Free-roaming house cats are tough on wildlife

2:47 pm July 27th, 2012


By Bob Brown

While humans are one of the greatest threats to wildlife, they are also responsible for another devastating threat to wild animal populations: The domestic cat.

Whether it is your cat, your neighbor’s cat, or a feral cat living in your neighborhood, free-roaming domestic cats are responsible for the unnecessary deaths of millions of wild animals each year.

We have been brought up to believe cats must be free to roam and hunt to be happy. This argument could be made for any domestic animal, especially dogs. However, we don’t allow any other domestic animal to have this freedom, because we are concerned about safety of the animal and the safety of the people and animals it will encounter.

In North America, cats are the only domestic pet that we allow to roam free, but domestic cats can be a big problem for our ecosystem. It has been estimated each free-roaming cat can kill between 100 and 1,000 wild animals each year, so where does responsible ownership begin and where does it end?

To have an indoor or indoor/outdoor cat is not always a simple decision, according to Nancy Crowley, a veterinarian in Beverly, Mass. Location in which you live is an important consideration. There are some places cats should never be allowed outside. The area should have low traffic, no significant stray populations and partial shelter such as trees, bushes and other low ground cover. The next important factor is the cat itself.

Crowley doesn’t recommend any cat go outside until it is at least six months old and has been spayed or neutered. Young kittens have too many other things to learn before they go out. Some cats are content staying inside and enjoy window watching while others will dart out the door at every opportunity. Some cats taken in as strays are quite content to stay in and rest. Others like the action of the outside world.

Crowley said there isn’t any hard and fast rule that makes an outdoor cat always an outdoor cat and an indoor cat always and indoor cat. If the cat seems content staying in, keep it in; however, if the cat want to go out, let it out, but accompany it at least for awhile so it can learn the boundaries of the yard. And at night, keep the cat inside, as that’s when a lot of dangers are outside.

Some owners choose to let their cat outside on a leash or harness. This can work well for both the cat and owner, but it takes a little adjustment for most cats to get used to the harness. Try to have them wear it inside the house initially; then take them out with it. Some cats adjust to the leash and are content walking about with it.

Last, but not least is the cat’s personality. Some cats get very bored being inside cats and can be destructive in the home and even aggressive to other cats and/or people. Those cats may benefit from going outside, as it can keep them busy playing with little bugs, etc. Some cats have more street smarts than others and seem to really know the dangers that exist outside. Crowley said she is not sure who teaches them those things or if it is just common cat knowledge to some of them.

While cats can be an important part of the family, the impact of domestic free-roaming and feral cats on wildlife can’t be ignored and should be addressed more aggressively than it presently is.

Responsible ownership would be the first and most important step in that direction.


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