Nature Watch: Keep Your Cats Indoors, Fairfield County

  • Comments (2)
He might look like a real pussycat, but outside the house, 15-pound Lou -- as well as other domestic felines -- can inflict damage to small wild creatures.
He might look like a real pussycat, but outside the house, 15-pound Lou -- as well as other domestic felines -- can inflict damage to small wild creatures. Photo Credit: Julie Curtis

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. — Cats kill birds, not to mention chipmunks, frogs, snakes and other small wild animals. It’s among the behaviors woven into their DNA. A new study by the University of Georgia and National Geographic estimates that 500 million birds alone fall prey to cat claws every year — some of them from species already facing survival problems.

I don’t want to put cat owners on the defensive, but birds are outdoor cats’ natural prey. I would like to give you a few reasons for keeping your house cat indoors and not putting out food for colonies of feral cats.

Foremost is the danger to your cat’s own life and well-being, mostly from encounters with other animals. Your pet can suffer torn ears, scratched eyes, abscesses and other injuries requiring expensive veterinary treatment.

In one study, researchers found that about 13 percent of a coyote’s diet consists of cats. Our next-door neighbor has lost at least two cats to raccoons. And think about having to clean a cat after an encounter with a skunk!

We also have a rabies problem in Westchester and Fairfield. Outdoor cats can become victims when they encounter rabid wild animals. 

Fatal diseases such as feline leukemia virus (FeLV) can be transmitted by bites or simple interaction between infected animals. Bites from other cats during a fight can transmit feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), which destroys a cat’s immune system. FIV is always fatal, although some cats do live for years with the disease.

Toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease, can be carried by cats and transmitted to humans. It’s especially dangerous to children and those with compromised immune systems. In 1995, 110 people in British Columbia, Canada, succumbed to severe infection from drinking water apparently tainted by the feces of a colony of feral cats.

If disease and wild animals don’t get kitty, the family car might. Millions of cats are run over every year. You might even kill your pet yourself. Cats like to sleep under cars and sometimes crawl into a wheel cavity or up into the engine compartment to get warm. A cat napping in your engine will die if you turn on the car.

How do you make your pet happy indoors? Now is the perfect time to start the training. 

Cats love warmth, which makes the house more appealing as fall turns to winter. Be ready to give your cat more attention so it relishes being inside. Add toys, playtime and other ways for your cat to remain active.

You’ll have a healthier and longer-lived pet, not to mention happier birds in your backyard.

John Hannan is director of development for Audubon in Connecticut.

  • 2

Comments (2)

I am a firm proponent of always keeping cats indoors. There are so many more dangers out there than there were years ago. We all remember when people put the cat out for the night, but the cats had nowhere to go? When farmers "put the cat out for the night", at least the cat had somewhere warm and cozy to go - the barn! Wildlife is the least of the dangers; diseases, some not-so-nice people, leghold traps, hunters, and cars are far more serious. However, I would like to offer a small correction on the difference of severity between FIV and FeLV. FeLV is the more serious immunodepressive disease than FIV. FIV is NOT a death sentence when compared to FeLV – the more serious of the two. Healthy cats can and do live with FIV+ cats without getting the virus, unless, of course, they fight seriously and exchange blood/saliva. FIV+ cats can live a very long and healthy life when cared for properly. FeLV+ cats should be separated from healthy cats because not only blood/saliva exchange, but eating from the same bowls, and grooming can transmit the virus. There have been many cat owners who own healthy and FeLV+ cats, they vaccinate the healthy ones, and hope for the best because all vaccines are only about 80% effective. Cats that are kept indoors are healthier, live longer lives, and definitely save their owners a lot on veterinary bills!

Thanks, this is very informative. I'm a convert to the indoor cat lifestyle and my cat is actually very happy living this way. It's nice not to have to worry about getting her in at night fearing a coyote will make off with her.