Farmers often rely on barn cats to control rodents that feast on livestock grain. Others may struggle with whether to let their feline outdoors. There is plenty of entertainment outside and no litter box to clean (although the cat may end up using the neighbor’s sandbox instead). However, it is not easy to have to inform your child that the family pet has been killed by a car. A friend of mine came home from work one day to find her cat lying on the doorstep with its throat torn out by a Fisher.
An indoor cat can have fun in a paper bag.
Indoor cats can be quite content. They are definitely healthier and live longer. Free-roaming outdoor cats typically live less than five years, while indoor cats may live to be 17 or older. In addition to cars and animal attacks, outdoor cats are exposed to hazards like poisoning, human abuse, and contagious diseases, many of which, like feline leukemia, are fatal. Last July, one feral cat in Pomfret tested positive for rabies. Outdoor cats can also pick up parasites like roundworms. They can transport deer ticks into your home, increasing the likelihood that family members might become infected with a tick-borne illness like Lyme Disease.
Another threat is Toxoplasma. Although it causes no symptoms in many people, it can lead to serious brain damage in those with weak immune systems. Once infected, you are infected for life. Cats play a major role in transmitting this parasite. According to the New York Times (06/20/06), a single infected cat can shed 100 million egglike cysts in its droppings. The cysts can survive in the soil for over a year and contaminate wildlife and drinking water. Dr. Milton M. McAllister, a parasitologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says "It's perfectly safe to keep a cat. Just keep it inside."
Finally, many people believe a love of wildlife is incompatible with letting cats outdoors. Regardless of how you feel about this, cats are natural born hunters. No one knows exactly how many birds are killed by cats each year, but estimates run in the hundreds of millions. One Michigan survey indicated a domestic cat killed on average between 0.7 and 1.4 birds per week. Next to habitat loss and fragmentation, outdoor cats are considered the most serious threat to songbird populations worldwide. While birds that nest or feed on the ground are at greatest risk, fledglings that can not fly well are also a target. Since some areas only have one or two pairs of uncommon birds like Bobolinks, the loss of even one nesting bird can have a real impact on local populations.
Well-fed cats will still kill birds and animals. A cat with a bell on its collar can stalk silently so the bell does not ring, and even if it did, a bird does not recognize the connection between a bell and a predator. In one study in Kansas, researchers were surprised to find that a declawed cat actually killed more animals than any other cat monitored. Former cat owners who abandoned their pets are responsible for millions of homeless cats. A homeless cat that is neutered and released will continue to hunt and kill. Because many cats have a lot of bacteria and viruses in their mouths and tend to bat prey around (causing severe internal injuries), about 80% of their victims die even if they receive immediate treatment by a wildlife rehabilitator.
Despite the downsides, about 65% of owners do let their cats roam free. Each cat owner needs to make their own choice, but hopefully it will be an informed one. A cat that has never been outdoors will be happy inside. One option for cats already accustomed to being outside is to set up an outdoor enclosure/play area or cat run. Consider confining outdoor cats during bird nesting season. Feeding feral cats creates large cat colonies, as strays often reproduce where there is a source of food. No matter what you do, a cat will probably always think it is on the wrong side of a door.
MORE INFORMATION AND RESOURCES:
- www.sialis.org/cats.htm - protecting nesting birds from cats, plus links
- A Close Encounter with Rabies
- See How to Make Your Outdoor Cat a Happy Indoor Cat. Cat owners can keep their cats indoors, on a leash, in a cat stroller, or in outdoor enclosures or cat runs.
- C&D Pet Products sells a Cat Enclosure Kit, which is a 6' X 6' X 6' play area.
- Catfencin.com sells cat fences.
- Midnightpass.com offers a variety of pet enclosures.
- It is convenient to connect it to a swinging pet door so the cat can let itself in and out. The enclosure will prevent other outdoor critters from gaining access through the pet door.
- A new product called the CatBib stopped 81% of cats from catching birds in a study by Murdoch University.
- To train a cat to be on a leash and harness, start by leaving the harness by the food dish to the cat associates it with being fed, and practice inside first. Don't expect the cat to get very far.
- Confine cats during nesting season.
- On a weekly basis, trim front claws of a pet cat that can not be confined.
- Do not feed feral cats. Strays will often reproduce where there is a source of food, thus creating large feral cat colonies.
- Call Animal Control if it illegal to have cats outdoors. The owner will have to pay to retrieve the cat. Note that many Animal Control centers euthanize unclaimed cats after 72 hours.