Keep Your Cat Indoors to Protect the Environment

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Jennifer is an environmentalist from Ohio. She is passionate about advocating for the planet and wildlife through gardening and education.

The Devastating Environmental Impact of Outdoor Cats

Though most responsible pet owners understand the importance of keeping their cat as an indoor-only cat for the cat’s safety and health, many never think about the importance of keeping cats inside for environmental reasons. Allowing your cat to roam outdoors can directly contribute to the collapse of entire ecosystems. It is important to understand the effects that pet cats can have on the environment and on native wildlife when left allowed to roam unsupervised.

For both the well-being of your cat and the well-being of the planet, please consider keeping your cat as an indoor-only cat.

Protect Native Songbirds and Other Wildlife from Cats

In most ecosystems, cats are a non-native invasive species, who can have devastating effects on native animal populations through predation. Areas with larger populations of outdoor cats often see rapid decreases in the bird, small mammal, amphibian, and reptile populations. Cats have directly contributed to the extinction of at least 63 species of birds, mammals, and reptiles around the world, particularly after being introduced to local ecosystems by European settlers.

Species endemic to islands are the most at risk from predation by cats, due to the fragility of island habitats. According to Alice Tapiol Breeze from AnimalWised, 33 species of birds endemic to island ecosystems have already gone extinct due to the introduction of cats to their islands. These bird species include:

The Chatham Bellbird (New Zealand)Chatham Fernbird (New Zealand)Chatham Rail (New Zealand)Guadalupe Caracara (Guadalupe island)Bonin Grosbeak (Ogasawara Island)North Island Snipe (New Zealand)Northern Flicker (Guadalupe)Macquaire ParakeetChoiseul Pigeon (Solomon Islands)Spotted Towhee (Guadalupe)Hawaiian rail (Hawaii)Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Mexico)Laughing Owl (New Zealand)Guadalupe Wren (Guadalupe)Stephens Island Wren (Stephens Island)South Island Piopo (New Zealand)Bushwren (New Zealand)Socorro Dove (Socorro Island)Bonin Thrush (Bonin Island)

All of these bird species became extinct in the 19th century after cats were brought to the islands by European settlers. Many of these birds were flightless, having lost their ability to fly from adapting specifically to life on an island with few predators. The introduction of cats and other invasive predator species is a devastating blow to any ecosystem where such predators are not naturally present.

In the United States alone, outdoor cats are responsible for an estimated 1.3-4.0 billion bird deaths and 6.3-22.3 billion small mammal (such as rodents) deaths every year, according to a 2015 paper published by the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In addition, cats also kill an estimated 228 and 871 million reptiles and 86 and 320 million amphibians each year in just the United States. Even well-fed cats continue to exercise their hunting instinct, killing more for sport than for food.

How Predation by Cats Affects the Entire Ecosystem

By preying on birds, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, outdoor cats can have devastating effects on the ecosystems they invade. They create competition and pressure within an ecosystem’s food web, which can have dire consequences for native species, both predator and prey species alike.

Because cats are cared for by humans, they have an advantage over native predators such as foxes and birds of prey for these native predators’ food sources. The native predator species are then forced to compete with each other for available prey, leave the ecosystem entirely, starve to death, or switch to other prey (which could potentially include humans).

Predation by domestic cats can also increase the population of species that cats’ prey species consume, such as insects and other small invertebrates, causing a food chain imbalance that could eventually result in the collapse of the entire ecosystem.

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Even animals that are not preyed upon by cats can be harmed by the presence of roaming outdoor cats. Cats are natural carriers of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which causes the disease toxoplasmosis. This parasite can get into the environment from cats’ burying their waste in the soil, which then contaminates the water supply, and may infect a whole range of different animals.

In particular, monk seals in Hawaii have been found dead from the parasite, despite the fact that the species has no direct contact with domestic cats. This suggests that beaches and waterways have been heavily contaminated by Toxoplasma gondii from cat waste.

Solutions for Cats That Hate Being Inside

There are ways for cats to safely enjoy the outdoors. Many cat owners build “catios,” or patios specially designed for cats, onto their homes. These enclosed outdoor areas allow cats to go outdoors as they please but restricts them to the fenced-in area of the catio. If you own your own home and space allows, building a catio onto your home could be the perfect solution for you and your cat.

Another option is to leash train your cat. You can train your cat to walk on a leash with a harness, just like a dog. This allows you to take your cat for supervised walks outdoors to get fresh air but doesn’t let your cat roam free where they could harm wildlife (or be harmed by wildlife, vehicles, or humans). Some cats refuse to wear a harness, however. It is easier to leash train cats if you start when they are still kittens.

SourcesThe environmental and health impacts of allowing cats outdoors
Cats and Birds | American Bird Conservancy
Cats Killing Birds: Separating Fact from Myth

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2021 Jennifer Wilber


Dr Mark from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on September 05, 2021:

Thanks for writing this. All cat owners need to understand this so I hope you have plenty of readers!

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 02, 2021:

Jennifer, the only thing I dislike about cats is their sharp claws. Thanks for the interesting and informing read.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 01, 2021:

Jennifer, the only thing I dislike about cats is their sharp claws. Thanks for the interesting and informing read.

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