Outdoor cats: Truth and consequences


URBANA, Ill. — You’ve probably heard that outdoor cats are bad for the bird population, but is that the whole story, the only argument for keeping your cat indoors?

Kenneth Welle, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, recently explained a variety of health impacts — on wildlife as well as on the cats — when cats are allowed to roam.

Bird kill

Feral and outdoor cats kill hundreds of millions of birds every year in the United States, according to the American Bird Conservancy.

When cats are introduced as predators into a new environment, populations can often be devastated. Where populations are already dealing with predators, the devastation on the birds is often lessened because the birds may have natural defenses to protect themselves. Nevertheless, cats are a major predator that is often harmful to any bird population.

Bell ringing

Many people think that placing a bell around the cat’s neck will cause birds to disperse. The sound of a bell, however, does not trigger an alarm response in birds and often birds do not respond.

Cat owners should know that there are more reasons to keep cats indoors than preventing bird kills. Disease, cars, and predators are major threats to the life of an outdoor cat. The lifespan of a feral cat is two to three years, whereas an indoor cat will average 12 to 15 years, and often live to 20 years, according to Dr. Welle.


Diseases can also be more prevalent in outdoor cats. Vaccinations don’t help for all the diseases of concern in outdoor cats. However, outdoor cats are just as likely to succumb to dogs, coyotes, cars, and parasites as they are to die from disease.

The myth that “keeping cats indoors stifles their nature” is not true. According to Dr. Welle, indoor environments can be complex enough to provide stimulation. Adding elements such as climbing structures, catnip sources, and toys can help keep the indoor environment satisfying to cats.

The impact of cats on the wildlife ecosystem extends beyond your backyard. In fact, cats can negatively affect conservation on a large scale. If you have questions or want more information, contact your local veterinarian.


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  1. The author talks about keeping cats indoors to keep them safe, but compares the estimated reduced lifespan of the feral cat to the lifespan of the indoor cat. You can’t keep a feral cat indoors, and the indoor/outdoor owned cat is not a feral cat. Using feral cat lifespan numbers to scare cat owners with, is a ploy, not good information.
    If bells don’t work on cats, why not mention the CatBib. University field tested the bib and showed it stopped 81% of cats from catching any birds. Recommended by Audubon/Jan-Feb 2008 magazine issue.

  2. 1)Many mistruths are stated about feral cats. They live long and good lives if fixed and cared for. Using TNR: trap the cat, neuter/spay them, return to where trapped and care for them. We have lots of feral cats over 10 years old and it’s common for them to live a lot longer. 2)It’s now scientifically proven that feral cats have no more disease than a house kitty.
    3)Lots of people believe the misinformation spurted out by the American Bird Conservancy(ABC). They still use the Wisconsin study that even the authors say should not be used to determine bird deaths. Unfortunately ABC only wants birds on this planet. I prefer animals and believe no animal should be killed to save another. Killing is never the answer even though the human species uses killing to solve most problems.
    4)Many feel just remove the cats and take them to the City pound. Well feral cats are killed there and this solves nothing in the long run, let alone that we are killing again. When cats are removed it opens a territory and other cats will come in and start the breeding all over again solving nothing.
    So get your facts correct, stop the killing and implement a program that will absolutely solve the overpopulation, TNR. For the FACTS and information on feral cats, please check out http://www.alleycat.org

    • @L. Yaco: A few questions for an article I’m working on…

      -Can you point me to the Wisconsin study and somewhere the authors say that it should not be used to determine bird deaths?
      -Are there peer-reviewed studies that state that feral cats have the same disease rate as domestic cats and that they live longer if they are neutered?

      I have not looked over alleycats.org in detail yet, but I intend to in the next few days.

  3. A little insight to help you with your war on cat-lovers and their cats. Maybe if you explain this to them you won’t have to use more drastic means.

    I have come to the conclusion that the vast majority of cat-lovers and cat-owners that let theirs roam free, and those that defend the rights for feral cats to overtake public property and wildlife areas, are only (cowardly) using cats as a proxy for their own territorial behavior. Not unlike inner-city youth that will disrespectfully and inconsiderately use a boom-box to stake-out a territory for themselves with loud music. As long as they can have one of their possessions defecate in another’s yard and the yard-owner not have any recourse to do anything about it, the cat-owner owns that territory. It’s time to put a stop to them using their “cute kitty” excuse for usurping and stealing others’ property. If they want territory they can damn well buy it just like anyone else. Instead of using their underhanded, disrespectful, and manipulative means, putting (and sacrificing) live animals in the path of their envy and greed. Again proving why they don’t care about cats nor anyone else at all. Cat-lovers only really want your lawn, yard, or forest while making all others suffer for what they can’t have nor own. Bottom line–they want to control you and your property. That’s all that “cat-lovers” are really after. It’s why they don’t care at all if their cat nor any other animals get harmed on your property.

  4. Here is an interesting post from someone who believed in all the lies she was told about TNR programs, found at http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/science/2011/05/the-secret-lives-of-feral-cats/

    “I have been battling a feral cat population explosion on my farmette for 7 years. TNR does not work, as the trapped and neutered cats do not keep new cats from moving in and adding kittens. I have trapped over 25 kittens, tamed them, and found homes for them, but every spring there are dozens more. I have spent countless dollars neutering females and males, but they just keep coming! I have few wild birds now, fewer snakes, and there are bunny parts all over my property (cats must not particularly like the back feet). I wish there was a birth-control feed available, since many of these feral cats don’t come near the traps even when hungry. I wish every pet owner would neuter their cats so that these colonies weren’t added to.
    These are not happy feral cats, they frequently have infected eyes, worms, and are skinny and mangey. I don’t know what the answer is, but even in the country, a feral cat doesn’t live a secure, comfortable life.

    Comment by Dawn Hawes — June 21, 2011 @ 9:38 am”

    And YOU TOO can have a financially-distressed, ruled-by-cats, life like this if you also believe in all their TNR LIES.

  5. Here’s another Fun-Fact that trap-advocates fail to realize, in their infinite ignorance of how animal-behavior and evolution works.

    Those cats that have learned to avoid and evade all trapping methods are the next generation to survive. Ever hear the old adage, “If you invent a better mousetrap nature will just invent a better mouse.”?

    So now, thanks to the supreme stupidity and ignorance of trap-advocates, we have a race of freely roaming cats in all countrysides of every continent which are passing on their “how to survive” behavior to all their offspring, both genetically and behaviorally. Now the next phase of millions of feral-cats won’t even be able to be trapped. This is just how amazingly stupid trap-advocates are. You thought 150,000,000 feral cats was bad? In colloquial terms, “You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!”

    There’s a reason the phrase “hunted to extinction” is so well-known in all cultures across all lands. It is the ONLY method that is faster than a species can breed and adapt to.

    By the way, look up the term these TNR advocates just LOVE to use on how they reduce their feral-cat numbers, their candy-coating feel-good term of “Death by Attrition”. This means that the cat will die from disease, cat-attacks, animal-attacks, exposure to the elements, being road-kill, starvation, and any other means that drastically shortens the life of those cats. ALL their cats suffering for how many months or years it takes to die that way. In many parts of this country and the world this clearly falls under the guidelines for cruelty to animals, animal-abuse, and animal-abandonment laws.

    If you want to raise revenue for your towns and cities in order to deal with this invasive-species ecological-disaster properly, start charging all these TNR advocates with severe fines and imprisonment for CRUELTY TO ANIMALS. Not only are they cruelly torturing cats, but also all the wildlife that they inflict their cats upon.

    They’re not doing this out of any goodness of their hearts. THEY DON’T HAVE HEARTS. Proved, 100%.

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