Vol. 15 Issue 2, Summer 2010
By Emily Cook
Anyone who has ever owned a cat can tell you that with ownership often comes some form of guilt as we watch our feline companions stare longingly out the living room window or bat at birds that stop for a respite on the window sill.
Oftentimes this guilt gets the better of us and we begin to let our friends outside, little by little, so they can explore their “wild side” and feel the freedom we guilt-ridden owners think cats need to have in order to be happy.
We soon find little “gifts” at the foot of our bed or when Spot comes home he returns with a “prize” to let us know how much he loves us.
While this is somewhat unappetizing, we attribute this endearing habit to their need to hunt, their instinctive desire to seek out prey in the wild. It’s just nature, we say.
But the truth of the matter is that letting our cats roam outdoors has a much greater impact, and is much less critical to the health and happiness of our feline buddies, than we think. In fact, there are many reasons why we are doing a great disservice to both our beloved pets as well as our local wildlife by letting them out of the confines of their safe, secure home.
First, cats make a larger dent in the wildlife population than you may realize. While our one little kitty may only bring home one mouse or bird a week, it is estimated that nationwide cats kill hundreds of millions of birds and more than a billion small mammals per year.
In addition, cats not only kill birds we consider common, they also prey upon many species that are on the endangered list. As a result, scientists have listed cats, along with invasive species, as the second most serious threat to worldwide bird populations. When you consider that one unaltered domestic male cat can breed with an unlimited number of feral females who are able to produce up to 3 litters per year, the result can be devastating to wildlife.
Aside from the obvious impact to the wildlife on which they prey, there are also many ways cats impact our ecosystem we may never consider. Domestic cats often hunt for sport, and when they do, they are directly competing with native predators for prey, often impacting the availability to those species reliant on hunting for survival. It is also suspected that cats spread fatal feline diseases to native wild cat species including mountain lion, bobcat, and even the endangered Florida Panther.
Venturing out of doors is also detrimental to our furry companions. Thousands of cats are killed each year by motor vehicles as a result of being permitted to run loose. In addition, many fall victim to predators such as hawks, coyotes, and foxes. This is particularly true with cats that have been de-clawed and are still permitted to roam free.
Often cats who are allowed to venture outdoors spend hours in below-freezing temperatures or lack shelter during inclement weather when their owners are not available to let them back inside. And let’s not forget the unaltered male discussed above, who may produce thousands of unwanted wild kittens, many of which lead short, miserable lives.
It is our responsibility to our pets, as well as to the native wildlife in our neighborhood, to keep our cats safe and happy indoors. There are many ways to accomplish this and still keep everyone happy.
- Train your cat to walk on a leash (yes, it can be done!)
- Place perches on windowsills. Cats love to sunbathe and watch the outside world.
- Consider having more than one cat. There are many available for adoption and they love to have a playmate (see adoption sources below).
- Purchase toys that stimulate a cat’s desire to hunt and pounce. Make sure to dedicate time each day to play with your cat.
- If at all possible, enable your cat to spend time on a screened porch or play enclosure. This way they get the best of both worlds.
- Place cat perches/trees in your home. They love to climb and exercise their claws.
While it may be a challenge to keep your kitty indoors at first, in the long run we will have much healthier, happier pets and wildlife will have an opportunity to flourish in their native environment.
Cats Indoors Campaign Facts:
Having a Happy Indoor Cat: