Keep Cats Indoors
Trap, Neuter, and Release: Bad for Cats, Disaster for Birds
by American Bird Conservancy
The Life of an Outdoor Cat
by Mackenzie Goldthwait, Veterinarian
It’s 10AM. Do you know where Kitty is? Of course, what a silly question, she is lounging on the patio soaking up the sun. So you look out the window and watch in horror as she silently, despite the bell on her collar, creeps across the yard with her sights set on the cute chickadee picking seed out of the birdfeeder hanging from the pole in your backyard. Kitty is ready to pounce on it with deadly accuracy. You glance in her food bowl and see that she did indeed eat her breakfast, so why is she hunting? It is an instinctual sport to her, a game. Domestic cats do not hunt because they are hungry. They rarely kill their prey outright when they catch it. They play with it until it is dead, then tire of it and go off to find another live toy. What about the bell? Won’t the birds and other wildlife be warned by the noise? As soon as a cat wearing a bell is thwarted in catching a wild creature because of the sound of the bell, he or she will learn to prevent the bell from making any noise. You quickly run to the patio door and yell at Kitty. The chickadee flies away unharmed but Kitty, also startled by your yell scales the six foot fence surrounding her “territory” and disappears into the greenbelt bordering a busy road. That is another shock because Kitty “never leaves the yard.”
Now it’s 2AM. Do you know where Kitty is? The last time you saw her she was running toward that busy road. You are worried sick and not sleeping well now hoping she will return and meow at the door to come in. You ask yourself the question: is it cruel to deprive your cat of an outdoor life?
The Dangers Cats Face When They Are Allowed Outdoors
Although both have nine lives, outdoor cats do not live as long as indoor cats. There are a multitude of threats to the life and health of an outdoor cat: exposure to disease, collision with an automobile, attack by a dog or wild animal, and ingestion of poison. Diseases are widespread and all are potentially deadly. Feline leukemia is a virus carried by many outdoor cats and can be transmitted by cats grooming each other as well as by fighting or sexual contact. Rabies is a well-known virus that is transmitted in the saliva of an infected animal through a bite wound. Cats can also contract rabies by killing an infected bat. Bubonic plague is a disease transmitted by fleas and outdoor cats are very susceptible to collecting these parasites. Feline immunodeficiency is a virus that causes a disease in cats similar to AIDS in people. It is transmitted by fighting. Outdoor cats can pose risks to the humans with whom they live. Many diseases and parasites contracted by outdoor cats can be transmitted to humans, children especially.
Besides the obvious danger of being struck by a car, some cats have been killed when they climb up into a car’s engine compartment to get warm and are killed by the moving parts when the car is started.
Dogs, other domestic cats, and many wild animals from foxes and coyotes to mountain lions and bears can kill or severely injure outdoor cats.
Poisons come in many forms from antifreeze, to rat and mouse bait, to herbicides and pesticides we apply to our yards, gardens or crops.
Cats are very curious creatures and have been known to become trapped in garages, outbuildings, construction sites and even moving vans only to be discovered and released days, weeks, months or miles later.
Cats Impact on Birds and Other Wildlife
A staggering number of native bird populations are in serious danger of decline due to three major causes: habitat destruction, collision with windows and other man-made structures, and predation by domestic cats. Hundreds of millions of birds are killed by cats each year, and between 100 million and a billion die from collisions with man-made structures. With habitat destruction included in the equation, wild bird populations are suffering losses from which they will not recover.
The easiest of these three causes of avian population decline for the average person to control is the outdoor cat. Cats will also play with and kill small mammals and reptiles competing with the wildlife, such as foxes, weasels, owls, hawks and others that rely on these species for food. Statistics show that the combined numbers of birds and small mammals killed each year by cats is close to one billion. Allowing a well fed house cat to compete for wild food sources places native predators at a disadvantage.
Cats as Our Companions
Domestic cats, just like domestic dogs, evolved from wild ancestors but are now considered a separate species, Felis catus. Although domestic cats retain some of their wild characteristics, such as the urge to stalk and kill prey, they are now as domesticated as dogs. Dogs are not allowed to run loose and free in neighborhoods and if they do highly publicized disasters often result. For the health and happiness of our domestic cats, for the benefit of the wildlife with whom we share our planet, and for our own peace of mind, we must keep our cats indoors.
One Final Note
If you have to move into a nursing home or assisted living or a long distance, what do you do with Kitty? If you are no longer able to care for her for any reason, do not release her outdoors, thinking she will fend for herself. She will likely suffer from disease or die. Please take Kitty to a local shelter or rescue organization. She will be much more likely to find a new home. There are many organizations and products available to help cats enjoy life indoors.