Is your precious Twinkletoes Cattywumpus killing baby bunnies in cold blood, then coming home and snuggling up to your baby? Or cheating on you with another family? Or fighting off dogs and coyotes in his spare time? Or sleeping under cars when you’re home snuggled in bed unaware? Several recent studies show that cats lead lives in and out of the home that are far different than what we imagined. Last year researchers outfitted cats in Athens, Georgia with little cameras that take pictures every few minutes to better understand the secret lives out outdoor cats. These kitty cams showed that cat predation rates on birds and small mammals were much higher than researchers originally expected. The kitty cams also showed that cats enter into risky situations and even eat weird things on a regular basis. Another study that was just completed showed that cats are enemy #1 for birds and small mammals.
The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute just completed the first systematic review of cat predation rates in the United States and the results are shocking. According to the Institute, free-ranging domestic cats kill between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds and between 6.9 and 20.7 billion small mammals. That’s billion, not million, people. Prior to this study, scientists estimated that rate to be much lower at hundreds of millions of birds and a little over a billion small mammals. The kitty cams in Athens discovered that cats only bring home about 25% of the prey that they kill so if you think your cat is only killing about once a week, chances are the number is four times that amount. Cats are, by and large, uninformed about the Endangered Species Act so they go after both common songbirds like Cardinals, Warblers and Wrens and endangered birds such as Piping Plovers, and the California Least Tern. Cats are now considered the largest human related source of mortality for birds and small mammals.
Kitty cams also revealed interesting facts about cats’ lives outdoors, particularly the risks they face daily. One kitty cam showed a cat that led a double life spending time during the day with another family and going back to its owners at night. The cuckolded owner was not amused! Other cams showed cats living in the sewer during the day, hiding out under cars, and chasing the neighbors’ chickens. More importantly, these cameras revealed in over 2,000 hours of footage that 85% of the 60 cats experienced at least one risk factor a week, making their outdoor lives more dangerous than owners or researchers anticipated. In the study, 45% of the cats darted across roads and 25% ate or drank things they found lying around. They also encountered dangerous wildlife and dogs.
The bottom line is that you’ll be doing your cat and the environment a huge favor by leaving them indoors. If you think Kittykins Pawsywawsy really needs they types of challenges only found outdoors, leave some crumbs around indoors for the mice. He’ll earn his keep and have fun while doing it! If mice aren’t your thing (and really do you know anyone who likes wild mice in their house?) spend time playing with your cat, make sure they have several scratching posts, let them entertain themselves with different items like paper bags, balls, cardboard boxes, fake mice or suitcases and think about building a large climbing post that looks out the window. I love this minimalist cat climbing post made with rope and a pole (file this under “things to do with the old stripper pole”!). I also love the idea of repurposing an old suitcase and making it into a hip and cool cat bed. So, go get ‘em Tiger, just do it inside, please.
Ed. Note: The author’s new indoor tuxedo cat has a much more preposterous name than any of the fake names in this article. His name is Sir Spencer Clyde Dark Skies Twinkletoes Noble Phillips. Sir Phillips was rescued from the euthanasia list at a kill shelter by an amazing no-kill shelter in Salt Lake City called the Utah Animal Adoption Center. They have great cats and lots of puppies and dogs too. If you’re in the market for a new dog or cat, check them out or, in Park City, check out Friends of Animals.