Istanbul, the city of stray cats

by Ana

I love Istanbul for so many reasons; one is that there are so many stray cats and dogs living here. I know it is a strange reason to love a city, but the fact that over a million stray cats and dogs live together peacefully in the streets of a city that is home to more than 14 million people is meaningful to me. Let’s get to know more about the stray cats of Istanbul.


Istanbul is the city of stray cats.


If you walk around Istanbul, you will see that stray cats and dogs are part of the urban scene. There are possibly over one million stray cats in Istanbul! They are everywhere, and pretty much rule the city. According to this article from Hurriyet Daily News, the special status enjoyed by stray cats in Istanbul “partly derives from Muslim ideas about tolerance.” In fact, an Islamic popular saying goes: “If you’ve killed a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God.”

Another reason is that stray cats help to protect Istanbul from rats; even back in the times of the Ottoman Empire when there was a lot of wooden houses. These wooden houses would get a lot of mice and other pests. The stray cats of Istanbul were actually a mechanism to keep these little nuisances out of the houses.


Stray cats in Abbasaga Parki, Istanbul.

3 Stray cats having a nap in Abbasaga Parki, Istanbul.


One of the things that struck me most was the absolutely natural presence of stray cats in Istanbul. Another was the fact that they are welcomed by most locals who don’t consider street animals to be a problem. People in Istanbul not only respect their stray cats and dogs, but they also protect them by providing them with food and water and by building them little houses and shelters in the parks. Many stray cats of Istanbul have even been vaccinated, courtesy of state vets. All of these niceties reflect the warmth and kind nature of people in Istanbul.

Needless to say, stray cats and dogs also face difficulties by living in the streets. They suffer from disease, hunger, and dehydration. Sadly, the lifespan of stray cats is not very long. Most of them only get to live between 3 and 6 years, if they are really lucky.

Because of this, in some neighborhoods, people use Social Media to band together for the common cause of cat charity. For instance, this Facebook group aims to help people in Beşiktaş to organize the maintenance of all stray cats in Abbasağa Park. Cihangir… Cools for Cats is another network that has been helping stray cats and other stray animals in the area of Cihangir since 2011.


Stray cat in Besiktas, Istanbul.

A stray cat in Besiktas, my neighborhood in Istanbul.


In September 2012, when I was visiting Istanbul for the second time, I witnessed several thousand people marching through Istanbul in protest. They were against a draft law that envisioned the rounding up and relocation of stray cats and dogs to specially created “natural habitat parks.” Animal rights activists were outraged and didn’t trust the Government’s goodwill since they were reminded of a similar move in 1910. Back on those days, around 60,000 street dogs were deported to an island in the Sea of Marmara where they ended up eating each other. According to the records, residents on Istanbul could hear the dogs howl in agony due to starvation.

Animal activists succeeded in getting the law set aside. Thanks to this, we can still enjoy the presence and company of stray cats in Istanbul. Since they are used to locals, you will be surprised at how friendly they are!


Gato callejero y té en una terraza de Beyoglu, Estambul.

My friend Balaban drinking a Turkish tea with a stray cat in Beyoglu, Istanbul.



To conclude this post, I would like to mention a fine initiative that the Turkish company Pugedon has recently started in the streets of Istanbul. They have launched a project that combines recycling and stray animal care. As the following video shows, the company has introduced a plastic recycling device that releases a fixed ratio of kibbles every time a bottle is recycled. The Pugedon machines could increase recycling and provide food and water to the pets of Istanbul while at the same time waking up our social awareness and humanity.


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Michael Huxley July 14, 2015 - 20:13

I am a huge animal lover and I really enjoyed the fact that stray cats and dogs were just looked after by everyone. I always used to buy extra food and leave some on a plate for them! It reminded me of Kuching in Borneo and large parts of Egypt where they had the same mentality. It just adds an extra layer of awesome to each of those places.

Ana July 14, 2015 - 21:49

Thank you, Michael! I agree! It makes this city even more special! Plus the cats here are really friendly (since they are so used to be around people…). Cheers!

Kirstie July 14, 2015 - 23:39

I definitely saw a lot of cats around Istanbul, but I didn’t even think about their treatment. The Pugedon machines are such a great idea!

Brianna July 15, 2015 - 00:45

I love finding kitties when I travel 🙂

Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru July 15, 2015 - 09:02

We began to see the issue of stray animals differently during our visit to Sochi for the Olympics. It was a point of derision in the U.S. media that there were “so many stray dogs” in the area. And there definitely were many, but seemed to be free spirits coexisting peacefully with humans, who treated them with respect and affection. I related to your description of how things are in Istanbul and look forward to seeing for myself next month.

Ana July 15, 2015 - 13:30

Thank you for your comment, Betsy! Very interesting! I have never seen people more involved with stray animals than Istanbul residents. It is a really special relation as you say. Cool that you are coming, you are going to love this city!

Gloria @NomadicChica July 15, 2015 - 18:42

Loved this post! Made me remember all the great moments I’ve had in Istanbul last year. All the cats around the city are very lovely, my favorite was the cat elevator the old ladies have in many windows around the city, loooved it! 😉

Ana July 15, 2015 - 19:05

Thank you for your comment, Gloria! Yes, I feel so lucky living in Istanbul now, I really love it here and the fact that there are cats everywhere makes it even better! As you said, I like how people care about street animals. In my street, people always leave food and water for them. In the park next to my house, you always see people reading with a cat in their legs… hahaha. So lovely <3

Claudia July 17, 2015 - 07:29

Call me the cat lady. I love cats and wherever I go I manage spotting them. Lima? No problem, I head to Kennedy Park. Rome? Same thing, I go to Fori di Largo Argentina and spend hours at the cat colony there. I have been to Istanbul in September 2012 and it was sooooo cool to see the cats all over. I have tons of pictures of cats in shops’ windows, at cafes and restaurants 🙂

Ana July 20, 2015 - 18:19

hahaha, nice Claudia! I am a crazy cat lady too. Such a joy living in Istanbul with so many kitties around 🙂

Aileen July 19, 2015 - 23:27

This is so adorable! I haven’t been to Istanbul yet, but I’m now excited to see it in the future! Other than the sights, the culture, the people, and the food — there’s cats to look forward to! 😛

Ana July 20, 2015 - 18:20

hahaha, you see Aileen? There are just so many reasons to visit and love this city! Hope you visit us soon 🙂

TravelGretl July 24, 2015 - 09:55

Ooh, look how cute 😀

Tracy September 19, 2015 - 09:39

Great to know the reason why you love Istanbul.Another fact i like is that “cats protect the city from rats”. Well it was very informative blog. I would like to visit istanabul once.

Ana December 2, 2016 - 13:16

Thank you, Tracy! Not the only reason why I love this city, but cats definitely make it nicer! Visit us soon 🙂

Jub December 1, 2016 - 14:38

Yay this makes me happy! Wasn’t a fan of Istanbul for anything but the cats 🙂
Went and brought cat food, easiest way to make friends haha.

That’s when I discovered the shelters in the parks too!

Didn’t know about some of that history though. Interesting they protested…that’s awesome! Meow.

Ana December 2, 2016 - 13:19

Hi Jub, your comment made me happy too, so cool that you bought them food and made some friends… haha. The history of the cats and this city comes from long. Good vibes and meows 🙂

Chez November 26, 2018 - 00:01

How do the people deal or manage with the cats litter disposal?

Ana November 27, 2018 - 12:11

Hi Chez, good question! Cats are very clean and Istanbul streets are always clean of cat litter 🙂


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