Westchester Cat Owners: Keep Your Felines Indoors

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He might look like a real pussycat, but outside the house, 15-pound Lou the cat — as well as other domestic felines — can inflict damage to other living creatures.
He might look like a real pussycat, but outside the house, 15-pound Lou the cat — as well as other domestic felines — can inflict damage to other living 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.

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Comments (12)

I'd love to keep my cat indoors. She will not have it. I know it would keep her safer(she's had scraps w other animals) She does give in to her natural hunting tendencies and we have had very many mice, chipmunks, moles, birds, rabbits, squirrels, brought to us as a present. It makes me sad every time but I know it's in her genetic makeup to hunt.

For all the people who think that their cats don't kill many birds, when they did studies where they fitted cat's collars with video cameras, it turned out that the ones who kill don't bring home all of their prizes...just some of them. Unless you fit your cat with a video collar and spend a few days watching what they're doing, you really don't know what's going on. For those who think it's no so bad and that birds are really being killed by pesticides...you really want to take a chance on your cat nibbling on a bird that has poison in them?

My wonderful cat was killed by two friendly huskies who either dug out from under their fence or pushed open a faulty latch on their owner's fence. She was killed on my front lawn and died a horrible death - broken neck and back, but still alive. It is something I will never forget.

John Hannan, why don't you just keep all the birds indoors? Or maybe tell human beings that sport hunting is wrong? Or maybe tell farmers not to douse the harvest with chemicals? Or maybe tell pilots not to fly? Or maybe tell manufacturers not to release toxins into the air? Or maybe tell builders not erect structures over bird habitats?

One uncited study, an incident from over 15 years ago, some erroneous remarks, and some fear factor comprise this article that duplicitously illicits a visceral response from Westchester's middle-aged female population. Human beings are the most destructive animals on Earth, and you suggest keeping the cat indoors? Deluded beyond measure...

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since I live on a horse farm I have both house cats and barn cats. The house cats never go outside and the barn cats live in the barn. They are well-fed, neutered and have a yearly rabies shot. Fro my own experience of living for over thirty years with at least 10 barn cats (all rescues) I find evidence of only one or two birds killed a year; however I find more mice than I can count and several rats laid out for my inspection every year. In the fall the rats and mice try to move in and the cats get them all. I have always believed that the statistics for cats killing birds are greatly inflated. A bird is not that easy to catch since very few cats can fly. Cars and chemicals kill thousands more birds than cats yet everyone wants a green lawn with no weeds, pesky insects dead and fast transportation

My cat was always an indoor cat. I don't think she would have survived if she was left outside especially at night in my old backyard. Before I got her several years ago I actually saw a bobcat come through there, not to mention coyote tracks and foxes. It's less about the birds because cats are prey too.

My cat is 15 year's old and an indoor cat. I got her when she was 4 weeks old, she was a stray and required a lot of care. I couldn't imagine having her outdoors possibly subjected to both animal and human predators. As far as the study being a waste of money, that's a personal viewpoint which may or may not be shared with others.

Agreed! Please google... "rabies outbreak in Westchester county and the connection to feral cats" and "the magic rabies shot?" and "failure of TNR to protect wildlife and the public health"

How much was the price tag of this study? What a waste of monies that could have been spent on a cure for diseases plaguing the human race.

I have 2 - 15 year old indoor cats who are healthy and happy. My 2 cats before them were outdoor cats and each killed by coyotes. Enough said.

Your "outdoor" cats, who were most likely domestically weakened indoor/outdoor cats, were probably happier, more right than your "indoor" cats, who had no knowledge of a natural, outside life since you stole it from them by bringing them inside. Who are you to even manner the lifestyle of another living organism?

An anecdote from Walden describing a family on the move releasing its indoor/outdoor cat: all but the cat; she took to the woods and became a wild cat, and, as I learned afterward, trod in a trap set for woodchucks, and so became a dead cat at last.