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Keeping Cats Indoors

Seattle Audubon wants to encourage cat owners, current and future, to keep their feline friends indoors.  This is a divisive issue, but ultimately keeping pet cats indoors is a positive for both the pets and native bird and animal populations. 

For their Health

It’s well proven that keeping your cats indoors helps keep them healthy, avoiding many risks.  Among the things that can greet a cat outdoors are fatal encounters with dogs, wild animals like raccoons and coyotes, and cars.  They can contract diseases by interacting with other pets or feral cats.  Cats that don't go outside will also not bring fleas into your home,

Training a cat that’s used to being outside is very difficult but it can be done.  The Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) has good tips on dealing with cats that have spent a lot of time outdoors.  One important approach is to gradual adjustment of the amount of time they spend outside, initially bringing them in more during the wildlife breeding season between March and June.  Providing plenty of entertainment, from access to window, scatching posts, and plenty of toys will also enrich their new indoor lives.  Thankfully, if you never introduce cats to the world outside they don’t often want to explore it and will happily and healthily live indoors.  Even if you have a small home, a little bit of time spent playing with your cat(s) should be all they need to be satisfied.  If you feel strongly that your cat needs outside time, there are a variety of structures that can facilitate that while keeping them from harm and disturbing native wildlife.

For the Health of Wildlife Populations 

Despite what you might think, your sweet cat is a hardwired predator.  This isn’t a vilification, simply a fact.  Their behavior as predators is not something that be trained away.  There are about 50,000 cats in the Greater Puget Sound area, if each cat catches only one bird a month, that's still 6 million birds killed a year.  Even if you don't see your cat catching wildlife, they could still be doing it.  With an average of 20 cats per block in Seattle, according to a Department of Fish and Wildlife study, that's a huge impact.  Certainly some cats are better hunters than others but the latest estimates show that between outdoor pets and feral populations, domestic cats kill, on average, 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year.  There are a lot of birds in our country but we’ve got cars, sky scrapers, wind towers, pollution, and habitat destruction lumped along with our pet cats as sources of population crashes. Keeping your cat indoors is a simple way to do your part and not exacerbate our diminishing birdlife.

There are many excuses and objections but none have much ground:

My cat only kills wildlife that isn't fit, (s)he is just contributing to natural selection: As introduced animals, they play no role in natural selection, doing nothing to moderate wildlife populations, instead killing instinctively and indiscriminately.  Our native species have little natural defense against domestic cats. 

My cat is well fed: Even well fed cats will continue to hunt, which means that they are often more fit and capable hunters.

Bells Don't Help: birds don't recognize a soft, tinkling bell as an alarm and will not scare away in time.  Cats can learn to walk soundlessly, even with a bell. 

Only feral cats are the problem: Feral cats are part of the problem but that doesn't get you off the hook. Feral populations can build to high numbers, as domestic cats will tolerate close quarters with others and live together. The American Bird conservancy is a strong opponent of spay/neuter and release programs for feral cats because there's no evidence that they actually do anything to reduce numbers (you can't catch every cat) and still allow feral cats to hunt for the rest of their lifetime.    

For more information about indoor cats visit the PAWS and American Bird Conservancy Pages on indoor cats.

Seattle Audubon is nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization. Copyright 2017 Seattle Audubon.