|Home > Cat Chat > Don't Let Your Cat Cat Around
This month Bogey tells us that hunting outdoors is for the birds! Of course, a learned gentleman like Bogey would never do an undignified thing like chase and kill a small animal, unless, of course, it happens to be a MegaMouse...
|Don't Let Your Cat Cat Around
Don't Let Your Cat Cat Around
Landing right in front of her, the unsuspecting dove pecked around in the shelter of the deck. Sophie transformed
into the feline assassin, crouching, creeping forward soundlessly, eyes wide, ears alert, tail twitching. Responding
to centuries of instinct she pounced, only to be foiled, once again, by a pane of glass. She sat by the door,
complaining, as the dove continued cleaning up some spilled bird seed.
This is how Sophie chases birds. And based on startling facts about just how many birds and other small creatures
cats kill, this is the only way Sophie will ever chase anything but catnip toys.
"But cats are supposed to be outdoors," some people say, or "that's nature, cats kill things"
and "it's cruel to keep a cat indoors", "my cat never kills anything" or "I can't keep her indoors".
The list of common sense reasons cats should be kept from roaming outdoors generally ensures their own health
and safety. Consider also the sustained existence of wildlife, including that in your own backyard.
Statistics show that about 68 million cats are kept as companion animals in the United States; according to
owners about 40 million are allowed to roam. Add to that the estimated 60 to 100 million stray and feral cats,
and that adds up to a lot of cats outdoors.
A study at the University of Wisconsin, counting only the observed killings of an average of 1.5 million rural
free-roaming cats for four years, gave a conservative estimate of 31.4 million small mammals and 7.8 million
birds killed each year. A one-year Virginia study of native wildlife, again counting only the catches observed,
found that each urban cat caught an average of 26 individuals, the rural cats an average of 83 individuals.
Take either of those studies and multiply by the total estimate of cats outside, or by the number of cats wandering
your neighborhood, and it's a wonder there are any small animals left. While sparrows and chipmunks may seem
plentiful and we don't want those moles in our lawns or mice around our foundations anyway, cats kill whatever
they can catch without regard to the Endangered Species Act and that catch might also be an endangered wood
thrush or a star-nosed mole. Humans caught are prosecuted for violating either federal or state endangered
species legislation and businesses are made to accommodate the needs of species considered endangered,
but roaming cats suffer no punishment and may be doing more damage than humans in some areas.
And that cat may not even be hungry-in cats, the urge to kill is unrelated to the urge to eat. A preliminary study
offered cat food to six cats who were then presented with a live mouse. All of them stopped eating, killed the
mouse, then went back to the cat food. First this killing instinct, then we give them an unfair advantage with
health care and shelter, and there is no competition out in the wilds of your backyard.
An average of 1,500 injured animals per year arrive at the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania's
Wildlife Center in Verona, and according to Jill Nadzam, Rehabilitation Manager, about 40% of the injuries
treated are cat attacks. "It's the most preventable injury. When cats bite a small animal about 80% of the
time it's fatal, even with antibiotics," she said. "And bells don't do anything-wild animals don't necessarily
associate it with danger."
"Cats are great hunters and can grab a bird right out of the air with their claws," said house-call veterinarian
Barbara Smith, DVM, who urges her clients to keep their cats indoors. "Their teeth are very small and sharp and
puncture the skin very easily, and their saliva causes one heck of an infection."
The domestic cat is not native to North America, but began arriving only a few hundred years ago on European
ships. For this reason an introduced feline predator disrupts the local ecosystem, a carefully balanced arrangement
that evolved over millennia, by indiscriminately killing off native prey animals. Scott Detwiler, naturalist at
Beechwood Farms, home of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania which houses a number of injured
raptors for educational purposes, adds that by killing small prey "they are depriving native predators of a meal."
Native predators, both mammals and raptors, need a sizable territory supporting only one individual or family unit.
They usually have only one batch of young per year, often producing only one offspring which must then move off to
find its own territory. Cat territories overlap, and with an artificial food source, even the well-meaning practice of
managing feral cat colonies with trap-and-spay policies, populations can swell through reproduction or attraction,
and the concentration of cats can out-compete native predators and decimate native populations.
But in many areas wildlife has no choice but to try to co-exist with cats. "Habitats for wildlife are diminishing,
and what's left is pretty fragmented," said Jeff Wagner, County Natural Heritage Coordinator for the Western
Pennsylvania Conservancy. "Wildlife is funneled into smaller and smaller areas." These areas, often
our own backyards, become traps.
And if you want to truly consider your cat to be a part of the ecosystem and let it outdoors, then you have to accept
that your cat is prey as well as predator, take away all the competitive advantages you give it, and honestly let
nature take its course. On their own, cats have an average lifespan of three years, and kittens have only a 25%
survival rate. They are prey to anything that would predate on a rabbit, adults being about the same size. That is
hardly what one would consider a pet.
"We strongly encourage people to keep their cats indoors when they are adopting, and this is one good reason,"
said Charlotte Grimme, Executive Director of the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania; all of the shelters
encourage this, she said-why else would they put all the effort into rescuing animals only to put them back out on the
streets? "People can easily let their cats outdoors, but about 10 years ago all the shelters got together with the city
of Pittsburgh to try to change the laws relating to animal control and protection, which had not been updated for about
50 years," Grimme continued. One of the things the shelters wanted to introduce was tagging cats just like dogs.
"If the cat goes outside, it has to have a tag," she explained, on the assumption that this might deter people
from letting their cats roam because of the expense and trouble of obtaining a tag, and the fines for a roaming cat with no tag.
Cats can get accustomed to living indoors after having been outdoor cats. I live with six lovely felines right now, and
have rescued and fostered many more through the years who all came from the great outdoors but were ultimately
convinced that the windowsill would have to be good enough.
Plenty of alternatives to roaming outdoors are available if your cat really needs the fresh air. Cats enjoy screened porches
and can become accustomed to leashes or confined areas outdoors. One of my senior cats, hobbled by hind legs that were
malformed by bad early nutrition and who can't move faster than a walk, enjoys as much as an hour of sunning herself on
the warm brick patio next to my garden under constant supervision, although she once watched a mole run right over her
outstretched paw with sleepy disinterest.
It takes some time and effort to help your outdoor cat transition to the great indoors. If your cat starts crying at the door,
pull out an interactive toy, such as the Da Bird Wand Toy that has a rotating feather
that looks like a bird. The Swizzle Stick Wand Toy is another great choice that
uses a refillable catnip toy attached with velcro. The Glow In The Dark Curly Close Up Toy
actually glows in the dark, appealing to your cat's nocturnal nature. And although it may seem silly, the
Cat Sitter CD or DVD can distract your cat with sights and sounds
of small animals.
For cats not accustomed to litter box usage, purchase several litter boxes that you can place around the house. Keep
the boxes clean daily, as cats' fastidious nature requires a clean environment in which to eliminate. Consider a litter box
with high sides for "sprayers", such as our Cats Rule Perfect Litter Box.
Your cat will still need to exercise his claws by scratching. To avoid your furniture becoming the object of that scratching,
use a durable scratching post or cat tree. To encourage your cat to use the post
or tree, try a safe, effective product such as Sticky Paws. (See
also, "Differing Uses for Your Chair", CatChat from June 2004 for
more information on helping your cat transition from your furniture to a scratching post.)
Any cat can benefit from and enjoy a little greenery, and ready greens to chew on will help the outdoor cat enjoy one of the
treats and benefits of outdoor living without the danger. Commercial "cat greens" mixtures contain catnip, a sure winner,
sage, parsley, chickweed, colt's foot grass, and other herbs and wild plants that your cat would eat if left outdoors. (See
also, "Green Party", CatChat from August 2004 for more information on
plants and cats.)
Take it from the experts who have successfully transitioned cats from "outdoor" to "indoor". It is
well worth the effort, for everyone involved.
For more information on this subject and the complete details of the studies quoted in this article, please check
www.nwf.org/backyardwildlifehabitat and search for