One of the most popular news stories to break last week was a new estimation of the deaths attributed to domesticated house cats. We’re not talking people deaths, but the deaths of small birds and mammals; that might seem insignificant, but the number is in the billions. Researchers from the Smithsonian and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that although the worst offenders are feral and stray cats, one in three domesticated cats also kills animals in its neighborhood. Those cats average two kills a week.
When it’s well-fed, domesticated cats doing the killing, they’re not usually keeping these animals for food. Some end up as those lovely “presents” you find on your doorstep in the morning, but most end up left to waste in the wild. The cat just killed for fun.
I see this issue come up every few years. Why is it considered such a big deal? Mostly because experts fear for our native animal population. Songbirds, like the robin, are the most at risk, but so are small mammals like mice, squirrels, and rabbits. It’s led some local governments to ban outdoor cats (though I don’t know how well such laws are being enforced).
Part of the reason that this story is so popular is because the Internet loves cats. Another reason is because it’s kind of funny. But it’s also not, because experts fear that cats could begin to put some species on the endangered list. The question is: what to do about it?
It doesn’t seem fair to require all cat owners to keep their cats inside. I know many shelters in this country try to require owners to do just that, but many owners don’t follow the rules. In other countries, like England, where it’s considered cruel to force a cat to stay inside all of the time, I don’t see a law like that ever passing.
If your cat goes outside and you want to let it continue to do so, is there anything you can do to protect your local population of small animals? There’s not a lot. Continue to make sure that your cat is well-fed. Try to play with it too, so perhaps it won’t be as deadly in its play outside. Your best bet, however, is to get your cat a collar that has a bell on it. This should help reduce the numbers of animals it’s able to capture.
It’s not a perfect solution. Your cat will still catch some of its prey. And most cat collars are designed to break off easily, in case the cat catches it on something and chokes itself. You could look into getting a cat harness with a bell instead.
I find this whole story kind of amusing, because cats were originally domesticated to get rid of pests. They’re just doing what they’re bred to do, and everyone seems so shocked and surprised by it. I do realize that it could be a serious problem. The best thing to do is to get the word out, so that owners with cats that kill local wildlife can try to look for a solution.
*(The above image by Alvimann is licensed by the morgueFile free license).