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Keep Your Cat Indoors

Updated on June 7, 2013

Domestic cats are killing animals and birds

Domestic cats are currently the most popular pet in the world --- and they have been linked to humans as far back as 9,500 years ago. They are cute and cuddly, but they can also be deadly. Many people in my neighborhood allow their cats to wander out-of-doors without a second thought. Recent studies in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere in the world have shown that domestic cats can take an enormous toll on mammals, birds, and reptiles living around them. Baby birds that have just left their nests are especially at risk since they cannot fly well and often land on the ground.

Domestic cats are such a problem that the American Bird Conservancy has launched a program called Cats Indoors: A Campaign of American Bird Conservancy. This program falls under the eliminating threats to wild birds category. In this world of climate change and habitat destruction, birds already have enough obstacles to overcome. There is also the issue of keeping your cat safe and healthy, both of which are better accomplished indoors.

What can you do?

Please keep you cat indoors.

Do you own a cat?

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Do you allow your cat(s) to go outdoors unsupervised?

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How many birds and other animals do outdoor domestic cats kill?

Domestic cats are not native and are not part of "natural" ecosystems. However, they act as predators to native birds and other wildlife -- equivalent to or surpassing an invasive species. Indeed, the domestic cat may be the most prolific invasive species in the world. Many studies have been conducted in the United States and abroad in an attempt to measure just how many birds outdoor domestic cats can kill.

Because of abandoned and un-neutered cats, there are also millions of homeless cats in America today. These cats have no choice but to hunt wildlife in order to survive. However, ultimately we cannot blame cats for this issue - all the blame lies with people.

The following information has been paraphrased from the American Bird Conservancy website:

Exact numbers will never be known, but based on research it is estimated that cats kill HUNDREDS of MILLIONS (100,000,000's) of birds and over one BILLION (1,000,000,000+) small mammals (including rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks) every year in the United States. University of Wisconsin ornithologist, Dr. Santley Temple estimates that 20-150 million songbirds are killed each year by rural cats in Wisconsin alone.

Both domestic cats that are allowed outdoors and stray/feral cats are considered feline predators by the American Bird Conservancy.

Cats compete with native predators and can often out-complete them because they have a stable food source and are not vulnerable to changes in prey density. Unlike native predators, domestic cats are often vaccinated and therefore are immune to common diseases. However, many unvaccinated cats spread diseases to wildlife.

Image: Wikimedia Commons
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Keeping your cat safe and healthy

Life outdoors is very risky for cats.

Cats kept exclusively indoors most often live longer because they are exposed to fewer threats. Outdoors cats run the risk of contracting deadly diseases such as rabies, feline distemper, or feline immunodeficiency virus. Outdoor cats could be killed or injured by cars or by dogs and native predators like coyotes and owls. Many cats also get lost or are stolen or poisoned by ingesting chemicals / rat bait they find outside. Worms and other parasites can also become a problem if a cat is eating rodents.

Aside from keeping your cat safe, it is also courteous to keep your cat indoors. When you let your cat outside, it does not stay in your yard (unless of course, you have some kind of shelter). Your cat will end up wandering into other people's yards and becoming a problem. I have spoken to numerous fellow birders who have complained about cats sitting under their bird feeders and killing birds. Because many people do not bother to put ID tags on their cats, concerned neighbors do not know who to talk to about the issue. This can also be an issue with dogs and other animals, so please always remember to supervise your pets while they are outside. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Common misconceptions about outdoor cats:

1) Bells on collars do not prevent cats from killing birds.

2) Injured birds that "escape" from cats usually cannot survive.

3) A well-fed cat will kill birds because of its predatory instinct. Just because your cat does not bring you birds does not mean it is not killing them.

4) If your cat goes outdoors it is safe to assume it's killing and eating something.

What can we do?

First and foremost, keep your cat indoors and spread the word to other cat-owners you know. If you must let your cat outdoors, consider purchasing a cat enclosure to keep both your cat and wildlife safe. Domestic cats face many dangers if left outdoors unsupervised. Most importantly: make every attempt to keep your cats indoors during summer when baby birds are leaving the nest and most vulnerable. Unfortunately, this is the season when most cat owners allow their cats outdoors.

The American Bird Conservancy's solution is simple: keep cats indoors.

If you are unsure about whether to keep your cat indoors, please have a conversation with your veterinarian.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Did you know?

Prior to reading this page, did you have any idea cats were so harmful to wildlife?

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Kitty Cams - Update: August 2012

Kitty Cams is a project being conducted by the National Geographic Society in conjunction with the University of Georgia. The aim of this study is to "spy" on outdoor cats in order to study / observe their behavior outside. Unfortunately, wildlife the recorded wildlife casualties are staggering. This study has found that on average the 60 cats with cameras killed one wild animal/bird every 17 hours spent outside and killed an average of 2.1 animals per week.

The study found that not all of the cats were killers, but those that did kill wildlife were quite proficient with their hunting. Please click here to read more about the Kitty Cams project.

Share your opinion....

This can be something of a controversial issue, but it is also an important conservation issue which every cat owner needs to consider and be aware of.

What is your opinion on cats being allowed outdoors?

I always keep my cat(s) indoors because...

I always keep my cat(s) indoors because...

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    • myno1star 4 years ago

      Cats should never be allowed outdoors. Not only are there a multitude of dangers to cats roaming loose, but the cats themselves pose dangers! Some bird species numbers are in severe decline due to heavy predation by roaming cats. Of course, there are numerous other serious issues affecting bird populations, and I do not say that cat predation alone, is the cause of all species decline! But there is no doubt that the cat problem weighs heavily, especially in cases where bird numbers are already declining.

    • pinkgrey 4 years ago

      I love cats, but I also think it should be illegal to let them roam around freely. My cats are completely enclosed in the backyard and still enjoy the sun shine - without killing wildlife.

    • anonymous 5 years ago

      I really think that pets should be kept indoors, unless when you are out with them.

    • Rose Jones 5 years ago

      I don't have a cat now, but actually you have convinced me to have an indoor cat if I have one again, maybe using the enclosures.

    • Vicki Green 5 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      I don't have cats and wish people would keep them indoors or in an enclosure outside. In my neighborhood we have owls and coyotes and regularly see "Lost Cat" signs. The only sure way to prevent loosing a cat is to keep them indoors or in a secure outdoor enclosure.

    • SteveKaye 5 years ago

      It's better for the cat, better for me, and better for birds.

    • anonymous 6 years ago

      When I was growing up all our pets were outdoors and that was normal back then. I can certainly see your argument as cats do have a predatory nature. I know many people who have cats that always in the house and seem perfectly content. This is something to think about if I ever have a cat again.

    • Susanne Iles 6 years ago from Canada

      yes! to keeping kitty indoors. I originally had an outdoor cat but was disheartened and dismayed by the bird killings. Further research revealed that cats were taking their toll on birds the world over in a catastrophic way. (no pun intended) I didn't want to be part of those statistics any longer so my sweet guy became an indoor cat. He became more content, his health improved, not to mention my peace of mind for his general safety and well being. Bird feeders and birdhouses went up in the yard. It was a win/win situation all around. Great lens!!!

    • Oosquid 6 years ago

      There are many reasons for keeping a cat indoors apart from the protection of wildlife. For the cat it is *much* safer to be an indoor cat. However you do need to ensure that your cat gets exercise and does not get bored. Many good folks allow their cat out because they don't like the idea of imprisoning their pet. Two sides to it.

    • anonymous 6 years ago

      I know how destructive cats can be to the bird and small animal population. We've been keeping any cat we have indoors for several years now. It's also for the cat's own safety, we don't live on a busy street, but it only takes one car. In the house where we've lived for two years, the backyard borders on a pretty big woods. We've seen a great horned owl perched on our pool deck at night, and we've seen a coyote in the yard more than once. Foxes, too! Our small cat could become a tasty snack for any one of them if she ever got outside.

    • RinchenChodron 6 years ago

      You are risking your cat's longevity to let them out. They have preditors too such as coyotes. Keep them in keep them safe. Of course they can also be hit by cars.

    • ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      Our cats have a huge 'day-run' that we constructed for them. They go out into it each day, all day and enjoy doing so. It has areas where the cats can shelter from the sun or cold or wet weather and it has numerous interest and activity features. They come in each evening, to be with us. Our previous cat caught nothing and was actually scared of birds. Our current cats caught things within minutes of being allowed out and therefore it was obvious that, it we were to have ANY birds in the garden at all, the cats could not run free.

    • sousababy 6 years ago

      I have always kept my cats indoors, its healthier for them too. I once had leashes for my cat(s) when I had two to let them enjoy the backyard and my neighbors would laugh at me. One even said, 'Ah, just let your cats explore, they'll come back.'

      Keeping them inside or supervised is best for wildlife and your beloved cats (my vet doesn't vaccinate mine and no fleas either). Plus as you pointed out, the risks FIV and other diseases (there are skunks around our area too).

      Excellent lens! I'll recommend Chris Day having a look. Keep 'em coming.

    I let my cat(s) outdoors because...

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      • anonymous 3 years ago

        My cats enjoy going outdoors but they are enclosed by a cat fence that keeps them in my back yard only I do this for their safety & consideration for the nieborhood They have their own cat door & come in & out at will

      • anonymous 3 years ago

        My cats enjoy going outdoors but they are enclosed by a cat fence that keeps them in my back yard only I do this for their safety & consideration for the nieborhood They have their own cat door & come in & out at will

      • pheonix76 5 years ago from WNY

        @EileenSmith - thanks for contributing, but I have never heard of training a cat to stay away from wildlife. They use instincts to hunt, after thousands of years of domestication, those instincts remain. Thanks for your insight!

      • EileenSmith LM 5 years ago

        I will never keep an indoor cat. I think allowing the cats to learn the skills that are associated with a more natural habitat is important, and it's particularly cruel to keep them cooped up all day. They're not a caged animal. It's unfortunate that there are so many wildlife effects as a result, but you can somewhat successfully train your cat to not kill birds and other animals.

      • anonymous 6 years ago

        I have had both indoor and outdoor cats. I can tell you that my indoor cats were never as happy or content as the cats I let outside.

        I let my cat go outside when he wants to go outside. We live on a back road so him roaming on other people's lawns and being a nuisance is a non-issue.

        Like I mentioned before, I've had both indoor and outdoor cats, and i've concluded that i'm not going to keep my cat indoors like a prisoner.

      • pheonix76 6 years ago from WNY

        Yes, but as you stated yourself: animals should have the right to exist in their natural habitats. What about the rights of the animals and birds your cats are killing? You can always allow your cats outdoors in a cat enclosure to feel the sun and the wind. Thanks for contributing.

      • aardvarkapparel 6 years ago

        I love my cats, but they do go outdoors. They seems to love it outside. I'd hate to live inside my whole life and never feel the sun.

      • anonymous 6 years ago

        I understand all that you are saying about the predatory nature of cats and I know they can cause problems for native species, but in the end we have to consider the rights of the cat to live their life as intended - as a predator. My cats can come and go as they please and I know they do kill birds occasionally but they also kill mice. We have never had any mice in the house while we have cats.

        We have to consider that a cat kept indoors is like a prisoner. Would you like to be under house arrest and never feel the sun or wind on your face or the grass under your feet? Animals do have rights too and this is why I do not deny my cats their freedom to come and go. I know there is a risk of them being hit by cars etc. but that is just a chance we have to take in life. We don't hide indoors on the offchance that if we go out we may be hit by a bus! Freedom of choice is very important.

      I appreciate all of the contributions people have made to this page -- I value and respect reading other people's opinions on this subject. I just want to reiterate that there is nothing "natural" about allowing a NONNATIVE predator, such as a domestic cat, into the wild. There are many alternatives (such as play) that allow cats to develop hunting skills. Our native wildlife is already facing so many threats! ~Peace

      According to the Kitty Cams project....

      The cats in this study brought home less than 25% of the wildlife they killed. This shows that you really don't know about everything that your cat is killing -- it is only bringing home a small number of the animals it kills.

      What will you do? - Image: Northern Cardinal (Wikimedia Commons)

      Will you be keeping your cat(s) indoors from now on?

      See results

      I am always open to suggestions and comments. I would like to know what you think of this issue and if you were aware of it before visiting.

      Please sign the guestbook

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        • Snakesmum profile image

          Jean DAndrea 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

          My cat is an indoors only girl, unless she is in her outside pen. It's for her safety as well as the birds! There are too many unneutered cats and FIV+ cats running free.

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          anonymous 5 years ago

          Just stopped by again to read what others have to say. Comments are interesting on a topic like this. :)

        • malena10 profile image

          malena10 5 years ago

          I have indoor cat Maca. Nevertheless, she is vaccinated and spayed.

        • Gypzeerose profile image

          Rose Jones 5 years ago

          You are very convincing and persuasive. Good job. I think the cat enclosures are a great compromise - after all I keep my dog in a fenced yard. I also have known people who take their cats out on leashes. The enclosure ABO Gear Happy Habitat seemed to be the best - I read the reviews. Squidoo Blessed!

        • avigarret profile image

          avigarret 5 years ago

          Quite a fascinating lens, I have never thought of the impact this has on the poor birds and other animals, thank you for educating me on the subject.

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          Vicki Green 5 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

          Thank you for having the courage to write this lens about keeping cats indoors. I'm sure some people who have cats will ignore your plea, but at least you are trying to educate them about the damage that they do. Wildlife agents and naturalists know the harm being done by cats to our wildlife and they call them "Super Predators" because of the reasons you mention in your lens.

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          SteveKaye 5 years ago

          I'm glad to see this lens. A cat that catches wild birds can become infested with bugs that are on the bird, become sick with an illness that has infected the bird, or eat something that the bird swallowed (such as sharp trash or poison). A cat will live longer and stay healthier if it's kept inside.

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          Katie Harp 5 years ago

          blessed by a squid angel :) <3

        • EileenSmith LM profile image

          EileenSmith LM 5 years ago

          Certainly sparks an interesting debate, but you've yet to sway me on this issue! A good (though controversial) lens.

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          anonymous 6 years ago

          Interesting lens, although we don't share the same view point, I appreciate your take on this, and your opinion is well presented!

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          Joesin 6 years ago

          Thank you for the information.

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          MaxL 6 years ago

          Interesting lens and quite an unusual point of view. Anyway as a cat owner since many years, yes, I'm aware that some cats are deadly weapons. Luckily at the moment I have cats that don't seem keen on taking up the fight, as they're well fed and became very lazy ;)

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          anonymous 6 years ago

          A bit of controversy here, you are bravely going where others have not and I pplaud you for that. You are making us think in a new direction, well done!

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          dfishbac 6 years ago

          I knew cats killed but had no idea of the magnitude of the kills. Thanks for some good information to help educate us. Very nice lens.

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          Wedding Mom 6 years ago

          It is so true those things are indeed something to be worried about. Rabies is also one of the things I'm concern about cause they might get in contact with other animals who had been infected. This is such a great eye-opener. A lot of cat owners must read this just so they can be enlightened. Thanks so much for posting such an informative lens. Great job!

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          dogface lm 6 years ago

          I didn't know this. Thanks for sharing. This is important but also interesting.

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          GrowWear 6 years ago

          It's a good thing for the cat's longevity as well, I think. Seems that cats don't survive too long living outside. Did not know they were so prolific with their hunting. Would not want any "presents." :)

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          anonymous 6 years ago

          I used to have a cat who could open and go through the dog door. He was very predatory, but somehow, after I'd had enough hysterics he learned that I didn't like it. He didn't stop hunting, but he would carefully bring the hapless bunny, chipmunk or bird through the pet door, and believe it or not, deliver it into my hands unharmed. Of course it still wasn't a good experience for the prey, or for me. All subsequent cats have been indoors only!

          Great lens! I hope it convinces many pet owners to keep their cats indoors.

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          RinchenChodron 6 years ago

          I have a cat and I love him see his lens here. But my cat stays indoors so he will live longer. Also wanted to mention every city should have a project to neuter feral cats because the cat population is a problem to them as well. This would eliminate reproduction and save birds at the same time. Great job on this lens.

        • ChrisDay LM profile image

          ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

          This is a point well made, although not everyone will agree with you. However, the facts speak for themselves. Our cats proved to be such avid hunters from the word go that we didn't need a statistician to tell us that it was a wildlife-barren garden or not allow our cats out unsupervised. It can be galling when you keep your own cats in, only to be invaded by other cats. So far, we have been lucky in that regard, having a large garden area that is swarming with wildlife.

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          sousababy 6 years ago

          Thank you so much for doing this lens. You are giving a voice to those who have none . . wildlife. Please continue with your fine work. I have thoroughly enjoyed your work. Sincerely, Rose