Outdoor Cats Significantly Impact Local Wildlife

The predator crouches in the grass, lying in wait. Tail gently swaying side to side, concentration remains on its prey, foraging unsuspectingly nearby. When the moment is right, the predator pounces and catches the prey by surprise, and with one lethal bite, struggle ceases.

Such a scene may evoke thoughts of the African savannah and its wildlife inhabitants. However, the animal depicted lives much closer to home and can be found in over 38 million American households. The animal in question is Felis domesticus or the domestic cat, and like its African relative, can have quite a significant effect on local wildlife populations when left to roam freely outside.

Pet cats that live outdoors can wreak havoc on native songbird populations. (Photo credit: Steve Vates/Alamy)

According to a study conducted by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) in 2007, 34 percent of the United States population owns at least one cat. Cat ownership is highest in rural areas, where up to 60 percent of the population count cats among their household members. It is these rural populations of free-roaming cats that can have the most devastating impact on native wildlife species.

Cats, known to be skilled hunters, not only affect wildlife numbers directly by predation, but also indirectly by preying on the animals that serve as a food source for naturally occurring predators. In addition, cats can spread disease to other species. In a study published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases in 1993, cats were listed as culprits in the spread of feline distemper and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) to populations of the endangered Florida panther.

According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, outdoor cats can be implicated in the killings of hundreds of millions of birds and perhaps a billion small mammals each year. Rural cats have the most impact, as 90 percent of their diet is dependent on wildlife.

Predation by cats has led to the extinction of several bird species, and is particularly devastating to nesting shorebirds and island seabird populations. Introduced onto islands as both a way to combat rats (also human-introduced, albeit inadvertently) and as pets, cats took to hunting the native bird species, which were not adapted to such predators. On the islands of New Zealand alone, cats were responsible for the extinction of eight bird species. Within the U.S., bird species considered to be particularly susceptible to cats include ground-nesting shorebirds whose populations are already in decline, and the endangered California Quail, a species known to be targeted by cats as prey.

In response to these impacts, several conservation organizations have become involved in education programs to encourage cat owners to keep their pets indoors. One such program is Cats Indoors!, developed by the American Bird Conservancy and promoted by the Audubon Society. The campaign has been in place for twelve years, and its tenets have been adopted by the states of Florida, Hawaii and Minnesota, as well as the Department of Defense and Outer Banks National Seashore.

Keeping cats indoors helps to ensure good health and protects small bird species that live in your neighborhood. (Photo credit: Mark Scheuern/Alamy)

Our citizen education program has thousands of activists across the country who are conducting education campaigns, getting local ordinances passes, trapping stray and feral cats themselves, and fighting efforts to legalize trap/neuter/release efforts in their communities, Cats Indoors! campaign director Linda Winter said.

Rural housecats and feral cats pose an even greater problem to wildlife due to their sheer numbers and their often complete reliance on wildlife for their diet. According to Dr. Jo Liska, director of educational programs for the Bloomington (Indiana) Animal Shelter, these cats potentially pose a danger to themselves and others around them.

“There is a prevalent mentality, especially in rural areas, that cats should be free to roam, and one doesn’t really care if they are not seen for awhile,” Liska said. “Generally, those cats are also intact, not vaccinated, and not tested for FIV/FeLV [Feline Leukemia Virus]. This endangers all cats who spend any time outdoors and unsupervised.”

Among the guidelines suggested by the Bloomington Animal Shelter include keeping cats indoors, spaying or neutering, keeping vaccinations complete and up to date, and testing for FIV/FeLV. Aside from preventing potentially devastating impacts on wildlife species, keeping cats indoors is also in the pets best interest.

“Indoor cats live an average of 15 years, while outdoor cats live a mere three to five,” Dr. Liska said. “The latter are subject to acts of cruelty, to predation by coyotes, dogs, skunk, et cetera, to vehicles, to disease, to starvation, and to inadvertent poisoning.”

Providing outdoor cats with food does little to decrease their impact on native species in the wild because their hunting instinct is not driven solely by hunger. The most effective solution is to prevent them from having the opportunity to hunt outdoors.

Outdoor cats take their share of wildlife, especially birds, even if they are well-fed, she said. They are natural predators simply doing what is hard-wired behavior.

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  1. This is such a horrible story
    cats killing litle birds and even little mammals that just a disgrace

  2. no its not. We kill animals and plants so we can eat! Do you think THATS wrong??? It just a normal life cycle thing!

  3. I think people let cats outdoors for exercise. I think it’s kind of cruel to keep them indoors. If I had a cat I’d walk outside on a cat leash then. It would get it’s exercise and stay indoors. It wouldn’t be able to kill anything while on a leash.

  4. Urban cats have less impact on the environment. It’s true I live in the city and never saw a cat killing any birds. The only birds are sparrows and pigeons and they are adapted to cats. So is it ok for urban cats to go outside?

  5. i never knew cats killed

  6. I think that people as a responsibility, should keep cats indoors. I know that cats are natural hunters, but humans domesticated cats, thus we should keep cats indoors not only for the birds and rodents sake, but your cats sake. As the article stated outdoor cats live an average of 3 years, while indoor cats live up to 15 years.

  7. i agree with person. My cat loves it outside and they need to get out, not all cooped up in a house. Anyways they have fun playing and cathching birds. It’s called the circle of life, everything eats, and everything dies

  8. Cats should be allowed outside when they want.Its cruel to keep them cooped up inside.

  9. Kittys shood b able 2go outside. its a stupid bird! nobody cares!

  10. my cat got eaten by a coyote when i let it outside!

  11. tyler lonyo/peterseim says

    Lonyo: cats should be able to do what they want when they want you dont need to get in a cats grill and mess with stupid stuff
    Peterseim: Overall, it is a cat owners decision to let their cat(s) inside or outside. In the end, nature will take its course and a cats instincts will take over so basically birds are going to die…….

  12. yea I agree with anonymous. Its just the circle of life. Birds have to deal with it.

  13. Circle of Life – GO COYOTES! Eat more cats.

  14. Cats are awesome, but what they are doing is really bad for the circle of life. They dont belong in the circle, they aren’t a part of the real circle of life, they should be at home, but not so they are trapped.

  15. cats kill anything that is smaller
    then them

  16. kalvinhart says

    why can’t all cats just eat nonliving organisms or cat food?

  17. deuntayhart says

    the cats eat anything smaller then them but when a dog or a snake they run like some crids but ahahahahahha im fu yung

  18. marcushart says

    i mean it was ok the cats arelike that

  19. My cat is an out door cat and kills animals yes, but its natural. Also the article says that cats kill mostly birds. My cat has killed a bird maybe five times…And mice and voles countless times. Also is it so bad to have population control over mice and other over-populated animals? I’m not saying it’s a good thing that they are endangering bird species but I’m saying that we endanger species such as the grizzly bear, and you don’t see organizations trying to keep us from going outside. It’s a right. And cats share the same right as we do.

  20. savammilie says

    The kitties are very adorable!!!:)

  21. I uderstant that cats are outdoors type of animals.But owners got to understant that cats are the reasond some of the small birds are going extict and got to keep them inside before it’s too late.

  22. Much like everywhere else in the world, it’s a dog eat dog world. or in this case, cat eat bird. just let them run their course. if they get eaten, so be it.
    they don’t kill to be mean, it’s a natural instinct to kill for survival.
    in my opinion, although i keep both of my kitties indoors, keeping a cat indoors or outdoors is up to you.
    it’s your rightful decision. everyone’s entitled to their own opinion

  23. This was very interesting

  24. i didnt know 34% of the U.S. population owns atleast one cat.

  25. Amber, 3rd Block says

    I had no clue that 34 percent of the United States population owns at least one cat. Nor did I know that cats actually killed humans.

  26. Briana Rucker says

    I didnt know cats have been known to kill so many mammals.

  27. i love cats but hate the way there the tong feels, there dangerous animals and should be stopped!!!!!

  28. joshua henson says

    cats are cool animals. they are like their ancestors in many ways. they hunt using the sneak attack. they will eat birds people.

  29. I think it is ridiculous to start a whole organization to keep CATS indoors. Hunting is a natural thing to them- it’s the circle of life.

  30. Michael Brown says

    I think people should keep their cats inside. Because more species of birds will go extinct if cats continue to eat them.

  31. B Moss Hoss (Brandon Mosley) says

    Birds have top be eaten, its just the circle of life. Sorry birds, it has to happen. Its not their fault but they have to die. I dont think cats should do that, but its instinctual

  32. The owners of the cats are not responsible for their cats hunting birds. Cats should not be cooped up in their houses all day long, they do need to get outside.-Heather.

  33. That’s what cats are supposed to do.

  34. Rogelio Balderas says

    Cats are not awesome, but what they are doing is really bad for the circle of life. They dont belong in the circle, they aren’t a part of the real circle of life, they should be home pets, but not so they are trapped.

  35. I think that what the cats are doing is not that bad. In some ways it is like, how they are making some birds exstinct. But cats have to eat.

  36. JimmyGordon says

    decreasing the cats population would be good for the bird population and it will increse alot more populations

  37. scbison#82 says

    it looks like when cats are living inside the house or indoor they live longer than they are suspected because when they are oudoor the are more attracted to vicous animals.. but birds is another natural life for the cat and it needs to be adverturous and need to be outside so it can live life and not be cooped in

  38. ashton hale says

    outdoor cats apparenly are going aroung killing birds. in some countries the have killed over 8 species. indoor cats live way longer then outdoor cats. and some people think that you shouldnt let your cats outside anymore.

  39. I didn’t know cats were skilled hunters and could effect the other animals in thesse ways.I think cats should be in the house.

  40. Jared henry says

    cats hunt by using there sneak attack and kill birds by using there surroundings

  41. well cats are just doing there normal nature

  42. i believe that that just the cats natural habitat

  43. i think cats should be able to go outside and play with their cat friends. birds are dumb anyways.

  44. Michael Thurber says

    This is a really bad story because cats wasn’t made to kill smaller anamials,and mammals. So i think people should keep there cats inside.

  45. cats need to be able to run and jump like they were ment to do so people should let their cats out. the birds need to be quicker if they dont want to die


  47. meow

  48. outdoors cats are mean y would you even decide to eat something that sound so good.and for the inside cats i love you all that is a good thing that you are helping people with their health thank you yours truly trice

  49. It is normal for any animal to be hunting their prey. If humans hunt and kill millions of animals, why can’t cats?

  50. I agree with Josh too.

  51. Hey everyone I have a idea feed you cats.

  52. I am glad to see so many agree that cats have a right to enjoy nature and the outdoors just as much as we do – and just as much as dogs do. It is the circle of life. Cats do us a service by keeping the rodent population in check.
    What do dogs do? (and I am not by any means against dogs I’m just making a point.) I wouldn’t worry about the songbirds or any birds (and I love birds too) and there are plenty.

  53. I let my cat outdoors, and she was bringing in small mice and sparrows. We got her a bell and we no longer have her bringing in any animals. Just make sure when your cat is outside she is wearing the bell. Just a tip! People who say its the natural cycle of life, it may be but house cats do not need to rely on them as a food source, as wild cats or bobcats do.

  54. hi,
    For me its easy to understand this cat bird relation. Yes cat are super hunters and there natural prey are birds mices etc. The real issue here is that there are litteraly millions of cats out there and that is the issu. Imagine if in africa there would be millions of lions outside. Outch what damage would they do to mother nature. Nature cant simply stand-up to so many perfect little Coutch hunter’s and thats it! so if you let them go outside get them a bell and problem solved.

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