Cats and the Great Outdoors Are a Deadly Combination

By Teresa Chagrin

Do you know where your cats are? If they’re lounging on their cat tree, batting a toy around the living room or curled up on your lap, great! If they’re wandering outside, please find them and bring them inside — before someone gets killed.

That isn’t an exaggeration. A recent study published in the journal Nature Communications found that cats allowed to roam outdoors eat members of more than 2,000 wildlife species, of which nearly 350 are vulnerable or endangered.

And the number of species cats kill may be even higher because, as the study notes, cats don’t always consume their victims. Previous research has linked free-roaming cats to the extinction of at least 60 species globally.

Even if humans feed cats, these animals instinctively maim and kill birds, amphibians, small mammals and members of other species. Billions of terrified individuals endure violent deaths inflicted by cats’ teeth and claws every year. And if you think your cat kills “only” mice (who feel pain and fear just as keenly as any other animal does), think again. Cats are by far the most significant cause of human-related bird deaths. Vulnerable wildlife stands no chance against these non-native and highly efficient predators.

Letting cats roam outside threatens more than wildlife — it typically cuts their own lives tragically short, often by a decade or more. Most cats survive only two to five years outdoors, compared to 12 to 15 years for cats who live indoors. Every year, countless cats who are allowed outdoors unsupervised or dumped on the streets in trap-neuter-(re)abandon programs are killed by vehicles, poison, contagious diseases, weather extremes, predators or cruel humans.

In the past few months alone, a cat in Georgia contracted rabies and died after being attacked by another animal, a cat in Ohio was killed by dogs and a cat in Wyoming was shot in the face with a pellet gun at least 19 times while inside a trap or cage. A cat in Pennsylvania apparently suffered frostbite so severe that both her ears crumbled off, a cat in Colorado was diagnosed with plague and a cat in Florida died after being poisoned — possibly by a neighbor who had reportedly threatened to kill the animal for scratching his car. These are just a few of the cases that have made the news recently. Most are never reported.

Cats are domesticated animals who are not equipped to survive the many perils they face outdoors. People who let their cats roam put them and wildlife in extreme danger. And groups that trap-neuter-(re)abandon them on the streets aren’t “saving” them at all — they’re sentencing them and other animals to horrific, agonizing deaths.

Fortunately, cats can enjoy interesting, fulfilling and long lives indoors. Get your cat’s heart and mind racing by playing with them at least twice daily for 10 to 15 minutes. Interactive wand-type toys, rolled-up paper balls, ping-pong balls and felt “mice” are feline favorites. Multistory cat trees, scratching posts, window perches, tunnels, cardboard boxes and paper bags (with handles removed) encourage cats to jump, climb, stretch and explore. Be sure to scoop litter boxes at least twice daily. Scrub them and refill them with fresh litter weekly.

Some cats — if they’re given a gradual, patient introduction to it with plenty of treats — can become comfortable wearing a harness and enjoy going for leashed strolls outdoors with their guardians. Another option is to build a securely enclosed “catio” to allow your feline friend to spend supervised time outside safely.

With just a little effort from their guardians, cats can be happy and healthy in the great indoors, without leaving a trail of victims — or becoming victims themselves.