Caring for and Healing the Earth


The Facts About Cats

Dallas Johnson (Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists)

If sheer number were the criterion, then the cat would be considered the most popular pet in North America (sorry dog lovers!) According to United States Census data, there are over 60 million household cats in that country.  Careful estimates also place free-ranging, feral cats at an additional 40 million, for a total population of 100 million felines.  Canada has a similar percentage of households with cats, but the feral population is much lower due to our harsh winters.


The cat has been regarded with a unique mixture of adoration and awe since the species was first domesticated in ancient Egypt some four thousand years ago.  Though the cat is now kept mostly as a pet, historically it was bred and used exclusively to curb rodent populations in grain storage areas.  There are many recognized breeds of domestic cat that differ widely in appearance, but they all share one common characteristic....each has retained the hunting instinct of their wild forbears.  This fact has far reaching implications for our small mammals and birds.

The National Audubon Society estimates that feral and free-roaming domestic cats kill hundreds of millions of native birds ( ... sadly, even endangered species), and even greater numbers of small mammals (squirrels, mice, voles, rabbits) annually in North America.  As non-native predators, cats wreak havoc in natural ecosystems that have had little time to evolve effective defense mechanisms.  When it comes to killing it doesn't seem to matter if a cat is well cared for.  One U.S. study documented the activity of a well-fed domestic cat that killed 1600 small animals and birds in an 18-month period.  Popular measures used to mitigate the impacts cats have on wildlife (declawing, collars with bells, etc.) are believed to be relatively ineffective.

There are other negative effects associated with free-roaming and feral cats.  For instance, cats displace native predators by reducing prey availability. They can also act as significant disease (rabies, feline distemper, etc.) vectors to both wild and domestic animal populations.  It is also a fallacy to believe that cats somehow benefit from having the freedom to roam.  The Toronto Humane Society estimates the average life span of an outdoor cat to be around three years, compared to 16-20 for an indoor cat.  This discrepancy is largely due to car-related fatalities (l.5 million cats are struck by cars annually in the USA), disease, dogs, coyotes, and great horned owls.

Veterinarians & many naturalists agree that the solution is simple and clear: for the sake of both cats & wildlife, cats should be kept indoors.


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