Recently, I received a few interesting emails with information on outdoor cats that I would like to share and comment on. When referring to outdoor cats, I generally avoid terms like ‘stray cats’, ‘pet cats’, and ‘outdoor cats’ and although I cannot speak for all scientists, most categorize any cat that is outdoors as ‘feral’. Why would we consider outdoor cats feral? Because cats are not native to the United States. Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iran are considered the primary locations of cat domestication. From the Middle East cats spread through Asia and Europe then, with the Pilgrims, to North America. Simply put there are no domesticated cats that are indigenous to America.
Recent evidence indicates that domesticated cats are now found throughout the world and are considered the most common and popular pet on earth. So, why should we care if people have cats as pets? The answer – we should not as long as cats stay indoors! Cats are efficient hunters and remember, cats are non-native to the US and it is believed that our native bird, mammal, amphibian, and reptile species are not adapted to cats.
Researchers from the University of Georgia (http://www.kittycams.uga.edu/), placed video cameras on 55 house cats. They noted that 44% of the cats hunted wildlife and they captured an average of 2 prey items during seven days of roaming. Additionally, 85% of the cats engaged in high risk behaviors including crossing roads, encountering strange cats, eating and drinking questionable items, and entering storm drains and crawlspaces. I encourage you to visit the above website and watch a video presentation of their research projects. Also, I received the following comic that illustrates the magnitude of feral cats’ impact on wildlife (http://theoatmeal.com/comics/cats_actually_kill). Essentially, the past estimates that feral cats kill ~1 million species per year is extremely low. Now, it is believed the estimates of wildlife killed per year by feral cats are estimated closer to 3 billion, an astonishing number that has to have a profound effect on the ecological community.
In conclusion, although not a cat person myself, I appreciate the companionship that pets provide. Research showing the positive effects that pets can have on an individual’s health, happiness and emotional wellbeing are plentiful. I am supportive of people having cats as pets as long as they remain indoors.