Keep Cats Indoors

Learn why it's important to keep cats indoors.

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

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  • Lynn Loucks January 27, 2010 at 10:21 am

    From a bird lover & cat lover:
    Trap – Neuter – Return (TNR) is the only effective way to control & reduce the feral cat population.

  • R. Brune January 27, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Yes, agree! This does seem to be the best solution. You can’t tame wild cats, but it’s a shame to have them put down. Neutering all pet cats and dogs and the feral ones you can catch is a good practice!

  • Marisa Herrera January 28, 2010 at 1:27 am

    I completely agree! Domesticated cats should be kept indoors. The ecological impact they have on native wildlife and birds is substantial. I have seen very well fed domesticated cats kill birds in a flash. Are they to blame? Of course not! It’s an inherent hunting trait. It is the cat’s guardian responsibility to ensure their cat is safe indoors. In addition, by being outdoors, domesticated cats are subjected each time they roam free to numerous risks which can even be fatal.
    Some cat guardians argue that it is criminal to keep a cat indoor, as it prevents them from getting fresh air, enjoy the outdoors, “be” a cat, etc. If we provide a stimulating indoor environment, there’s no reason why a cat will be bored or not be allowed to “be” a cat. If fresh air is an absolute want, then building or buying a cat run or a cat enclosure (catarium) can easily solve that. And it doesn’t have to be expensive if recycled materials are used. Great article!

  • R. Brune January 28, 2010 at 8:48 am

    Thanks Marisa,
    Coming from you that’s quite a compliment. You have a great blog! (greenpetsecoliving.com). I taught my Siamese how to walk on a leash with a little harness, (ok, sort of–it wasn’t easy!), so that’s another alternative for people who want to let their pet cats outdoors sometimes.

  • Barbara January 28, 2010 at 11:30 am

    The Trap/Neuter/Return Program will reduce the feral cats numbers, however when you return them to the wild, they will still kill birds.

  • R. Brune January 28, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Didn’t think of that Barbara, but of course it’s true. It doesn’t help the birds but at least when a feral cat hunts, it’s because it really is hungry. They really are a big problem.

  • Lynn Loucks January 28, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    I agree that pet cats need to be kept indoors.
    But for feral cats, Trap/ Neuter/ Return works best in the long run because the number of breeding cats is being continually reduced, thus fewer feral cats. It will take time, but it does & will work. Just killing cats does not stop breeding & it is not a humane policy, plus it is only a quick fix. A feral colony will die out through natural attrition when there are no new kittens being produced. Sterilization & returning to the feral cat population is a sound & humane policy for the feral cat problem.

  • Flo May 4, 2010 at 6:32 am

    I cannot agree with trapping, neutering and releasing feral cats. They are then free to continue hunting. Unfortunatly, the only solution is to either domestic them or euthenize them. The cat i own at present, never goes outdoors , lives in a home with a canary, parakeets,guinea pig and others and they all get along. My previous cat, who died 4 months short of his 20th birthday, had a house in the yard,when he wanted to go out, he was tied up and had a wonderful time. I have seen squirrels and an occasional bird, go right up to him and they got along just fine. In fact, whenever we had an occasional mouse indoors, he would catch them and just give them to us unharmed, Yes, he was one of a kind, but it can be done.