4 May 2023, CWS Proposal for Legislating HDB Cat Ownership

Singapore has a unique ban on the keeping of cats in public housing. The formal stance taken by the government on this is:

“Cats are not allowed in flats. They are generally difficult to contain within the flat. When allowed to roam indiscriminately, they tend to shed fur and defecate or urinate in public areas, and also make caterwauling sounds, which can inconvenience your neighbours.”

CWS’ position is that this ban should be lifted entirely because the reasons are invalid; cats can be easily and successfully contained within flats, provided with litter boxes, and sterilised to prevent any inconvenience to a cat owner’s neighbours.

This position is supported by the data collected in multiple door-to-door surveys conducted as part of CWS’ Cat-in-Flats initiative in 2022 and 2023.

Further, our community engagement work has shown that pet cat-related feedback is directly traceable to irresponsible cat ownership. Our data shows that such irresponsible cat owners form only a small minority of all cat owners (<10%) but they have a disproportionately high impact on cat-related feedback in Singapore contributing to some 60% of CWS’ caseload each year.

Irresponsible cat owners can be easily taken to task by (a) setting out clear regulations on the minimum standards of responsible cat ownership in HDBs and (b) putting in place an incentive-and-penalty system to ensure adherence to the same. This would significantly reduce the strain on our public authorities like AVS, NEA, HDB and town councils who have to repeatedly resolve feedback without having in place a clear standard or enforcement mechanism, as well as allow for CWS to effectively engage and educate such owners.

CWS has prepared a framework setting out the requirements that we view as a minimum standard for responsible cat ownership and suggestions on the implementation for the same through legislation. We have also set out a three-step penalty structure that reflects the severity of continued non-adherence or recalcitrance.

1. Mandatory sterilisation of all pet cats

Sterilisation should be made mandatory for all pet cats that are approximately 6 months or older and have achieved the minimum weight for surgery (approximately. 2.2kg).

There are numerous benefits to sterilising one’s cat including direct health benefits to the cat like hormonal balance and reduction of risk of cancer and hence longevity.

Cats roam indiscriminately and caterwaul when they are in heat and looking for a mate. This behaviour ceases when they are sterilised. This means that the specific nuisance behaviour of roaming indiscriminately and caterwauling that is identified in HDB’s reasoning falls away. It is also safer for the cats as they will be less likely to get into fights or traffic accidents while roaming.

Needless to say, a humanely managed population of cats will also receive more resources per cat than an unmanaged over-population leading to an overall better quality of life for the sterilised cats.

CWS’s Cats-in-Flats survey showed that more than 90% of HDB cat owners have already sterilised their pet cats. The remaining population of irresponsible cat owners are contributing to cases of overpopulation within homes with consequential hygiene and smell issues, roaming pet cats and reports of caterwauling that CWS regularly receives. These cases can be quickly addressed and in one fell swoop by mandating sterilisation.

The mandate should be introduced in phases. It is suggested that there should be a one-year phase-in period for sterilising pet cats. During that period, CWS will continue to assist all families with financial difficulties to sterilise their pet cats so that they are able to comply with the legislation. After that first year, strict compliance will be necessary. Newly adopted or purchased cats will need to be sterilised within 3 months from the date of adoption / purchase. If the cat cannot be sterilised or the sterilisation needs to be postponed due to medical grounds, the veterinarian should issue a brief note on the same and the owner should produce this letter if required.

2. Pet cats to be kept strictly indoors

The second mandatory requirement should be to keep pet cats strictly indoors. In the event that a cat needs to be brought outdoors, for example for a vet visit, then the cat must be adequately secured and transported for example in a carrier.

It should go without saying that the prime benefit to keeping pet cats strictly indoors is the cats’ welfare – they will be protected from accidents, fights and abuse. They are also less likely to pick up topical parasites or ingest toxic material and even contract diseases. The second clear benefit is the assurance that the cat will not cause any disamenities to a cat owner’s neighbours, for instance by entering a home and/or defecating in the vicinity.

CWS’s Cats-in-Flats survey showed that over 90% of HDB cat owners are already keeping their cats strictly indoors so compliance with this regulation is also easily achieved. This requirement should be read together with the Code of Animal Welfare that imposes the duty on cat owners to ensure that their cats are kept safe. Both of these can be achieved quite simply through cat-proofing measures such as the meshing of windows and gates.

It is proposed that this requirement be phased in over a 3-month period seeing as less than 10% of cat owners who are non-compliant may need time to procure material to cat-proof their homes.

3. Microchipping of all pet cats

The third mandatory requirement should be to microchip all pet cats. The immediate benefit of microchipping is that there will be clear traceability of each cat and accountability of an owner to a specific cat.

CWS’s Cats-in-Flats survey showed that there is a low adherence to this proposed practice at the moment with only 27% of HDB cat owners having had microchipped their cats. The primary reasons that cats were not microchipped were (a) that there was no such requirement in place so there was no need for an owner to incur the cost and (b) that the cost was considered quite high for microchipping.

CWS assists to microchip cats sterilised through the Stray Cat Sterilisation Programme and the Pet Cat Sterilisation Programme. In the past years that these programmes have been conducted, some 20,000 cats would have been microchipped. This proportion can only grow as more owners are educated on the benefits of microchipping. A soft approach would be to work with veterinary clinics to reduce the cost of microchipping during this one-year period to further incentivise compliance.

4. Licensing of pet cats

Licensing of cats would be the natural follow on to microchipping cats as this too promotes traceability and accountability and can assist with the resolution of cat-related feedback. A similar licensing programme is present in the UK and Queensland, Australia as the benefit of having a tracking mechanism has proven beneficial. The licensing allows for the creation of a database of pet cat owners, similar to what exists for dog owners in Singapore today.

It is proposed that there be a similar one-year adherence period put in place for compliance of this licensing. During this first year, all licenses should be free for cat owners to encourage compliance.

5. Regulation of the number of pet cats in a home through the introduction of a permit system for 4 or more cats, and fosters

The number of cats that a cat owner can afford to provide care for will vary greatly and is contingent on factors such as number of cats, age of the cats and financial abilities of the cat owner. CWS therefore does not recommend placing any cap on the number of cats that a household can own. Instead, what would be more useful is to introduce a permit system that allows cat owners to own as many cats as they can prove that they are able to care for.

CWS’s Cats-in-Flats survey showed that approximately 85% of owners had 1 to 3 cats, 13% had 4 to 6 cats and only about 1% of owners had more than 6 cats. CWS’ proposal is that the majority threshold of 3 cats be adopted as a starting point. This means that households should be allowed to own up to 3 cats without any regulation.

Cat owners who own more 4 or more cats as at the effective date of the legislation will be required to self-declare this number and they will receive an automatic permission to own the said number of cats provided that they can show adherence to the other regulations like sterilisation or keeping the cats indoors. Cat owners who wish to add a 4th (or more) cat to their family after the effective date of the legislation would be required to apply for a permit before adopting or buying the cat.

A separate permit should be introduced for individuals who foster cats in their homes. Such fosters will be expected to comply with regulations like sterilisation and keeping the cats strictly indoors as well. They will register through an AWG to obtain a Foster Permit with the onus placed on the AWG to conduct an independent check on the foster’s home to ensure adherence.

6. Mandatory responsible cat ownership education for new cat owners

It is proposed that all new cat owners should undergo a mandatory responsible cat ownership education programme in the form of an online tutorial and quiz that can be accessed through AVS’s website. This will allow for a base level of knowledge about responsible cat ownership to be imparted to new cat owners and reduce the incidence of non-adherence to the legislation.


A three-step penalty process is recommended:

  1. Advisory letter – if a cat owner is found to be non-compliant, the authorities should issue an advisory letter with information on how to comply with the specific regulation and the owner will have a one-month period to comply.
  • Warning letter – if the cat owner fails to comply within the one month, a warning letter is to be issued with a two-week compliance period.
  • Fine – if the cat owner remains non-compliant, the authorities should issue a penal notice with a fine and mandate strict compliance. CWS will be able to assist with this by arranging for sterilisation or providing material to mesh a home at cost price of the resources.

CWS has been advocating for the legalisation of cat ownership in HDBs for a very long time and educating our population on responsible cat ownership. Our adoption drives and guidelines are probably the most widely adopted standards in Singapore leading to a more educated, responsible population of cat owners.

We must stop allowing the small minority of irresponsible cat owners to continue to cause disamenities to their neighbours and give responsible cat owners a bad name. This can be done through the legalisation of cat ownership in HDBs with clear requirements set out and pealties meted out. We will continue to advocate for legalisation of cat ownership in HDBs and work wit hthe authorities on the same.

Cat Welfare Society

At Cat Welfare Society we believe every cat should live a life free from fear and suffering. This is why we exist, to help those who can't help themselves.


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