If you love your cat, you’ll keep him indoors

Readers often ask if it’s possible to love both wild birds and cats. My answer is “yes.”

But I always add that, “Cats make great indoor pets.”

Our last cat lived the good life for 17 years. Outdoors, cats kill millions of song birds and small mammals annually, and their life expectancy shortens considerably. Here’s a partial list of the risks that even part-time outdoor cats face:

– attack by dogs, other cats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes that can result in serious puncture wounds, infections, rabies, distemper, and death.

– they pick up fleas, ticks, and other parasites, which can be passed on to family members.

– cruel treatment by sadistic people; ask a local animal shelter worker how often they see cats that have been shot, stabbed, or set on fire.

– they may get lost.

– they may be stolen.

Tasty morsels, too?

A recent study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management confirms another ubiquitous danger. Coyotes find cats quite tasty.

Shannon Grubbs of the University of Arizona and Paul Kraus of the University of Montana captured, radio-collared, and tracked eight coyotes in Tucson, Arizona during the winter of 2005-2006. They report that in 19 of 36 coyote-cat interactions they observed, coyotes killed cats.

In another 45 cases where coyotes were observed eating, 42 percent of the meals were cats.

The authors concluded that outdoor cats are vulnerable to coyote predation, and that cats should be kept indoors.

Today, coyotes are no longer found only in the western states. They have expanded their range and are now found throughout the eastern U.S. All outdoor cats, even those left outdoors briefly each day, are at risk.

Trap, neuter and season?

Proponents of Trap, Neuter, and Release (TNR) programs that trap feral cats, neuter them, and then release them back into the wild should also take heed. Why bother with the expense of TNR programs only to provide tasty treats for coyotes? It’s hardly a humane solution to the feral cat problem.

Darin Schroeder, vice president of conservation advocacy for the American Bird Conservancy, advises cat lovers, “Providing an all-you-can-eat buffet for coyotes is not a sensible solution, and we urge states and communities to reject this inhumane approach to controlling the feral cat problem and to require responsible care of pets and the removal of feral cats from the wild.”

As a birder, I cringe at the number of song birds pet and feral cats kill each year. They only do what comes naturally, so I don’t fault the cats.

In one study in Wichita, Kan., for example, 34 of 41 cats killed birds. And the cat that killed more animals than any other in the study had been declawed.

In another study, six cats were presented a small live rat while eating their favorite food. All six cats stopped eating, killed the rat, then resumed the meal.

Keep them indoors

Ending this slaughter is simple — keep all cats indoors.

Many cat owners counter that they only let their cats outside for a few hours each day, that they need fresh air, or that it’s not natural for cats to be indoors. The price for fresh air can be steep — increased exposure to road traffic, predators, parasites, disease, and death.

If you must

But there is a simple solution for those who insist on some outdoor time for their cats — provide an outdoor enclosure. It not only protects birds and other wildlife from roaming cats, but it also protects cats from all the dangers posed by the outside world.

It takes some time and money, but surely valued pet cats are worth the cost and effort.

One do-it-yourself option is to enclose a portion of an existing porch with chicken wire. Provide a climbing/scratching post, a few observation platforms at different levels, and sleeping box, and cats can get fresh air, exercise, and watch the world go by.

For ideas, a book of cat enclosure plans ($25) is available at www.just4cats.com. For the less handy, prefabricated enclosures of various sizes are available (www.cdpets.com).

Keeping cats indoors or in enclosures is a no-brainer. It’s best for cats, their owners, the neighbors, and the environment.

About the Author

Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. Send questions and comments to scottshalaway@gmail.com. You can also visit his Web site, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com. More Stories by Scott Shalaway

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