want, just ask – they’ve done studies.

            Cats are a problem in my own garden. A huge problem – there are around 20 of the things regularly using my garden as a toilet – which makes gardening somewhat of a chore not to mention the foul diseases one can catch from cat poo. Why do you think pregnant women are not allowed near the litter trays?

            At the moment I’m not doing anything about it as I have a number of foxes who have moved in. There are fewer cats around when they are here.

            Of course, that’s not a study either, just a fact! (Perhaps, just an observation actually – no double blind experiments here I’m afraid!)

            When I ask the cat owners to keep their cats out of my garden, I get told “they are just doing what comes naturally”. When I tell them I have a European Eagle Owl and it “naturally” might eat their cats, I get abuse. Surely that’s not a double standard I’m seeing?

            Anyway, no cats were eaten in the making of this reply. If you want the study details, I suggest you do what I did and Google for it.

            Take care.


            PS. By the way, I don’t have an Eagle Owl, but you should see their faces when they think I do – I’m such a joker….. 😉

          3. Hi Norm; I do certainly think cats need to be kept indoors. The reason I object to these generalizations about cats is they’re often overstated, and make it seem as though cats are somehow worse than humans in their decimation of birds. Trust me, they’re not.

            I’m a former veterinary nurse and I urge all cat owners to keep their cats inside and I work with feral rescue groups to neuter and release them, and domesticate them whenever possible.

            Many other groups insist that eradication is the answer, when actually the vacuum effect could make it worthless and more importantly it’s implemented in places where people are still (1) allowed to breed cats and (2) it is still legal to let them outdoors. What’s the point until they make these acts illegal?

            I like Eagle Owls. 🙂

          4. Hi Amelie,

            I’m afraid I have no experience of veterinary work, other than admiring the talent and skills of those who do.

            I also come from a hunting family. Ok, a former hunting family – my step father and my brother hunt, birds, so I can agree with your comment on the human decimation of the natural world. Basically, we suck!

            I’m a dog person myself, but I’ve had cats when I was younger. I much prefer the affection I get from dogs to be honest!

            I’m also with you on the “keep cats inside”, I know a number of people who do this, (in the UK) and their cats are as happy as any I’ve known. Somehow I don;t think they are missing the hunting part of their lives.

            My real preference in life is for reptiles and amphibians and sadly, these too are decimated by cats and humans alike. Certainly in the UK where the Common Frog is (a) no longer common and (b) a protected species. Every March I have hundreds in my pond, but the numbers dwindle every year. Soon, I fear, there will be none.

            I do love Owls as well. In fact, all birds of prey, but especially the larger owls.

            By the way, apologies for this reply being so far away from the original, it looks like Professor Coyne has a limit on the number of replies that can be nested on his web site.

            Take care.


            PS. I read the report. It appears to offer a number of references to studies, but as yet, I have not followed them up. It is US based, I think.

  5. I’ve noticed a wildly unbalanced dog:cat ratio in Mexico too. Dogs are everywhere, but cats are scarce enough to be noteworthy. But, the few cats seen seem well-cared for/pampered, whereas many of the dogs are neglected street curs.

    I’d speculated that it might be that house cats don’t do well in tropical areas without careful care, whereas dogs get by (if marginally) with no care at all. But, since Portugal is temperate, maybe it’s cultural? Human pet preferences vary between countries? Do they have lots more dogs than cats in Spain too I wonder?

    1. The same is also true of Nepal, India and a lot of African countries, which do have cats, of course, but they tend to be somewhat larger than felis catus, and less inclined to sit on one’s lap and purr.

      1. Mexico has lots of other wild cat species too: jaguar, ocelot, jaguarundi, mountain lion, etc. — but for some reason house cats are not common. Any ideas why?

  6. Jerry, you’ll have to tell me your technique!

    Every time I get caught outside in my underwear with a camera I spend the rest of the night with the local gendarmerie.

  7. IIRC, Portugal and the rest of the Iberian peninsula has a ‘true’ European Wildcat population (and in the larger story, again IIRC, european wildcats are descendants of north African wildcats, and N.A. wildcats are the ancestors of the housecat).

  8. I remember reading a VietNam memoir where the author said in all of his time there he only saw one cat; it was an old, battle-scarred tom on top of a shack, far from the reaches of the populace who thought cat quite tasty!

  9. A few months ago I saw a documentary about tracing the genome of domestic cats back to its origins. It was interesting and occasionally humorous (especially watching the teams getting DNA samples from feral cats around the world.) It was no surprise to find that domestic cats came from a smallish wild species in ancient Abyssinia. What was interesting is that these studies show that cats were never “domesticated” by humans. It happened the other way around. At some point these wild cats decided to work a deal with people: you keep us comfortable, warm and safe and give us some dietary variety and we will keep your food stores and homes rodent-free. The documentary did not mention how this agreement was made, only that it was. The oldest remains found documenting human/cat partnerships were on a small Mediterranean island where a grave containing a wealthy man and his cat (the cat was buried with the same honors and grave goods as the man) determined to be 9500 years old. The cat had not yet developed the ‘modern’ domestic DNA. Neither humans nor cats were indigenous to the island (only rats) and this pair was first generation emigrants.

    The other interesting find was that this “domesticating event” was even now happening in Portugal where a smallish wild cat is moving into the towns and cities. I don’t suppose you have heard anything about this study or what else might have been learned?

      1. depends on whether you’re coming or going, To clarify, the dead guy and company left their home on the mainland (emigrated)and moved to this island (immigrated), bringing a bunch of cat friends to help out with the rats. Prior to this the island supported only two living things (other than perhaps some insects, parasites and/or microbes)grass and rats.

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