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On Endangered Species Day, Keep Kitty Inside

05/11/2015 by Healthy Paws
May 11th, 2015 by Healthy Paws

endangered species feral cats

Cats kill more than a billion small mammals yearly; the deaths are mostly attributed to feral cats, like this Minnesota feline. (Flickr.com/flippism)

Friday, May 15 is Endangered Species Day. In the United States alone, there are 1,576 species listed as endangered or threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Of that number, about 12 percent of the species are birds and mammals – the main prey for outdoor and feral cats.

With 30 to 90 million feral cats in the United States, these animals depend on birds, small mammals, and human refuse or handouts for survival. Many rescue groups practice TNR – trap, neuter, return – for feral cat populations, hoping sterlization will eventually lead to dwindling numbers of feral cats. In the meantime, several hundred million birds and over a billion small mammals are killed yearly by cats, says the American Bird Conservancy. In one San Diego study, researchers found local cats were responsible for the deaths of 840 rodents, 525 birds, and 595 residences – in one year. During a five-month period in England, 964 cats killed over 14,000 small animals.

endangered species feral cats

These little “presents” may be signs of respect to cats, but they’re murder to the hundreds of millions of birds killed yearly by outdoor cats. (Flickr.com/upturnedface)

Felines also compete for resources with other animals, and are capable of spreading diseases among the wildlife population. The Center for Disease Control lists domestic cats as the most common rabies-infected non-wild species, stating, “Any animal bitten or scratched by either a wild, carnivorous mammal or a bat that is not available for testing should be regarded as having been exposed to rabies.” Conversely, outdoor pets also carry a high risk of contracting diseases like Feline Leukemia or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) from other pets and wildlife.

Cats aren’t solely to blame for the decline of endangered birds; habitat destruction, as well as collisions with windows, vehicles and power lines, are also contributing to the death toll. In fact, the number one contributor to environmental destruction is us – 99 percent of endangered species are at risk because of human activity, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. But many environmental activists and avid bird-watchers see feral cats as an invasive species. On the other hand, many have recognized the prevalence of domestic and outdoor cats, accepting them as part of the local fauna – and they aren’t going away any time soon.

endangered species feral cats

Feral cat activists and bird watchers are engaged in a battle of animal rights, as feral cats are decimating wild bird populations. (Flickr.com/stickitto)

The Feral Cat Project, a non-profit specializing in the TNR approach, works to dispell myths about feral cats. The group sees the animals as a free-roaming species like any other type of wildlife, deserving of medical care, but able to exist without human contact or care. “Some people and organizations argue that any free-roaming cat without a human home should be euthanized, regardless of health,” says the Feral Cat Project. “Simply because a cat came from a tame ancestor is no evidence that human companionship is necessary for a humane quality of life.”

So what’s a cat owner to do? According to a 1997 American Bird Conservancy poll, only 35 percent of cats are strictly indoors-only. While a recent Nature Communications studye Communications study found feral cats are mostly to blame for the destruction to endangered species, armchair adventurers aren’t helping their numbers. 

The American Humane Society recommends keeping cats indoor, for a number of reasons. Traffic, other pets and wildlife, diseases and parasites, animal cruelty, and poisons are all threats felines face outdoors. Many pet parents feel guilty for keeping their cats exclusively indoors, saying it’s quashing cats’ natural hunting instincts.

cat furniture

Keep your cat entertained and your decorating scheme intact with classy cat furniture like these shelves and perches. (Flickr.com/cuttlefish)

There are many ways to keep your cat inside, safe and entertained! The most dangerous parts of being outside are the other animals and people – removing those hazards makes a safe environment for your pet. Build an enclosed area, or cat run, for your pet to play in. Other options include taking your cat for walks or on-leash in the backyard. A harness is recommended for felines, as they’re unused to being confined and are known to take off, disregarding a leash; too much tugging could potentially harm the throat or windpipe. 

Provide indoors exercise for your cat as well, in the form of physical obstacles like shelves, cubbies and even ladders. Cat furniture has come a long way from simple yet unsightly beige carpeted-scratching posts. Look for more upscale options made of stained wood, with nary a carpet in sight. Many pet parents will hang shelves lined with low-pile carpet for their felines to jump around on. Get creative! Cats are known for their improvisation – ask any pet parent who’s purchased an expensive pet bed, only for their cat to prefer the box it came in.

On Endangered Species Day, keep kitty indoors – for her sake and the birds’.

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