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Greece and the beautiful Aegean islands are famous for their brilliant sandy beaches, and the iconic taverns by the shore.
If you’ve ever been a tourist there, then you’ve also probably noticed tiny eyes watching you from the rooftops as you take a stroll down the cobblestoned alleys, only to discover that these shiny eyes belong to the local cats…so many cats!
So why are there so many cats in Greece? Most cats you’ll encounter on the streets of Greece are strays. The mild winters help them survive the colder months, and in certain areas of Greece, the people take it upon themselves to offer the neighborhood cats food, water, and shelter.
If you’d like to know more about the large cat population of Greece, and how it came to be, then keep on reading!
Let’s get started!
Cats In Ancient Greece
To understand the relationship between Greece and the Feline species we should go back in time and see where it all began. Humans and cats have been coexisting for thousands of years, and according to studies the process of domestication took approximately 12,000 years.
While cats were the ones to initiate their own domestication, we often see cats during those ancient times as simply mousers and as efficient pest control, and even though that was their main service, the burial in Cyprus 9,500 years ago, where an unknown human was buried with their cat, tells us about a more personal connection.
If you look at both Greeks and Romans, you’ll find that they regarded cats highly, and saw them as a symbol of independence. According to historians “A first-century CE epitaph of a young girl holding a cat is among the earliest pieces of evidence of cats in Rome and, in Greece.”
Even the playwright Aristophanes (c.446-386 BCE) included cats in his works for a comic effect, coining the phrase “the cat did it.” Unfortunately in Greece cats have had less of a favorable reputation, but with Christianity, the appreciation of felines flourished, thanks to the legend of a cat protecting baby Jesus from rodents and snakes.
The Aegean Cat
Not only does Greece has a great population of cats, but this small country also has its own cat breed, named the Aegean Cat. These cats are native to the Cyclades, the Greek islands located in the Aegean Sea. The Aegean cat is believed to be a very resilient breed since they evolved without any human intervention, and they’ve kept their characteristics until this day.
While this breed might not be widely recognized or accepted by cat associations, you’ll find most likely find them on Greek Islands, and nowhere else.
Just look at this beautiful kitty taking a swim in the warm waters of the Aegean sea!
This beautiful feline breed has a lean and muscular body, their coats are usually a bicolor or tricolor, which come in black and white, red, blue, or cream, and some have tabby markings.
If you’ve ever been on Greek Islands like Mykonos, Naxos, Santorini, Andros, or Delos you may have seen their almond-shaped green eyes looking back at you.
Why Are There So Many Cats In Greece?
If you’re visiting Greece then be prepared to see cats almost anywhere you go. It might take you by surprise at first, but soon enough it’ll become your reality.
I’ve lived in Greece my whole life, and the image of a kitty walking alongside me is something I’m accustomed to. But even I get somewhat surprised each time it happens, wondering where do all these cats come from?
Most Of Them Are Strays
Some people might think that the cats in Greece are simply outdoor domesticated cats, or they the opposite that they’re feral, but the cats roaming the Greek streets are strays. As Lynn Buzhardt, DVM explains, “a feral cat is born and lives in the wild with little or no human contact. – A stray cat is a domestic cat that has been abandoned or has “strayed” from home and become lost.”
In Greece, the cats you meet on the streets are strays, that to an extent need the help of humans in order to survive. I’ve observed different kinds of behaviors from greek cats, some have learned to fear people and they hide or back away the moment you come near them. But there are plenty of cats that are happy to come over if you’re offering food or lots of pets.
These cats, friendly or not, usually form small colonies in neighborhoods where they’re being fed and loved, they’ll stick to these safe spaces and you’ll often spot them marking their territory to keep other cats away.
It’s Easy To Survive
In general stray cats face a lot of difficulties, such as the cold winter temperatures, starvation, infections and if they survive kittenhood they’ll still have a low life expectancy. Fortunately, Greece is a promising land for them because there are no harsh winters, cats are free to scavenge through the trash, eat the leftovers from the open markets, taverns, as well as being fed by the locals.
The strays in Greece are in a sense “community cats”, meaning they’re unowned and free-roaming and according to ASPCA, “if a community cat survives kittenhood, his average lifespan is less than two years if living on his own. If a cat is lucky enough to be in a colony that has a caretaker, he may reach 10 years.”
This means that the feline communities in Greece can survive in greater numbers and live long enough to expand their population, or at least maintain it. I always see bowls of cat food, water, and even DIY outdoor cat shelters designed to keep them warm during the colder months.
I myself try to bring food to the cats in my neighborhood, and I’ve seen plenty of regular cat people going outside only to be surrounded by a group of cats that are waiting to be fed!
Limited Funding For Neutering/Spaying
While the mild Greek weather and the kindness of the people are responsible for the survival of the local cats, the main reason there are so many cats in Greece was the lack of spaying and neutering in the past. The efforts to control the feline overpopulation only began when Greece joined the European Union in 1981. That’s when the Government finally took an interest in the rising numbers of stray cats in Greece, while before that cats were neglected, or even killed by the locals.
Thankfully the animal welfare organizations pushed the Greek government to take action, and along with the small organizations and the help of the local people they began to neuter and spay the stray cats. Many local veterinarians were also offering free neutering/spaying to stray cats, and there are plenty of shelters in Greece that fight for the welfare of all animals.
Non-profit organizations like the Nine Lives Greece state that “each year we get hundreds of stray cats in Athens neutered/ spayed (1,700 cats in 2020 alone) and we help improve the quality of life of some 500 street cats through daily feeding programs and veterinary care.” There are also many people who adopt stray cats in Greece instead of buying from breeders. I myself am a happy cat-mother of two stray furbabies that I was lucky enough to find in the streets!
The Greek Cat-Islands
While there are hundreds of millions of cats around the globe, Greece on its own does have a great cat population, and there are a few places specifically the Greek islands that could compete with Aoshima, one of Japan’s famous “cat islands!”
If you’re planning on visiting Syros then along with the island’s history and beautiful sights, you’ll have the opportunity to meet their notable feline population! These cats are part of the nature preserve in Syros and the God’s Little People Cat Rescue takes care of all the local cats.
This sanctuary became extremely popular when they announced that they were in search of a “Cat-whisper”, someone who’s knowledgeable in feline psychology, who will feed, and care for more than 60 cats, in exchange for a living wage and free accommodation. As you may imagine this job reached global news and it was shared 26,000 times on Facebook!
I mean if I didn’t have my own cats already I’d be the first to apply!
Another gorgeous island that is home to a large number of strays is Santorini. These kitties are taken care of by the residents and visitors as well as the Santorini-cats rescue group.
Having cats living on the island (about 5.000 strays) is a blessing, but too many strays, especially during the breeding season means that some of the cats might suffer and die, but thanks to such organizations, groups, and the kindness of the local people, these local furballs are neutered/spayed, and well taken care of.
While Cyprus isn’t part of Greece, the similar language, the close relations, and of course the massive cat population is a reason enough to mention this island!
The human population in Cyprus is 1.2 million, and there are 1.5 million cats on this gorgeous island! The underfunding of spraying and neutering services has been the major cause of this increase, as well as the quality of life the island and the locals offer to these fluffy rascals!
Should You Feed The Stray Cats In Greece?
Many rescue groups and cat-friendly organizations will tell you that feeding is never a problem when it comes to stray cats, but you should be careful where you do it. Some restaurants, villas, and hotels are not pro-cats and when seeing them near their premises they might treat them harshly.
Make sure you ask the owners of the tavern and the place you’re staying if they’re ok with you feeding the strays first. If they’re not then you could ask your travel rep for advice on the matter, and they might point you to a special feeding place the island has for the cats and dogs.
Leaving leftovers and food by the nearest trashcans, or in a reclusive spot where a kitty can eat in peace is also much better. If you’re staying in the same area for a long time and you find a spot where local cats congregate, you offer them food there and don’t forget to bring some water as well, since summer can cause severe dehydration.
Avoid giving cats bones because they might choke, or milk since it can cause diarrhea. Finally, if you feed a cat don’t hang around until they’re finished because they might get used to your presence and develop attachment over time, which will only cause them stress when you’re gone.
Don’t forget to go to places where they treat cats with love, it’s important that we as cat parents or cat lovers support other cat-loving facilities!
What To Do If You See Cats Or Kittens
Most cats in Greece are used to attention, some of them will run away from you the moment you come near them, while others will turn out to be very friendly, or they’ll at least wag their tail while you talk to them. But if you meet a kitty that’s affectionate it’s important that you don’t take them with you in your apartment or hotel room if you’re not planning on adopting them. Having an animal become attach to you and have you leave will only result in a broken furry heart.
I know that seeing so many cats on your holiday will fill you with joy and excitement, but it’s important that we respect the local kitties, as much as we respect our own. For example, you should never move a kitten unless you’re 100% certain the mother will not return. Often times mothers will leave their kittens for hours in search of food, so if you move the kitten it will most likely get lost and die.
If you find an injured cat it’s important that you contact the closest vet clinic and if you can’t find a vet, then a local welfare group will be more than happy to help! And finally, some tavern owners might shoo the approaching cats not because they mind them themselves but because they don’t want to lose customers, so, you could let them know you don’t have a problem with the feline company.
People who enjoy adventures, traveling and who also love cats will be happy to encounter these furry creatures photosynthesizing beneath the Greek sun. If you’re thinking of visiting Greece remember to pay your respects to these majestic creatures by offering them a few delicious goodies, and if you’re lucky enough you’ll receive their blessing in a form of a gentle rub against your leg.
Now tell us have you ever been to Greece and were you constantly surrounded by their furry presence?