I love cats, in fact I have 3 pet cats that all came from the shelter. My love for my cats, however, does not blind me to the problems that outdoor cats cause. Free-Roaming Cats create ecological, human health,
, and animal welfare concerns that affect cats, people, wildlife, and conservation efforts. According to the American Bird Conservancy, cats are estimated to kill between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds and 12 billion small mammals every year in the United States. These cats, like all wildlife, can also spread disease such as rabies and internal parasites to other animals and to humans. Outdoor cats live much shorter lives than indoor cats due to disease and the dangers of the outdoors. Finally, outdoor cats that are not neutered or spayed can make more little furry bundles of joy that end up in our already overtaxed shelters where so many healthy animals have to be euthanized. What really gets me about all of this is that it is preventable if people would just keep their cats indoors and get them fixed.
Although habitat loss and fragmentation are probably the greatest problems facing today’s conservation efforts and are the main cause of bird population declines [i], we can’t afford to ignore the other issues facing conservation efforts, such as cat predation. Overlooking the problem of free-roaming cats could undermine the other habitat-based initiatives, so we should try to address every cause of declining bird populations. As far as disease, the Federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently came out with a study that suggests that cats are now the primary domestic animal linked to human exposure of Rabies [ii]. Decreasing the free-roaming cat populations should decrease the spread of diseases and internal parasites both between cats and cat-to-human transfer as well as decrease cat predation on native species.
People who own cats should take responsibility for the cats’ care, which includes keeping them indoors when possible. Indoor cats are healthier, live longer, do not spread disease, and do not kill birds and small mammals (some of whom may be endangered). Owning any pet carries with it an obligation to properly care for it and cats are no exception. People who put their cats outside are putting them at risk due to cars, poisoning, and other wildlife such as foxes. Additionally, citizens should respect their neighbors and their property by making sure their animals do not leave their personal property.
When I worked as a veterinary assistant, I ran across a cat or two that truly needed to be an outdoor cat. These cats were a bit wild or refused to use a litter box and if not allowed outside, their owners would not have been able to keep them. In cases like this, I understand that an outdoor cat is better than an adult cat given to a shelter (which is almost certainly a dead cat). I also understand that there is such a thing as a ‘working cat’, where farmers need their cats outside to catch vermin. For the vast majority of the outdoor cats that I have dealt with there is absolutely no reason to let them outside other than the owner believes that this makes their cat happier. While this may be true, the fact of the matter is that cats are an invasive species that is extremely detrimental to the environment and there are a number of things that an owner can do to keep their cat happy and healthy inside. Keeping cats indoors is healthy, environmentally friendly, and just plain considerate.
[i] Sallinger, B. 2013. Cats and Wildlife: Things are Different Here… Conservation 14(2): 4
[ii] Weise, E. 2013. Feral cat colonies pose rabies risk, CDC says. USA Today. Retrieved August 21, 2013, from: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/08/17/feral-cats-