The two most serious threats to birds and wildlife today are loss of habitat and the introduction of invasive species. The house sparrow and starling are two non-native, invasive birds that are familiar to most of us. Both of these birds have had a very detrimental effect on our native birds by competing for food and shelter.
But did you know that the common house cat is also considered an invasive species? Americans own over 90 million pet cats and there are anywhere from 60 to 100 million stray and feral cats in this country. It’s estimated that they are responsible for killing hundreds of millions of birds each year and over a billion other small animals.
Many people feel that keeping their cats indoors deprives the pet of its freedom. However, it’s important to realize that when cats are allowed to roam unrestricted, we are actually introducing an invasive, non-native predator into our woods, fields and yards.
When cats are present in an eco-system, they kill off mice, moles, chipmunks, and other small animals that are prey for native predators such as owls, foxes, hawks and bobcats. And, because domestic cats are not as territorial as native predators, they often over-hunt in the same areas, causing food shortages for native species as well as significant declines in local bird populations. Unlike native predators, pet cats don’t kill because they are hungry; they kill because it’s in their genes. And, in study after study, it has been shown that it doesn’t matter if your outdoor cat is well-fed, wears a bell or has been de-clawed, he’ll always have the instinct to hunt and the ability to take down prey.
In addition to upsetting eco-systems, unvaccinated, free-roaming pet cats and feral cats also are suspected of spreading lethal diseases such as feline leukemia (FeLV), distemper (FPV), infectious peritonitis (FIP) and other diseases to wild cats such as lynx, mountain lions, bobcats, and the endangered Florida panther. And, according tothe US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cats are the most common of domestic animals to be found rabid because they contract the disease from the wild animals they kill.
Protecting delicate eco-systems is not the only reason why your cat should be kept indoors. Every year, millions of unrestrained cats are run over by cars, poisoned, trapped, subjected to human abuse, injured or killed from attacks by other animals or euthanized because there isn’t enough space to house them in shelters. The average lifespan of an outdoor cat is only 2-5 years, while indoor cats enjoy a much longer lifespan, sometimes 17 years or more. And indoor cats are seldom bothered by fleas, ticks and other parasites that outdoor cats pick up. Many states now require that pet cats be restrained when outdoors, and the trend is growing.
In 1997, The American Bird Conservancy introduced “Cats Indoors!”, a campaign to educate pet owners, lawmakers and others on the dangers to cats, birds, wildlife and humans when cats are allowed to roam unrestricted. And there are many other organizations that promote indoor cats as well, such as the Humane Society, National Wildlife Federation, The Wildlife Society and PETA, to name just a few.
Visit their websites for a wealth of information on the impact free-roaming cats have on our wildlife and also advice on how to transition your outdoor cat into a happy indoor cat.
— R. Brune