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Outdoor Cats

In Brief

Direct mortality from outdoor cats is one of the most alarming and pervasive threats to birds.     A study published in Nature Communications estimates that outdoor cats in the U.S. kill between 1.3 to 4.0 billion birds and between 6.9 and 20.7 billion small mammals each year. Join Tucson Audubon to raise awareness and encourage policies that are bird and cat friendly!

Summary

Direct mortality from outdoor cats is one of the most alarming and pervasive threats to birds.     A study published in Nature Communications estimates that outdoor cats in the U.S. kill between 1.3 to 4.0 billion birds and between 6.9 and 20.7 billion small mammals each year. Free-roaming cats have also been implicated in the extinction of 33 different bird species, and continue to further endanger other birds of conservation concern. To address this threat, we advocate for proactive, humane, science-based approaches.

The management of free roaming cats is complicated, challenging, expensive, and is often met with mixed results. It has also been the source of controversy in many communities, with many intersecting issues and policies related to the humane treatment of animals and wildlife, pet owner responsibilities, animal dumping, cat colonies, stray cat management (including practices of euthanasia, “trap, neuter, release” programs), spread of infectious diseases, and other human health and safety concerns.

Tucson Audubon advocates for proactive measures and science-informed policies and programs that effectively address root problems. The primary goal of any policy or program should be to reduce the number of cats in our environment, which will ultimately reduce the burden on our wildlife, animal shelters, governmental bodies, and taxpayers. Join us and Take Action!

Read Tucson Audubon’s Recommendations on Domestic and Feral Cats (2008)

What We Do

  • Tucson Audubon works to educate the public and decision makers regarding the major impacts outdoor cats have upon birds and other wildlife, as well as upon public health and safety.
  • Many Tucson Audubon’s staff and members have cats as pets and companions. We encourage everyone to take responsibility for their furry friend’s safety and behavior. We provide information on how to keep your cat safe and happy inside so that collectively we can avoid and minimize adverse impacts they can have on our bird and wildlife populations.
  • Tucson Audubon advocates for policies that address the root causes of outdoor cats in the environment, and for the adoption of holistic, science-based approaches for outdoor cat management, program assessment and science-based adaptive management.
  • Tucson Audubon works in partnership with conservation organizations, animal welfare organizations and public agencies to oppose the adoption of ineffective or counterproductive outdoor cat management programs. We promote the adoption of science-based programs and strategies that aim to reduce the number of cats in our outdoor environments. Read Tucson Audubon’s Recommendations on Domestic and Feral Cats (2008) for things you can do to help address this growing problem.

Background

The domestic cat (Felis catus) is the most widespread feline on the planet. All domestic cats are descendants of the Middle Eastern wildcat (Felis sylvestris). These cats are now thought to have been first domesticated 12,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent when agrarian human societies arose. Cats, being the natural mousers that they are, developed a mutually beneficial relationship with humans, as they helped protect grain stores from rodent infestations. Since that time, humans have spread cats across the globe and they are now pervasive on every continent except Antarctica. By definition, the domestic cat is a non-native, invasive species in North America.  In many cases around the world, especially on islands, the arrival and expansion of cat populations has resulted in devastating impacts upon native birds and other wildlife.

Today it is estimated that the U.S. has between 74-86 million “owned” cats, and there are an estimated 50 million “feral” cats roaming in our outdoor environments. These free-roaming cats kill between 1.3 to 4.0 billion birds and between 6.9 and 20.7 billion small mammals every year. Cats are efficient predators with a strong hunting instinct. Even well fed indoor-outdoor cats are well-known for their propensity to predate on birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Many such cat owners do not realize the extent of their own cat’s carnage. Approximately 69 percent of cat-induced bird mortality is attributed to un-owned cats. The other 31 percent comes from “owned” cats that people allow to roam freely outdoors.

Tucson Audubon is opposed to “trap neuter and release” (TNR) programs. While often rooted in compassion for cats, TNR is ineffective, inhumane and does nothing to address the threat free-roaming cats pose to birds, wildlife and human health and safety.

We have reviewed the available peer reviewed scientific studies conducted to assess TNR programs, and we see no clear evidence that TNR reduces the numbers of cats in the environment. In fact, there are numerous peer reviewed available scientific studies that have concluded that TNR is not an effective method to control populations of feral cats. 1,2,3,4,5 Some of these studies indicate that TNR programs actually lead to an increase in the number of feral cats.1,3,5,6 Researchers from these studies concluded that these increases were the result of decreased territoriality following spaying or neutering, the supplemental feeding of cats associated with TNR colonies, and the increased abandonment of pets at colony sites by irresponsible owners. One long-term TNR study concluded that TNR was a waste of “money, time, and energy.”3

TNR keeps cats on the streets where they lead harsh and traumatic lives. The lives of outdoor cats are generally difficult and much shorter than indoor cats because they are often killed by diseases, cars, poisons and urban predators such as coyote. They are also subject to starvation weather extremes. If you own a cat, you can protect your cat’s health and safety and reduce bird mortality by keeping it indoors. You can also encourage your family, friends and neighbors to do the same.

Feral cats are far more likely to contract feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus.7 Feral cats may also be a reservoir for parasites such as hookworms, and one Florida study found that over 92 percent of feral cats were infested with fleas.8,9 The numerous dangers and potential for suffering posed to feral cats are such that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) vigorously opposes TNR, taking the position that in many instances this approach is inhumane for cats as well as the wildlife they hunt, injure, and/or kill.

Citations

1 Castillo D. and A. L. Clarke. 2003. Trap/Neuter/Release methods ineffective in controlling domestic cat “colonies” on public lands. Natural Areas Journal 23: 247-253.
2 Andersen M. C., B. J. Martin, and G. W. Roemer. 2004. Use of matrix population models to estimate the efficacy of euthanasia versus trap-neuter-return for management of free-roaming cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 225: 1871- 1876.
3 Natoli E., L. Maragliano, G. Cariola, A. Faini, R. Bonnani, S. Cafazzo, and C. Fantini. 2006. Management of feral domestic cats in the urban environment of Rome (Italy). Preventive Veterinary Medicine 77: 180-185.
4 Foley P., J.E. Foley, J.K. Levy, and T. Paik. 2005. Analysis of the impact of trap-neuter-return programs on populations of feral cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 227: 1775-1781.
5 Gunther I., H. Finkler, and J. Terkel. 2011. Demographic differences between urban feeding groups of neutered and sexually intact free-roaming cats following a trap-neuter-return procedure. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 238: 1134- 1140.
6 McCarthy R. J., S. H. Levine, and J. M. Reed. 2013. Estimation of effectiveness of three methods of feral cat population control by use of a simulation model. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 243: 502-511.
7 Levy J. K., H. M. Scott, J. L. Lachtara, and P. C. Crawford. 2006. Seroprevalence of feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus infection among cats in North America and risk factors for seropositivity. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 228: 371-376.
8 Akucewich L. H, K. Philman, A. Clark, J. Gillespie, G. Kunkle, C. F. Nicklin, E. C. Greiner. 2002. Prevalence of ectoparasites in a population of feral cats from north central Florida during the summer. Veterinary Parasitology 109: 129-139.
9 Andersen T. C., G. W. Foster, and D. J. Forrester. 2003. Hookworms of feral cats in Florida. Veterinary Parasitology 115: 19-24.

Updates

  • In the summer of 2014, despite opposition from Tucson Audubon, numerous other conservation organizations, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department — the Pima County Board of Supervisors adopted a controversial policy to reduce euthanasia of stray cats via implementing a “trap, neuter and release” program for the Pima County Animal Care Center dubbed “Community Cats”. This policy and 3-year, $200,000 per year program favors releasing neutered and inoculated cats back into neighborhoods rather than euthanizing them. While rooted in compassion for our feline friends, and a desire to avoid euthanasia, this policy ignores the environmental impact of non-native, invasive predators that prey upon our urban birds as well as human health and safety concerns. Unfortunately, the Community Cats program did not fund or conduct scientific monitoring to assess the program’s effectiveness.
  • Tucson Audubon Position Statement and Recommendations on Domestic and Feral Cats (2008)

Take Action!

  • Read Tucson Audubon’s recommendations and work to implement them in your home, neighborhood and community.
  • We encourage you to contact your Pima County Supervisor and your Tucson City Council Member to support a holistic, science-based approach to domestic and free roaming cats that has the primary goal of continually reducing the number of cats in our outdoor environments. See Tucson Audubon’s letter and position statement below for talking points.

Letters

  • Tucson Audubon’s Recommendations on Domestic and Feral Cats (2008)
  • Tucson Audubon letter to Pima County Board of Supervisors opposing the Community Cats Program (July 25, 2014)
  • Coalition letter to Pima County Board of Supervisors opposing the Community Cats Program (August 4, 2014)
  • PETA Letter to Pima County Board of Supervisors opposing the Community Cats Program (July 31, 2014)
  • Arizona Game and Fish Department letter to Pima County Board of Supervisors opposing the Community Cats Program

External Resources

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Tucson Audubon Society

300 E University Blvd. #120
Tucson, AZ 85705

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3835 W Hardy Rd.
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Patagonia, AZ 85624