Conservationists have different opinions as to whether domestic, non-feral cats are a cause of population decline for wild animals.
Some argue that with many wildlife species in decline, every effort should be made to reduce any factors that could contribute to their decline, including predation from non-native mammals such as domestic cats.
For feral, domestic cats, there is evidence that in certain locations, they can devastate populations of species. In Australia at Mandurah’s bird sanctuary, one feral cat drove off a colony of fairy terns after killing 6 adults and 40 chicks. The remaining birds abandoned the sanctuary.
In the Turks and Caicos Islands, a UK Overseas Territory, conservationists are working to remove invasive species including rodents and feral cats from Iguana Island to create an invasive-predator-free habitat for the endemic Critically Endangered rock iguanas.
A study published in the Journal of Environmental Law in November 2019 examined whether allowing domestic cats to roam freely outdoors is in contravention of the European Union Birds and Habitats Directives (Nature Directives).
Are dogs as bad as cats for wildlife?
It is estimated that there are a billion domestic dogs worldwide (more than there are cats); three-quarters of which are free- roaming, mostly in rural areas. These animals can spread disease, hybridise with native dog species, compete with other carnivores and attack wild animals.
In the 1980s, a single dog killed 500 kiwis in New Zealand, while a recent survey in India documented dogs attacking 80 species – mostly large mammals – of which 31 were threatened and four critically endangered.
This Q&A originally appeared in BBC Wildlife Magazine, answered by Stuart Blackman.
Should I keep my cat indoors at night?
Keeping your cat indoors at night can be a simple yet effective way of reducing the number of small mammals it kills.
This will particularly lessen the likelihood of it catching or injuring bats. Many bats which are injured by cats end up dying, or having to be put to sleep by wildlife rescue hospitals, as they are often unable to recover from their injuries. The sharp claws of cats can tear the delicate membranes of bats’ wings or break their bones, and the bacteria carried on cats’ teeth and claws can infect and kill bats.
Will putting a bell on my cat’s collar help?
A number of studies have found that bells may reduce the hunting success of pet cats. However, elastic or poorly fitted collars can cause injury to cats.
In addition, some cats can learn to reduce the movement of the bell when walking, thus limiting its effectiveness.
Should I put a neoprene bib on my cat?
Adding a neoprene bib to a cat’s collar interferes with its ability to pounce, which may mean it catches fewer birds.
Do ultrasound alerts on my cat’s collar help wildlife?
There is some evidence that attaching an ultrasonic device to a cat’s collar may warn potential prey of its approach.
How do I feed birds when I have an outdoor cat?
Place birdfeeders about 2m from thick vegetation to prevent surprise attacks by cats, while giving birds an escape route.
Will playing with toys make my cat hunt less?
Allowing your cat to ‘hunt’ prey-like toys might reduce its motivation to kill, but this hasn’t been scientifically evaluated.
Should I keep my cat indoors all the time / should I build a catio?
Many conservationists say that domestic cats should be kept indoors completely, so as to protect wildlife. Some indoor cats are provided with a catio, which allows them to go outside whilst also stopping them from catching wildlife.
Those in favour of keeping cats indoors point out that alongside saving wildlife, this protects cats from getting into fights with other cats, being run over by cars, being stolen, and being injured or killed by other animals (such as dogs or coyotes).
Can cats be trained to walk on a leash?
Depending on your cat’s personality, you could train it to walk outside with a harness and leash with you. This means your cat will be able to go outside with you and enjoy the outdoors and the exercise, but will also keep wildlife safe.
Main image: Cat with a bird. © Michael Kämpf/EyeEm/Getty Images