Stray Cats in Turkey: All There is to Know About Felines

stray cats in Turkey

Cats are without a doubt the most beloved animals in Turkey. For instance, the capital of Turkey, Istanbul is often referred to as “Catstanbul”. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that no other country on planet Earth is so obsessed with these cute four-legged animals.

Millions of stray cats wander the streets of Turkey and have been doing it for millenniums. You’ll see them occupying the best spots in restaurants and cafes and enjoying the sunny weather in parks. You’ll see them basically everywhere you go. How do humans feel about this?  There is a unique friendship between people in Turkey and felines. It’s quite common to see people feeding stray cats, nursing them when needed, and caring for their wellbeing.

Why are there so many stray felines in Turkey? Do cats in Turkey really have Instagram accounts followed by hundreds of thousands of people? What’s the connection between cats and Islam? Read on to learn everything there is to know about stray cats in Turkey.

Why are there so many cats in Turkey?

two cats sitting on rocks
Photo by Envato Elements

So, why is Turkey home to millions of cats? There might be a few explanations. The first one is that stray cats help protect major cities in Turkey from rats. This theory dates back to the Ottoman Empire when many wooden houses were invaded by mice and other nasty pests. Cats were there to protect the food supplies and defend these wooden houses. 

It is also believed that stray cats in Turkey protect culture? Yes, that’s right. Before printing machines came to the country, our four-legged friends were there to protect rare books and important paper documents from mice!

There is also another explanation for why there are so many cats in Turkey. Since Istanbul is a major port city with hundreds of ships, sailors needed to protect their food from rodents. The best way to protect the food was to have a cat, maybe two, or maybe 10 of them on the boat. When ashore, a few cats would go out to explore the city and never come back. 

Cats and Islam

homeless street cat
Photo by Envato Elements

Stray cats in Turkey are well-treated. As it turns out, one of the reasons why cats love Turkey is because of Islam.

The thing is that Islam preaches compassion towards animals, especially cats that are believed to be ritually clean. Cats have permission to go inside houses and even mosques.

Cats are also mentioned in the Koran and history books tell us a lot about how the Prophet Muhammad loved cats. There is even a saying “If you kill a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God.”

Cats of Istanbul

cat sitting on a bench
Photo by Envato Elements

With more than 300 active volunteers and thousands of followers on social media, Cats of Istanbul is one of the most popular groups in Turkey. The founder of Cats of Istanbul, Rana Babaç Çelebi says, how there are more than 1 million stray cats in the city.

Her group does a lot for stray cats in Istanbul. Volunteers are known to set up cat houses in neighborhoods and provide food and shelter for cats when the weather is bad.  The #catsofistanbul Instagram tag sees hundreds of photos of cats uploaded daily.

There are also many other animal groups in Turkey such as Tails of Turkey, Cat Paws, and Cihangir Cool for Cats.

Kedi: Documentary about Cats in Istanbul

street cat sleeping outside
Photo by Envato Elements

There is a fabulous documentary about cats in Istanbul called Kedi, which translates to “Cat” in Turkish. Director Ceyda Torun made this movie in 2016 and helped showcase how cats live in Istanbul.

For about 80 minutes, you will have an opportunity to see a story of seven cats in Istanbul and learn about the deep friendship between humans and their cuddly four-legged friends.

The movie made over $4 million at the box office and is one of the most beloved animal films in Turkey. Additionally, there are more viral cat videos in Turkey. We just love the one where a tram stops so that the stray cat can finish drinking water from the ground.

Turkey passes new law to protect animals

There is no shortage of animal rights groups in Turkey. Many of them are doing everything in their power to make the lives of stray cats better. From providing food to making shelters for cats in winter, these groups are known to be very active. Unfortunately, in recent years, there were a few cruelty cases against animals. This is why a few political parties decided to push for a bill that would enable perpetrators to hurt stray cats without facing serious legal consequences.

Due to public pressure on politicians, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) recently submitted the bill, and animals in Turkey are not classified as commodities anymore. The old bill was simply not good enough and most acts of torture and killing of animals ended up with just a small fine.

However, the new legislation redefines animals as living beings, which means that anyone who abuses, kills, and tortures animals can face serious legal consequences, even jail time! Animal rights groups also demanded the banning of pet stores, zoos, and animals in the circus. Unfortunately, the new bill didn’t include these things in the new legislation.

Celebrity Cats in Turkey

close up of cat
Photo by Envato Elements

Turkey is home to celebrity cats with Instagram accounts followed by thousands of people. Our favorite celeb cat is Gli! Born in Hagia Sophia back in 2004, this super cute cat is the famous guard of Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque and has over 100,000 followers on social media.

This chubby cat with beautiful eyes even met with former U.S. President Barrack Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan back in 2009 when they visited the Grand Mosque. A Turkish tour guide, Umut Bahceci is running the cat’s Instagram. He told the journalist of the Guardian: “I started noticing Gli every time I went to Hagia Sophia because Gli was posing for people like a model. I get messages such as, ‘Gli, we will come to Istanbul to see you”.

The good news is that after the revision of the Grand Mosque, it was decided by the authorities that Gili will continue living at Hagia Sophia!

Best Places to Spot Stray Cats in Istanbul

As we mentioned before, Istanbul is home to more than 1 million cats. Although you can spot stray cats on every corner of every street in Istanbul, there are a few areas with a high concentration of felines. Head out to Maçka Demokrasi Park in the Macka area to find hundreds of cats in one place.

Travelers visiting Istanbul can check out a small street located just off Istiklal Caddesi. The area is home to many suites, hotels, and restaurants. Here, it’s quite common to see locals feeding the cats.

Some of the other locations where you can spot hundreds of cats are areas around parks and mosques in Istanbul.

Reece Toth

Reece is the creator and editor of Travel Snippet. He has visited more than 38 countries over a 10-year period. His travels have taken him through the majestic mountains of Italy, into the cities of central Europe, across the islands of Indonesia, and to the beaches of Thailand, where he is currently living. He is passionate about travel and shares his expertise by providing the best travel tips and tricks to help you plan your next adventure.

View stories