Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Outdoor Cats: Killer Kitties

An inconsiderate neighbor's cat scared away from my certified backyard habitat...

     Outdoor cats, whether they're pets, feral, or part of a TNR (Trap/Neuter/Release/Return) program, are for the most part harmful to wildlife (and bad for the cats and possibly humans as well). Numerous studies have shown that outdoor cats kill billions of birds, small mammals, and other critters. In fact, the Department of Interior's State of the Birds 2014 Report states that free roaming cats are the number one source of direct, human-caused mortality of birds. While the exact number of animals killed is debatable, that cats are hugely detrimental to wildlife is not. I am unaware of any scientific study that even suggests that outdoor cats actually benefits native wildlife in any way. On the contrary, such groups as the Smithsonian Institution, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Ornithologists' Union, the American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians, the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, the American Society of Mammalogists, and so many others have reached the same conclusion: that outdoor cats have serious negative effects on wildlife populations such as birds.
     Domestic cats are not native to this continent and are one of the animals most responsible for extinctions throughout the world. This is particularly true on islands, including isolated patches of habitat that function as islands for the creatures living there (which is what most of our suburban parks are). Even animals that escape the cats' clutches normally do not survive, as cat saliva contains numerous bacteria and viruses that then often infect the cat-bite victim.
     Even well-fed cats instinctively hunt for prey, meaning that those in TNR programs or those let out by pet owners continue to kill small animals, whether they wear bells, are declawed, or are well-fed. In fact, by feeding cats what you end up with are subsidized predators that compete unfairly with native predators who starve if they do not capture enough prey. More over, those native predators have even less food because of the cat competition (which are also usually present at predator density levels unknown in nature).
     Living outdoors is also not good for the cats either. Feral cats usually live 2-5 years while indoor cats often live over 17 years. Free-roaming cats are exposed to predation, cold, heat, accidents and illness. Such diseases as rabies, distemper, feline leukemia, roundworms, bartonellosis, typhus, and toxoplasmosis can not only establish themselves in cats, but then can spread to wildlife and perhaps even humans. Indeed, cats are the main host or reservoirs for some of these such as toxoplasmosis, and cats are the primary route of infection of this to other creatures such as deer and bobcats.
     It is for these reasons and many more that numerous environmental organizations are against outdoor cats, including the National Audubon Society, the Wildlife Society, the National Wildlife Federation, the American Bird Conservancy, and even PETA.
     I often hear that it is not the animals fault, but rather humans who are responsible for the present situations, and yes that is true. But it also only man that can try and fix these problems, even if they involve tough decisions and actions. It is our responsibility to do so rather than allow things to get worse or condone our mistakes.
     I do not know even one professional naturalist or natural resources manager that believes that outdoor cats are something that benefit wildlife, indeed just the opposite. Just because cats are charismatic does not mean that we should value their lives over that of native wildlife or give them special treatment. We do not allow dogs or other pets to run wild, form colonies, or defecate and trespass onto neighbors yards. So why do we treat cats differently, and at the expense of other deserving wildlife? We should not tolerate any non-native predator affecting our native wildlife, let alone subsidize them by feeding or forming colonies for them. Cats do not belong in nature and should be removed rather than encouraged. There's nothing wrong with cats, as long as they're indoor pets. So we need to make sure that people keep their cats neutered and safe indoors; safe for the cats and for wildlife.

9 comments:

  1. Outstanding and well written! I hope cat owners read this and recognize the threat that outdoor cats pose to wildlife as well as the risks posed to cats themselves.

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    1. WE are the worst offender. Not the cats. Mankind's smug attitude and disinclination towards any responsibility on the part of being the Earth's steward -- this is our downfall, and we are pulling everyone else down with us.

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  2. A Fellow NaturalistFebruary 11, 2015 at 9:39 AM

    Awesome article Alonso!! I couldn't agree with you more. Thanks for getting the word out. My husband works in an area where some folks come out to feed the "wild" kitties in his complex and all he gets for it is piles of poo to dodge and piles of dry cat food which is not just feeding the cats but other opportunistic critters too. And the owners refuse to trap and remove the colony. Very frustrating!

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    1. A responsible feral cat colony caretaker will not allow the "piles of poo" or piles of dry food to accumulate.

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  3. More than 70 million birds are killed annually by lawn Chemicals-- Great SCOTTS Almighty!!! More than 70 million birds are killed annually by collisions with plate glass windows and windshields -- "Harry! Turn on the windshield wipers!! Got some sparrow parts on the glass!!"
    The CAT that kills the MOST birds is the CATerpillar Bulldozer that cuts down forests in mere days, DISPLACING birds and wildlife - I saw it happen right outside my window -- THOUSANDS of birds (MANY species) who used to sing in that forest were GONE in the space of TWO days-- NO cat could have killed that many birds. Where do these bird go? To fewer and fewer forests or trees, with OTHER displaced birds competing for nesting space. Bye Bye Birdies!!! WE -- Man"KIND" (that word itself is an Oxymoron) are RESPONSIBLE for this-- Sure it's good to spay and neuter your cats and keep them indoors - not for the birds but for the cats' safety -- but no THE CATS are NOT the real culprits-- WE are. Perhaps I should give a sardonic salute to ALL the trees being cut down in Arlington County for more McMansions and Tyvek and Plywood condominiums-- I am SURE the birds who have been displaced will ALL flock back to them, right?????????

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  4. Once again and as clearly stated in the article, man is to blame for the vast majority of environmental issues.This includes bringing nonnative cats over in the first place and continued damage by allowing them loose even today. That was clearly acknowledged in the article. But so was the fact that man is the only one who can fix the situation or at least try not to make it worse by continuing the bad practice of allowing outdoor cats or even condoning their presence in parks. To use the excuse that man was to blame so lets not do anything to to correct this other major issue is just wrong. That there are other human related issues to work on is apparent to all, to not do anything about what is considered the leading human caused mortality factor (outdoor cats) and ignore that is also wrong. When you take all the other negative effects due to outdoor cats, look at all the studies and who supports that cats not be in outdoors, then it seems pretty apparent that something needs to be done about outdoor cats. That does not mean that other things also do not have to be done as well, but to ignore the cat issue seems to be ignoring the facts as well. No amount of sarcasm or pointing fingers at yet other issues changes the facts surrounding that outdoor cats cause numerous negative consequences for wildlife and should be dealt with. For even more on the effects of cats worldwide, even in the absence of other human caused problems, check out this article as well: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/42e26d754f3b4eeeb125ec37b5f112af/study-cats-foxes-behind-australias-alarming-extinctions?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=%2AMorning%20Brief&utm_campaign=2014_MorningBrief%2002%2010%2015%20A

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  5. The idea that any animal belongs inside all the time is absurd. Spend your days in a prison cell (after being neutered, of course), and then tell me you think cats should be locked inside for their entire lifespan.

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  6. If you believe philosophically that pets should not be kept, since almost all household pets spend the vast majority of their lives confined to houses if not pens/tanks, then that is your philosophy and you should not have pets. However, to let your pet out knowing it will likely have a negative effect on native wildlife is looked at equally if not more so negatively by others, for the reasons I and so many others through scientific studies, have spelled out already. You then place the value of your cat's entertainment and free roaming nature over the lives of wildlife and other animals. If you do not want to keep pets confined and on your property, then please do not have them. But to let them onto other people's property and ignore what may be their wishes to the contrary or to ignore how they value other animal's lives is wrong and disrespectful to them and to other animals.

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  7. Outdoor enclosures are fun for cats and allow them to be outdoors without harming wildlife. Lots of great ideas on Pinterest, or google Catios, or cat enclosures. You can even include a tree for climbing.

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