"My cats are angels", "they are harmless", "they don'tbother wildlife", and "they don't use the neighbor’s garden as a litter box". These are common remarks people have for their cats, and unfortunately in most cases, at least one the claims is untrue. The only way to ensure your cats are not killing songbirds and defecating in the neighbors raised garden beds is to keep them indoors.
Currently domestic cats are a topic of discussion in Missoula where I live. Although the city ordinance addressing nuisance cats is largely ineffectual, recent discussion has served to bring up conservation and quality of life issues related to free-ranging cats.
Domestic cats that are allowed to roam outside can be a nuisance to neighbors, live shorter, unhealthier lives, and are a threat to wildlife.
There is a misconception that cats must be allowed to hunt and roam free, and any alternative would be cruel to them. Cats are pets and family members to their owners, but to someone other than the owner they can be a nuisance. It is true that not everyone's cat kills birds. Some are inept hunters (I used a have two cats that would run in horror at the sight of a mouse in our house and were traumatized by birds in our backyard), but in a suburban or urban setting, cats can be a real problem. Because of this, our cats do not go outside.
What makes a pet a nuisance?
I think anytime one enters my yard without permission.
People need to recognize that once their cats leave their own home or yard they can be a pest, regardless of whether or not they kill an endangered bird. For example, my neighbor's cat uses the area near my backdoor as a litterbox and the stench is so strong behind my house, it is disgusting to use my backdoor. Furthermore, because of our landscaping, neighbors' cats hunt in our yard. Last fall I saw someone's pet cat kill a flicker.
Indoor cats live longer, healthier lives.
Although the actual numbers vary between studies, an indoor cat lives an average of twelve years, whereas an outdoor cat’s life expectancy is less than five. Apart from the risk of getting hit by a car or killed by a predator (including a neighbor's dog), cats that spend time outside are exposed to a variety of diseases including leukemia, immunodeficiency virus, and rabies.
Pet longevity and general health are reasons enough to keep cats indoors. But as someone that keeps his cats inside, the issue for me is the cumulative effect of all the cats outside on wildlife and what I call neighbor's quality of life.
Conservation problems stemming from cats are not limited to unaltered, feral cats. Spayed or neutered domestic cats are having an enormous, detrimental effect on wildlife in this country. Many have heard the staggering statistics, including:
- Cats kill an estimated 39 million birds/ state/ year
- Nationally cats kill over a billion small mammals/ year (these figures do include mice, rats, and other "pests")
- With the exception of habitat loss, globally, cats are the single biggest cause of the extinction, local population extirpation, and decline of bird species
- Although results from several studies range widely, a individual cat can kill over 1,000 wild animals per year
- Only 1 out of 10 free-roamuing rural cats did not kill wildlife in a series of studies
- Cats effect native predators. Because they can occur in high densities, and are supported by hosts (people) cats can reduce the availability of prey for animals ranging from hawks to weasels
- Free-ranging domestic cats also transmit diseases to wild animals creating huge conservation issues. Domestic cats have spread feline leukemia to mountain lions and recently infected the endangered Florida panther with domestic diseases.
What can you do?
Keep your cat indoors. Two common strategies declawing or using bells, just don't work. Many declawed cats are still effective hunters, can still climb trees and it is just not a nice thing to do to a cat- especially an outdoor cat. De-clawed cats that are allowed to go outside are at a greater risk of being injured or killed by other animals. Bells are even less effective. Many cats learn how to stalk without making the bell ring, they can get out of their collars, and even if the bell rings, that is often the last sound a bird will hear. If cats must be allowed outdoors, consider using some sort of raceway or fenced enclsure. If you let your cats roam outside, talk to your neighbors, and see how they feel about it- they are likely affected by your decisions.