By: Paige Goodstein
Thousands of people let their indoor cats freely roam the great outdoors. However, letting your cat outside for some fresh air could have grave impacts on both the environment and your feline. It is important for all cat owners to know these impacts, and what you can do to help.
Cats are natural predators. Therefore, instinctively, they prey on other animals. According to studies, the mortality rate of birds and other mammals in the United States is greatly caused by cats. Although cats without owners, such as stray or feral cats, are the greatest contributor to the mortality rate, they are not the only cats depredating native wildlife. It is estimated that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.3–4.0 billion birds and 6.3–22.3 billion mammals annually. In addition to the bird and mammal mortality rates, free-ranging cats are killing other types of wildlife as well. It is estimated that approximately 478 million reptiles and 173 million amphibians a year could also be killed by felines in the United States.
In addition to the negative effects a cat can cause to the survival of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, cats can also transmit diseases. Although your domestic cat is probably vaccinated, it is best to keep your cat away from the stray cats that carry diseases. Through open wounds, cats can become seriously ill. By keeping your cat indoors, it is believed they will most likely avoid infection-spreading parasites, fleas and ticks, and hazards from poisons like antifreeze.
Unfortunately, if your cat is bitten or shares the same food and/or water bowl with a cat with feline leukemia, it risks contracting the disease. Feline panleukopenia, or feline distemper, is another highly contagious viral disease in cats. Mostly kittens are at risk for this disease. Unfortunately, even after treatment, kittens usually die after contracting feline distemper. It spreads through fleas, feces, bodily fluids, and is mostly transmitted by contaminated food and water bowls. Raccoons can become infected with feline distemper as well, and if food and water bowls are shared with outdoor cats, they can infect each other.
The most dangerous disease is rabies. All mammals can contract rabies, and this includes humans. Transmission usually occurs from bites from other wild animals. Rabies attacks the nervous system, and the disease can incubate in a cat for several weeks. Symptoms of rabies include the following:
- Poor coordination
- Strange behavior
- Weight loss
Although there is no cure for rabies, you can help your cat by staying up to date on proper vaccinations and keeping them away from wild animals.
How to Help
Keeping your cat indoors is the quick and obvious fix to the mortality rate and to spreading diseases . However, there are other ways to help! Begin by educating yourself and other cat owners on the dangers that can occur by letting a domestic cat outdoors. Organizations and animal centers’ websites have information and possible solutions to these issues.
If your cat insists on continuing to roam outside, supervise your cat’s outdoor adventures and consider a pet leash. To be a responsible pet owner not only means protecting your pet from harm, but also protecting your pet from causing harm.