I absolutely love cats – their cute ears, long whiskers, unique eyes, and soft tails – they’re adorable! However, as an ecologist and cat-owner, I can definitely speak to the fact that cats are environmentally destructive in North America, and pet owners should be conscientious of how much outdoor time their cat gets. Let’s examine why we should keep cats indoors.
There are six native North American cats. This list includes Bobcats, Pumas, Canadian Lynx, Jaguarundi, and Jaguars, but not the domestic cat. Our pet cats are descended from an ancient wildcats (Felis sylvestris lybica) in the Middle East. In their native range, they tolerated the dry, desert-like conditions by hunting prey at night when the temperature dropped. They were effective predators of animals including rodents, lizards, weasels, and larger animals such as birds, goats, and even antelopes! On top of being a top-notch predator, they were also opportunistic. This meant that they would scavenge and eat whatever they could, when they could.
Now, domestic cats still maintain that fierce hunting instinct and desire to scavenge when they can. In North America, where migratory songbirds haven’t adapted over hundreds and thousands of years to small cat predators, this invasive cat species, introduced roughly 400 years ago, wreaks havoc. Despite being domesticated and knowing that they get food from caring owners, they still want to hunt on their own.
Studies show that cats are a leading cause of Migratory Songbird deaths, killing over 2 billion birds each year. They contributed to the extinction of over 60 bird species.
While there is nothing wrong with a cat hunting, it’s their natural behavior after all, there is a problem with letting this invasive species run rampant throughout communities. These migratory birds face threats to their populations from all sides – climate change, window strikes, and out competition from invasive species. They need all the help they can get to thrive! And we need birds to continue spreading seeds, managing insect populations, and pollinating plants.
Fortunately, there are many great reasons to continue loving our kitty cats and we can do this easily by keeping them indoors! Not only will this help bird populations, but it will also significantly, and positively, impact your furry friend’s overall health.
First, outdoor, or partially outdoor cats run the risk of picking up numerous diseases. Fleas and ticks, and worms can transmit diseases. They can also pick up Feline Distemper or Feline Leukemia. On top of those diseases, cats run the risk of getting hit by cars, or being targeted by predatory species.
It is nice to let your cat outside though, I get it! Catios (cat patios) are great additions to a cat-owners house. They can be large and complex, almost like a sun room devoted to your cat. They can be small window boxes that allow cats to get some sun and be near plants, but still inside. Your imagination is the limit.
Another way to let your cat enjoy the fresh air is to use a leash and harness. It can be funny to watch a cat adjust, but will allow for quality outdoor time without them running the risk of killing any birds or small mammals.
You can enrich your indoor cat’s life by getting them interactive toys that stimulate their hunting senses. Providing them with scratching posts, hiding spots, or perches so they can watch the world go by without having to go out is also helpful.
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