The domestic cat has long been a loved companion of humans, and for thousands of years, people have loved having a feline to call their own.
In recent years, the way that these cats live have come under some scrutiny, especially when it comes to the potential havoc that they reek on the environment around them.
The average cat can get up to a lot of mischief when left outside, and those that are free to wander are known as some of the biggest offenders when it comes to causing ecological harm.
Although it may seem innocent enough, the damage they do can be widespread, and it’s up to us as their owners to put a stop to this cycle.
Are cats predators and what ecological harm can they do?
The average domesticated cat can have far reaching effects including disease, unwanted breeding, and the damage and destruction of wildlife. As their owners, we’re responsible for these effects, and it’s up to us to keep them inside of the house at all times.
Not many people realize just how much harm a cat is capable of, and while they might be fluffy and cute to us, they can run rampant when left to their own devices. We’re going to look at the lifestyle of the average domesticated cat in the outdoors, the ecological harm they’re capable of, and what we can do about it.
The Daily Lifestyle of Cats
The average house cat that lives inside has a very simple life. They cuddle up to us on the couch, play with their toys, and eat their carefully portioned food when it’s fed to them.
A cat that’s allowed to venture outside unchecked though lives a very different life, whether it’s a free-ranging cat owned by someone or a feral animal left to survive in the wild.
The daily lifestyle of a cat outside can give us some indication of what they’re capable of when they’re not looked after.
From the moment they wake up, a cat will engage its predator instinct and hunt various insects and animals, usually with a successful kill here and there. On the menu for cats is everything from birds to fish, reptiles, amphibians, and insects, or whatever can be found in their local area.
According to the Wildlife Society, the average house cat kills an average of two animals per week, and three times as many when they are feral.
Considering the domestic house cat can live up to 16 years, and sometimes longer, that equates to over 800 animals killed in its lifetime or 2,400 for the stray. Some will kill more, depending on where they live and how often they’re left outside to roam free, which is an astonishing impact on the environment.
When left outside to roam, a cat may also come into season and mate with other cats if they’re not desexed by their owners, leading to litters upon litters of unwanted kittens that will also become feral and likely live outside themselves, even if domesticated.
At other times, a cat could potentially spread diseases to other cats and animals, either through mating or other methods, which then spreads on further.
The Number One Threat to Birds
One of the most troubling impacts that cats have on the environment is their destruction of birds, with more people worrying about this than the average rodent that they might catch.
Although many are happy for cats to catch mice and rats, as natural predators there is no line drawn for them, and unfortunately it leads to millions of birds being killed each year as well.
Organizations like the American Bird Conservancy and the Wildlife Society have urged owners to keep their cats indoors for this very reason, although not everyone is happy to comply, leading to serious consequences.
In areas where protected species live it can be even more concerning, as they threaten to wipe out entire species with their natural predatory instincts.
An infamous example of a cat doing serious damage to the environment centers around a single cat living in New Zealand in the late 1800s. The feline moved with its owner to an untouched island there and was left to roam free outside.
In a short time, the cat caused the extinction of the Stephens Island Wren all by itself, and that was just one feline working in one place in a story that is not so unique.
Other Ecological Problems Cats Cause
The most obvious damage a wild cat causes is by killing birds and other animals, but that’s not all we have to worry about. This is the potential ecological harm that a domestic cat can do when left to roam free outside.
- Sicks cats are capable of spreading disease to humans and animals that can have fatal consequences, and lead to ongoing medical issues.
- Cause a fear effect in wildlife around them which leads to a change in habits like reduced reproduction rates in other animals.
- Reduce the amount of food available for wild cats who aren’t fed by humans, which leads to competition and fighting among them.
- Feral and domestic cats are believed to be reducing the population of wildcats in some areas due to hybridization that occurs between the species.
The Solution to Cats Causing Harm
For the domestic cat, the solution to reducing this environmental impact is easy and falls solely in the hands of their owners.
It’s your duty as a pet owner to ensure your cat is kept inside where it can’t harm any wildlife, and in addition to that, have them spayed or neutered so that they can’t reproduce. With these two simple steps, you’ll reduce their ecological impact and ensure the feral cat problem is handled as well.
If you don’t want your cat to give up on their outside time completely, there are further options. First, you can invest in a small cage or enclosed area that lets them enjoy the outdoors without harming any wildlife or running away.
Secondly, you can equip them with a lead and collar to walk them around the yard, just as you would a dog, and keep their surroundings untouched and safe.
You’ll have to set up the inside of your home so that it’s comfortable, safe, and engaging for a pet, just as you would a dog who needs to be kept indoors.
You’ll want a litter tray for them to use, fresh water and food available each day, and a range of toys that allow them to maintain their natural predator instincts with hunting, swiping, catching, and biting.
When it comes to reducing the impact of feral cats who can’t simply be bought inside, there has been a lot of debate between conservationists and advocates about what the right path is to take.
As they want to avoid killing them unnecessarily but need to reduce their breeding patterns, the Trap-Neuter-Return program has been introduced. This allows wild cats to be caught, neutered, and then released to the wild so they can continue living but without the ability to breed.
Although known as our cuddly companions, cats are natural predators that can do a lot of damage when left to wander on their own outside.
If you have a cat or want to know more about the potential ecological effects they can have when let free, we’ve answered some FAQs to help you out.
Do Indoor Cats Get Depressed?
A common myth surrounding domestic cats is that they’ll become bored and depressed if they never get to go outside.
However, these domesticated cats can thrive inside and will experience a happier and less stressful life than if they had to live outside and fend for themselves or hunt for their food.
Can You Keep a Cat in an Apartment?
If you have a smaller space indoors and want to keep an indoor cat, it’s easier to do than trying to have a dog in the same area, provided you have the right setup.
Cats get their daily activity requirements living inside and can adjust to their surroundings usually, so an apartment with enough space and stimulation for them shouldn’t be a problem.
Do Cats Like to Walk on a Leash?
Whether or not your cat wants to walk on a leash will depend on them and their personality, as some cats enjoy it and others don’t.
To test if your cat enjoys being walked on a lead, choose a comfortable type that doesn’t make them feel restrained, and try it out indoors first to gauge their response. If they seem to enjoy it, you can take them outdoors to see whether they like that as well.