Should Cats Be Kept Indoors To Protect Wildlife?

Posted by Theresa Blood on

Cats Predating Wildlife.

I have two cats and every now and again one of them has brought home an offering of a dead bird, although this is thankfully a rare occurrence for me. However, an organisation that looks in to the welfare of birds says that cat owners should keep their felines indoors to protect wildlife because they hunt up to 27 million birds a year.

Grant Sizemore, Director of The Invasive Species Program at The American Bird Conservancy says, “From a wildlife conservation perspective it’s absolutely clear cut; cats are an introduced predator in the environment & they kill hundreds of millions of billions of birds & other wildlife in the countries where these types of studies have been conducted. So, in order to protect wildlife as well as provide for the health & welfare of cats, other domestic animals & people, it’s really safer & a responsible choice to keep cats, not necessarily indoors, but on a lead or under the owner’s direct supervision.”

Grant Sizemore goes on to say that in the United States alone cats are estimated to kill about 2.4 billion birds every year, so the scale of the impact upon the bird population and the decline in their numbers is huge. Whilst cats aren’t the only threat to wildlife, they are the largest direct human caused threat. Grant goes on to say, “We’ve lost about 3 billion birds in the last 50 years in North America alone.”

It’s not that individual cats are killing too many birds; the issue is that we humans have unnaturally spread too many of these top predators across the landscape in areas where they never used to exist.

The Solutions.

So, one obvious solution is to concentrate on population control by ensuring that every owner gets their cat neutered to keep the consequences of their hunting under control. Another solution to stop cats predating wildlife is to have a quick release reflective collar with a bell on. Using a quick release collar will also ensure that when a cat gets caught in a tree it doesn’t strangle itself. However, although a reflective collar may reduce predation on birds at night by acting as a visual clue for them, it doesn’t eliminate it because vulnerable chicks in the nest are unable to fly.

Mr. Sizemore isn’t saying that a cat should never go outside, but that there are responsible ways to let your pet experience the outdoors, such as using a leash & harness or a catio, which is a contained cat patio. He also makes it clear that to keep your pet indoors you’re going to have to make an extra effort to meet your cat’s needs for stimulation & make time to play with it in a more limited environment.

To Stay In Or To Go Out?

However, as a cat owner myself I have asked the question of whether it would be fair to keep a cat inside 24/7? As someone who has experienced the heart-ache of losing a pet to the road, I know from painful experience that it is safer to keep them indoors. However, I am convinced that if you asked the cat I’m sure they’d say they’d rather get out. It’s a trade off.

So, how would keeping a cat indoors 24/7 affect a naturally adventurous feline? Lucy Doile, Feline Behaviourist says, “There would definitely be an impact in terms of their mental health & their physical well-being. Cats are independent & they have that nature where they have that wild side to them where they go out & they do have the opportunity for physical exercise and to engage in those natural behaviours, such as establishing & maintaining a territory & social interaction, & all that stuff that happens away from their homes. So to suddenly close that off to them & not give them the opportunity to do that is going to mean that their well-being suffers.”

However, would it help if they were kept inside as kittens & have never experienced going outside? Lucy Doile is neither saying that cats need to stay indoors or go out, but points out that you have to take into account the individual needs of the cat & what they’re used to. If have a kitten which is used to staying in & has all their needs met & they don’t have that taste for the outside then this isn’t going to be so much of an issue. However, if an animal has had a taste of going out, then for them then to be suddenly deprived of that is going to cause them huge frustration. Keeping cats in is a welfare issue for certain cats: some cats will be fine, but for others it will be detrimental to their health & well being.

Dr. Ian McGill, Vet & Director of the Prion Group, certainly says that cats who get outside tend be healthier as they don’t get a lot of chronic conditions that you see in indoor cats. He states that, “In cats that are kept inside they suffer an awful lot more stress so the problems we see in cats that are kept indoors are things like obesity & diabetes, osteoarthritis, you’ll get toileting problems, there’ll be urinating & defecating in the house. There are male cats in particular who are overweight & they tend to have a higher prevalence of urinary blockage which is an incredibly painful, stressful & expensive occurrence for the owner as well as the cat; cats that go outside tend to be a lot more balanced behaviourally in terms of their disease status.”

My Personal Conclusion.

The biggest threat to wildlife is humans through loss of habitat & pollution to industrial farming so taking it all out on cats is unfair. I personally prefer to let my cats outside for several reasons. Cats are all very different, but in general felines who go outside tend to be:

  • Healthier & suffer fewer health issues
  • Are able to exercise their natural instincts
  • Are physically & mentally more balanced
  • Less stressed

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