“A Safe Cat is a Happy Cat”
They are playful and loving, aloof and mysterious, and frisky and mischievous. They are also becoming the most frequent occupants of America’s animal shelters, where millions of them are cared for each year.
They are cats – America’s most popular pets but also the pets most likely to die prematurely from disease, poisons, attacks by other animals, abuse by humans, or speeding vehicles.
Cats are deserving of our protection as dogs. But millions of cats suffer and die needlessly because they are allowed to roam. The vast majority of these cats are not the victims of cruel or thoughtless owners; in fact, their caregivers often love them like children. Instead cats are the victims of outmoded perceptions that cast them as independent, natural explorers who prefer to be left to their own devices.
The Myth of The Outdoor Cat
The good news is that cats do not need to wander to lead fulfilling lives. The bad news is that many caregivers believe the opposite. Free-roaming cats get a dangerous tradeoff: freedom to roam in exchange for the vastly increased likelihood of a premature, painful death.
The Humane Society of the United States estimates the average lifespan of a free-roaming cat is less than three years, compared to 12-15 years for the average indoor-only cat. Even cats in suburban neighborhoods can meet untimely fates and never return home.
Safely confined cats avoid these hazards:
Collisions with cars and other vehicles are common killers. It is a myth that cats are “streetwise” about cars. Cats are intelligent and alert but, like most other animals, stand little chance against fast-moving vehicles.
Rabies and other diseases that can be transmitted to humans are a serious public health concern. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, as many as 15 percent of sick cats are infected with feline leukemia. This virus is fatal and is transmitted through contact with other cats.
Poisons exist on chemically treated lawns, in bait left out to kill rats or mice, and in auto antifreeze.
Other cats, dogs, and wild predators such as coyotes, raccoons, and foxes are potential enemies of cats and often engage in fights that leave cats injured or dead. Outdoor cats can suffer torn ears, cut eyes, abscesses, and other injuries requiring expensive veterinary treatment.
Many shelter workers see cats who have been burned, poisoned, or otherwise tortured by disturbed children and adults.
Other Dangers Lurking Outdoors
Free-Roaming cats inevitably pick up fleas and ticks and then bring these pests into the home. Fleas can cause anemia, skin irritations, and allergies in cats and transmit diseases to humans through their bites. Unsterilized cats allowed to roam contribute to the high number of cats who end up in our nation’s animal shelters every day.
Most veterinarians treat the injuries and diseases resulting from allowing cats outdoors unsupervised. In fact, two out of three veterinarians recommend keeping cats indoors, most often citing dangers from vehicles and disease.
The Myth of the Indoor-Only Cat
Keeping cats safely confined is not new to many long-term cat lovers. But it is news to many people who grew up with indoor-outdoor or outdoor-only felines.
Some cat owners believe that it is unnatural, or even cruel, to keep cats cooped up inside all the time. Unfortunately, this belief is self-perpetuating, especially if the pet caregiver makes no effort to provide the cat with a stimulating indoor environment.
While most cats enjoy being outside where they can hunt prey and explore their surroundings, it’s a myth that going outside is a prerequisite for feline happiness. Playing with an indoor cat easily satisfies the animal’s stalking instinct and keeps the cat stimulated and healthy through exercise. In fact, the indoor cat who gets lots of attention and playtime is happier than the outdoor-indoor cat who is generally ignored by human companions.
Cat owners can easily create feline-friendly homes that meet all their cats’ needs. Many innovative and fun toys can help make the indoor cat life a great but safe adventure.
Cats don’t have to be deprived of the great outdoors to stay safe. Cats can be trained to accept a harness and leash, and cat enclosures can allow them to experience all the pleasures of the great outdoors without all of the risks.
Keeping Communities Safe
Cats allowed to roam freely outside not only face potential harm but also have an unintended impact on our communities.
Local governments spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year controlling stray animals, from neighborhood cats defecating in sandboxes to feral (wild) cats. Cats are now a major focus of local animal care and control agencies, which in the past concentrated most of their efforts on dog control and rescue.
In fact, animal control agencies were established long ago primarily to control the spread of rabies among dogs in the street. Today cats who roam, particularly after dark, are likely to come into contact with nocturnal creatures, including raccoons and skunks, the primary vector species of rabies in the wild. As a result, cats are now the most common domestic vector of rabies, with 278 cases reported in 1999 in the United States.
In addition, free-roaming cats kill millions of wild animals each year. Studies have shown that most of the animals killed are small mammals; approximately 25 percent are birds. Well-fed housecats kill wildlife because of their instinct to hunt prey, not because they need the food. Cats are not a part of natural ecosystems, and their predation causes unnecessary suffering and death to wild animals. In addition they also cause conflict amongst neighbors.
This information is provided courtesy of The Humane Society of the United States and the Safe Cats Campaign. Visit the Humane Society Online.