By Dr. Andrew Jones
There has been a whole lot of talk lately about our cuddly cats; apparently they are also killing machines. Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service have said that cats in the U.S. kill in the range of 1.4 and 3.7 million birds, plus an astonishing 6.9 and 20.7 billion native mammals, such as shrews and chipmunks. Cats are directly linked to species extinction of certain birds, mammals and specific reptiles.
Our wild animal populations are in decline, such as one out of every 3 bird species, and cats are clearly part of the problem. Cat population estimates in the U.S. show 85 million house cats, and another 80 million feral and stray cats. The study claims that the stray cats commit the bulk of the carnage, killing 70% of the birds, and 90% of the mammals.
These numbers, and percent of wildlife affected is all far higher than ever thought; rates are two to four times higher. The report notes that more small mammals and birds are killed by cats than are killed by toxins, vehicles, and building collisions. Cats are a major problem for these wild animals.
So what can you do?
Clearly this report has an environmental slant, pointing to cats as these ‘horrible’ killing species, responsible for massive wildlife population decline. The bulk of the killing is not coming from domestically owned cats, but from the stray population. We need to ensure that as many cats as possible are spayed and neutered, and that we are not further increasing the population. I applaud the veterinarians and rescue groups who trap the stray cats, having them altered, so they are not further contributing to the problem.
We need to get more of these stray and feral cats in households, and off the streets. Cats in households have pet owners, who can then regulate their pet. Domestically owned cats do a fraction of the damage; these stray cats would be much happier being part of someone’s home. A well fed and loved cat doesn’t feel the need to be always hunting.
Our domestic cats though are not ‘off’ the hook; our house cats are still responsible for killing millions of birds, and small mammals.
In my opinion, our domestic cats should be strictly indoors, and only be outside supervised. The benefits of having your cat indoors are not only helping the bird population, but means your cat will live longer. Being inside means your cat avoids predators such as coyotes, car accidents, cat fight wounds, infectious diseases along with toxins such as antifreeze. You will no longer need to give your cat vaccines, you can avoid the vaccine side effects, and you will have fewer trips to your veterinarian.
Change is hard though, and with the millions of cat that are allowed to be outside, there are a few things you can be doing to help. Get your cat fitted with a bell on his collar, or a ‘leap activated collar. These collars produce an audio and visual alarm which is activated by the movement when a cat jumps to attack a bird. The alarm frequency scares off the birds, but doesn’t bother cats. Plan to have your cat inside when the birds are often feeding and most vulnerable to attack; at sunset, sunrise and after bad weather.
Certain wild animal populations are in serious decline, and clearly cats are a substantial part of the problem. As responsible pet owners, it is incumbent on us to actively be part of the solution. We must actively support spay and neuter programs of stray cats, and then get more of these cats placed in shelters and adopted. We must look at having as many of our house cats as possible remain as indoor cats, only being outside while supervised. If cats are outside they need to be fitted with collars that warn the birds, decreasing cat predation. I suggest you follow my example to become part of the solution. My previous outdoor cats are now strictly indoor cats who will live longer, avoid unnecessary injury and disease and not kill a single bird or small mammal.
Dr Andrew Jones, DVM
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