For many people it is obvious that animals (including for purposes of this discussion cats) have (certain types of) agency (see included link to paper and referenced quote below).
“Animals are therefore agents; they act and their actions have consequences, they also resist conditions which they do not like and, in some circumstances, are able to change the conditions of their agency.”
Agency is a complicated philosophical topic with many technical details that I could spend the next twenty years writing paper after paper about (many have), however since I am not a professional philosopher, and have other plans for my next two decades, I am going to take/make up a simple definition and go from there. So for me agency will be “the capacity to act with free will, intention, and purpose.” Please do not take me to the woodshed over the inadequacy of this definition as believe me I am fully aware. Some would no doubt argue it is much too strong in it’s three requirements, whereas others for sure would say it doesn’t go nearly far enough. A third camp would say it depends, and then quibble forever about the definitions of free will, intention, and purpose. I do not ‘intend’ hah! to define those three terms but suggest you take them at face value and as used in their normal, everyday language way.
Based on the definition above I also do accept (with some limited exceptions) that most (possibly all) animals (though probably not insects or ‘lower’ life forms) have agency. Case closed, you might be thinking, so why waste my time on this stupid post if you already have the answer to the question you asked in your too smart by half title. “Great question” would be my reply if you were thinking such a thing, but then I would ask you if you think it is possible for an animal (a cat in this particular case) that we all agree has agency, to ever lose it, and if so how? No doubt you would pause for a moment to consider my question, then as its cleverness and difficulty slowly dawned upon you, gasp in awe, shake your head, and say “I have no idea so please go ahead and tell me what you think mr. smart guy.”
Surprisingly to myself, apparently I believe the answer is yes, a cat can lose the agency it once had, at least in the case of this very specific situation I am about to describe. I must believe the answer is yes as I used the argument that the cat in question lacked agency to defend it (unfairly in my view) from accusations of deliberate misbehavior and having a generally bad attitude. In this case we have a cat who was possessed of a certain set of personality traits and behavioral characteristics that very much endeared her to her very loving guardian. The cat was spayed and those personality traits changed significantly. Changed so much in fact that this loving guardian suggested that the cat was now a “totally different cat” and was not only much less affectionate and playful, but was acting actively against the direct wishes of her guardian. Willful, intentional disobedience, and bad behavior. I was a direct witness to the cat and guardian and their interactions both before and after the spay, and also had/have a good relationship the cat. I had not noticed any change in her behavior with respect to myself, though I did definitely note a cooling in the affection of the cat to the guardian. However, I attributed this to the guardian’s seeming bad attitude to the cat and not vice versa.
In any event one argument I used to try and mollify the guardian that the cat could not be intentionally acting poorly to her was that it lacked agency. It simply is not possible for a cat to willfully disobey or act poorly because it has no real “will” or “ability” to disobey as the terms and concepts of will and ability have no meaning for a cat, anymore than the ability to hunt and kill game with claws and teeth have any meaning for us. This argument put me in a bit of a conundrum when I reflected on it later for it committed me to the position that either the cat never had agency, or that the cat lost the agency it had when it was spayed. I do believe cats have agency as I described in the beginning of the post and it is patently ridiculous to believe such a critical facet of a things being could be lost over something as silly as a spay. Or is it? The hormonal changes associated with spaying an animal are profound. Could something like a major drop or rise in certain hormones and the resulting personality changes that occur because of it actually result in a cat or any animal losing agency? I doubt it but I must confess I do not know the answer and the implications would be profound if the answer were yes. It is much more difficult to kill an animal to eat if you believe it has agency. If a simple chemical modification were all that was required to remove it the temptation to do such a thing would be high. A ridiculous proposition perhaps but an interesting thought experiment nonetheless.