CATS ARE A MAJOR THREAT TO BIRDS
It's not cats' fault that they are natural predators. As owners of pets cats and the original source of introduced feral cats, humans have a responsibility to keep domesticated felines safe and out of trouble.
Predation by domestic cats, including pet cats and feral (street) cats represents the single greatest direct threat to wild birds in North America. This conclusion is supported by numerous peer-reviewed, scientific publications that have examined large datasets from reputable sources. As an introduced predator, cats do not belong in nature in North America. Where cats are allowed to roam outside, they cause immense damage to ecosystems. This is because native species including birds have not evolved defences to avoid predation by cats, which have only recently appeared on the landscape and have multiplied into large, invasive populations.
DID YOU KNOW?
Free-roaming domestic cats have caused the extinction of at least 36 species of birds, mammals and lizards to date (PNAS, 2016).
Feral domestic cats are recognized as one of the 100 worst invasive species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
It is estimated that between 100 million and 350 million birds per year in Canada are killed by cats. 38% of bird kills are caused by pet cats, and 62% are caused by feral cats (Avian Conservation & Ecology, 2013).
Of 461 bird species that regularly occur in Canada, 115 (25%) are identified as potentially vulnerable to cat predation, including 23 Species at Risk (Avian Conservation & Ecology, 2013).
A recent analysis from Australia found that on average, each roaming pet cat killed 186 reptiles, birds and mammals per year (Wildlife Research, 2020).
Most cat owners are not aware of how many wild animals their pet kills, because only a fraction of kills are brought home.
KEEP CATS SAFE
Allowing your cat to run at large might seem like a good thing to do. Many cats express desire to be outside; they seem to enjoy hunting and experiencing nature. Indeed, taking your cat outside can be great for their wellbeing. However, allowing your pet to roam outside by itself is extremely dangerous!
The average life expectancy for indoor cats is 10-15 years, while outdoor cats live on average for only 2-5 years (UC Davis Veterinary Medicine).
In Toronto, cats roaming at large are at risk of being harmed or killed by:
Collisions with vehicles
Being attacked and eaten by wild coyotes
Being attacked and eaten by wild hawks, owls and other raptors
Being attacked by domestic dogs, other roaming cats, and raccoons
Contracting pests such as fleas, ticks, lice or internal parasites
Contracting infectious diseases such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
Contacts with environmental hazards such as poison ivy
Extreme weather (freezing temperatures or heat waves)
Drowning in bodies of water or floods
Stepping on broken glass or other sharps
Secondary rodenticide poisoning
Starvation or dehydration, especially if accidentally trapped in confined spaces such as dumpsters
Theft, injury or death by people with cruel intentions
The following authorities on cat welfare recommend that pet cats should not be allowed to roam at large outside?
SOLUTIONS FOR TAKING PET CATS OUTDOORS
There are multiple ways that pet cats can enjoy being outside in Toronto without posing a safety risk to themselves or to wildlife. In general, it is recommended that you should introduce cats to these options early in life to socialize them. Adult cats may take longer to train, especially if they are already accustomed to roaming outside.
Option 1: Your cat can wear a harness/leash
Training your cat to wear a harness and leash can enable you to walk your cat just like a dog. We recommend starting to get your cat used to wearing a harness and leash when it is still young and easier to train. Adult cats that have never worn a harness or leash may take a while to get used to the idea.
There are three main styles of cat harness to choose from. Please review this guide from Adventure Cats for recommendations on training your cat to wear a harness and leash outside.
It is worth keeping in mind that pet cats that become accustomed to wearing a leash may expect their owners to accompany them outside more regularly. Just like pet dog owners regularly make time in their day for walks, before bringing home a pet cat please consider whether you will be able to meet its needs to be supervised or walked outside.
Harnesses and leashes for cats are available to purchase at the following businesses in Toronto:
Option 2: Create an outdoor enclosure for your cat
If you have space, cats can be safely contained outdoors by using an enclosure. Sometimes called "catios", enclosures for cats can take many forms and can be designed to suit your space and your cat's preferences.
When designing the enclosure, make sure it does not leave gaps wide enough for your cat to escape or stick its arms through to catch birds or other wildlife that may approach from outside.
For inspiration on how to build an outdoor enclosure for your cat, check out the following resources:
Option 3: Use a backpack carrier for your cat
Many cats can be easily trained to accept being carried outside by their owner in a backpack carrier. If carrying a backpack with your cat inside isn't ideal, try using a baby stroller or wagon with a cat carrier.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
I heard that putting a brightly coloured collar or bells on my cat will prevent it from killing wildlife. Is that true?
In short, no. There is limited evidence for the effectiveness of these methods, and cats fitted collars or bells will continue to hunt. Some cats fitted with bells have been known to hold the bells still to silence them while hunting. Nestling, fledgling or otherwise immobilized birds will not be able to escape your cat even if they see the collar from a distance. These methods are not recommended for preventing your cat from hunting wildlife.
My neighbour is letting their pet cat roam outside. What can I do to convince them to stop?
Pet cat owners' attitudes about allowing their pet to roam are extremely polarizing. This is an issue that cat and bird lovers alike have strong opinions about, even if not every position is supported by evidence or is in the best interest of cats. If possible, we recommend attempting to initiate a calm, friendly discussion with your neighbour about the issue. Research suggests that emphasizing the risks that roaming poses to cats' safety is more likely to lead to changes in their owners' behaviour versus emphasizing impacts to wildlife. If you cannot have a conversation, you may wish to esnd them a letter.
There are cats visiting my bird feeders. What should I do?
If possible, elevate your feeders high off the ground so that cats cannot reach them. If the same cat is returning persistently, we recommend taking down feeders temporarily until the cat stops returning. Cats may learn to avoid the spot if sprayed with water or persistently chased away.