The birthplace of democracy, the home of the ancient Acropolis of Athens, and the land of the sun-splashed Aegean Islands, Greece is famous for a whole load of pretty awesome things. Another is cats. Stray cats. And plenty of them at that. There’s almost no part of the country that hasn’t become colonized by these lone-wolf felines. In fact, some estimates suggest that there are more stray cats in Greece than in any other country in the world!
From the streets of Athens to the idyllic island of Santorini, the back alleys of Corfu Town to the fishing hamlets of Rhodes, there are stray cats in Greece from head to toe. Either dozing in the sunshine or optimistically badgering tourists for scraps of food in the tavernas, they are as ubiquitous here as a feta-topped salad. Or, let’s put it this way: You WILL see one (read: You WILL see hundreds).
Animal charities have long called for legislation to help tackle Greece’s out-of-control population of stray cats and stray dogs. Until that happens, they are likely to be around for plenty of time yet to come. So, whether you’re a feline fanatic looking to help out the country’s strays or don’t really like these slinky critters and need some knowledge before you go, here’s everything you need to know about the stray cats in Greece…
How many stray cats are there in Greece?
Now that’s a tricky question. Truth is it’s impossible to know with any certainty the true number of stray cats in Greece. One group of animal rights activists recently estimated that the home of feta cheese and Zorba was also home to something like two million stray felines and canines. However, that’s a guess based on knowledge of stray cat populations in certain areas multiplied across the country. The real number could be less or it could be more.
One thing’s for certain: The number of stray cats in Greece is high. Like, VERY high. Anecdotal evidence is enough to back that up. Just walk through any town on any island or drop into any taverna. A meowing puss is likely to make an appearance somewhere or other. And if that’s not enough, some experts have said that Greece has perhaps the highest population of stray cats in the world, and certainly one of the highest in Europe.
Problem is, counting all the stray cats in Greece is a nigh-on impossible task. Not only is there no legal register of animals like there are in some countries, but the life of a stray is very different from domesticated animals. Some live totally feral and out of human contact. Others suffer disease and malnutrition and can have litters without a single person even knowing. On top of that, who’s going to travel the 200 inhabited Greek islands and the length and breadth of the mainland to count each individual? No one! That’s who!
Why are there so many stray cats in Greece?
There are a combination of factors that help to make Greece the perfect breeding ground for cats and kittens. All a cat needs to survive is something to eat and somewhere to sleep. Many of Greece’s stray cats rely on compassionate locals and tourists for a steady supply of food. For many people in Greece, stray cats are considered community cats, and all across the country it’s common to see a member of the local neighborhood putting out tins of cat food or small fish for the local cats to feed on.
Many local animal charities also feed stray cats as part of their wider work to help the feline community. Crafty and nimble enough to always be able to find shelter, if they can feed themselves and find somewhere for a nap, then a cat has a pretty decent chance of survival. That said, the life expectancy for Greece’s stray cats is pretty low, as day-to-day survival on the streets can be pretty tough, even in this sunny corner of the Med!
Another reason why there are so many cats in Greece is the speed at which they breed. A female cat can become pregnant as young as four or five months old. A cat’s gestation period is only around nine weeks, where it will typically give birth to a litter of between three to five kittens, though that can easily be more. An unspayed cat can get pregnant again as little as eight weeks after giving birth, meaning numbers can increase rapidly and get out of control fast.
On top of all that, neutering cats is still considered taboo and is very uncommon in Greece. Though there are some local charities that advocate trap, neuter, and return programs, they are small organizations that are manned by volunteers and funded purely by donations. Greece’s long hot summers and warm winters also provide the perfect temperatures for cats to live and breed. With a cat-friendly climate all year round, and a compassionate local population, there’s very little threat to their way of life.
Do stray cats in Greece have rabies?
There hasn’t been a single recorded case of rabies in Greece’s stray cats since the 1970s. On top of that, there hasn’t been a single case of rabies recorded in any animal – cat or otherwise – in the north of the country since 2014. Plus, the nation has officially been declared free of rabies in dogs. So, while some of the more feral cats in Greece may sometimes appear unclean, they generally pose little danger of passing on any disease to humans.
Some stray cats might carry some bacteria that can be harmful to humans, particularly around their mouths, but this is unlikely to be passed on or spread any kind of deadly disease. The wildest cats that are most likely to carry bacteria are likely to be the timidest of the stray cats and are highly unlikely to approach people. They are also less likely to live in built-up areas where they come into regular contact with humans.
Should you feed stray cats in Greece?
It is very common for tourists in Greece to feed stray cats. During the high season in Greece is when many of the country’s stray cats eat very well. The more outgoing of Greece’s stray cats are not shy when it comes to pestering tourists for food when dining outdoors at cafes, restaurants or hotels. While not exactly encouraged by restaurant management, it’s generally considered acceptable to share a tiny chunk of meat or fish with any cat that’s hovering for a bite to eat.
If you’d prefer to give stray cats a more orthodox meal then putting down cat food or a tin of tuna will always be appreciated and devoured by a no doubt ravenous herd of kitties. However, if you do plan on doing this, make sure any food is left in an area where it won’t cause any nuisance. Cats are often likely to return to the same spot if they think there’s going to be food. Business owners might not be too happy if you put down food outside their shop or a restaurant.
In some areas, cats have been known to be deliberately poisoned when they’ve been gathering in such large groups that upset local business owners. If you do put down food for stray cats, do it somewhere where their presence won’t cause any problems.
Can you bring a stray cat home from Greece?
Whether you live in Greece or if you’re in the UK there are dozens of animal charities with an almost endless supply of stray cats that are available for adoption. There are many cat welfare charities and organizations located all over Greece, many of which are looking for people to adopt some of the local strays into a loving home and a much more comfortable life off the streets.
If you take a shine to a specific cat that you’d like to bring back from Greece then it might be a little tricky. Stray cats come under the authority of local municipalities, and you would need their permission to adopt a stray from the street.
Cat rescue charities in Greece
There are a huge number of animal and cat charities in Greece trying to improve the lives of stray cats in Greece. Some are also looking for people with kind hearts and space in their life for a rescued kitty. Here are a few charities looking to rehome some of Greece’s stray cats either within Greece or in the UK.
- Nine Lives Greece – Nine Lives Greece is a charity based in Athens that seeks to help the city’s huge cat population through a number of different ways. Their main aim is to try and control the total population of cats through trap, neuter and return programs which would help to bring down the total number of cats born each year. Nine Lives also helps to keep local stray cats fed and healthy. Each day they feed close to 500 cats and administer medicines to sick or injured cats, whilst providing veterinary care to those most in need. The charity also arranges adoptions for those based in Greece, particularly Athens. Head over to their adoption page to find out how to adopt and to see the long list of cats currently up for adoption.
- Greek Cat Care Foundation – Much like Nine Lives, the Greek Cat Care Foundation is another charity trying to change the fate of some of the country’s stray cats. To help reduce the overpopulation of cats they too run sterilization programs as well as trying to improve the lives of stray cats by feeding and by providing medicinal and veterinary help where possible. The Greek Cat Cate Foundation can also arrange overseas adoptions.
- Greek Cat Welfare Society – Based in the UK, the Greek Cat Welfare Society is another charity aiming to improve the lives of stray cats and kittens all over Greece. Though they don’t offer adoption services, they partner with dozens of cat welfare groups and charities throughout the country and are a great point of contact for finding out how to help stray cats in specific parts of the country. They can also offer help and advice for anyone looking to bring back a stray or rescued cat to the UK from Greece.
Stray cats in Greece – a conclusion
There’s no doubt about it – there are loads of stray cats in Greece. One of the best estimations out there, made recently by animal rights activists, has it that the country is home to a whopping two million stray cats and dogs. It’s hard to know if that figure is right, but without major neutering programs and a culture that tends to support colonies of street cats, it looks as though the nation is set to remain something of a haven for feral felines.
The good news is that the cats in Greece don’t carry deadly diseases such as rabies – there’s not been a recorded case of that since the 70s! What’s more, there are now a number of dedicated cat charities that can help willing folks get involved with helping the plight of the street cats, whether through funding neutering programs or full-on adoption.