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| Guest columnist
You might be surprised to learn that every list of non-native invasive animal species in Florida includes the domestic cat. Starting with America’s first colonists, more than 4,000 non-native species have been established in this country, and many have become invasive.
By competing with native species, transmitting disease, or even killing native species entirely, invasive species also cause enormous economic losses and can damage human health.
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All cats are carnivores, and even well-fed domestic cats will continue to hunt if given the opportunity. While wild cats pose the greatest threat to wildlife, all domestic cats, regardless of how they are used to humans, hunt prey if left outdoors.
A study published in 2013 estimated that domestic cats kill 1.3 to 4.0 billion birds and 6.3 to 22.3 billion mammals annually in the US, making them the largest human-influenced killer of birds and mammals in the country. Domestic cats worldwide have caused the extinction of several mammals, reptiles and at least 33 species of birds.
Any cat that goes outdoors, even occasionally, poses a threat to the environment. Trap / castration / release programs have not been shown to reduce populations in wild cat colonies, and their reintroduction only sustains their hunting birds and mammals.
In addition, your house cat will be safer inside for several reasons.
Indoor cats are less likely to get injured in a fight
It is not uncommon for a cat to be injured or develop a painful and serious abscess while fighting another cat, dog, or other outdoor animal. Even if you have your cat spayed or neutered, there are plenty of intact cats roaming around outside that are extremely territorial and will fight to the death when threatened.
Indoor cats live longer
In general, a cat that has been indoors all its life will live many years longer than a cat that has been exclusively outdoors. If your cat has indoor / outdoor access, it will likely live longer than the exclusively outdoors cat, but it still faces increased risks to its health and safety that can affect its lifespan.
Indoor cats are safe from many diseases
Cats that roam free are at greater risk of developing infectious diseases such as feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus, distemper, and a variety of zoonotic diseases and parasites such as ticks and fleas.
Indoor cats are less likely to be poisoned
Outdoor cats are at risk of exposure to toxic chemicals, lawn pesticides, poisoning from spoiled food in trash cans, mole and rodent toxins, and willful human poisoning. Even if there is a risk of poisoning indoors, there is a better way of removing poisonous plants, toxic chemicals, and other hazards to keep them out of your cat’s reach.
Indoor cats are safe from predators
Cats are fairly low in the food chain and can easily become prey to coyotes, bobcats, birds of prey, and wild and domestic dogs. Even with a full set of claws, free range cats are at a disadvantage when encountering predators, and cats without claws are at even greater risk.
Indoor cats are not hit by cars
Cars kill more cats each year than cats are killed in US animal shelters. Cats in crowded cities are most at risk, but even cats in more rural areas are not safe and typically not as “auto-savvy” as cats living in urban areas. Also, many cats are killed or injured crawling into the car’s engine compartments for shelter, and the ignition is turned on by the unsuspecting driver.
Indoor cats are not lost or stolen
Even when accidents happen, indoor cats have a much better chance of never getting lost or stolen. Likewise, they are also safer from human abuse. Unfortunately, outdoors cats are often a target for cat haters.
Indoor cats can control their food intake
With an indoor cat, you can control what it eats and how much it ingests each day. When your cat goes outside, you have no idea if he’s eating cheap food left on a neighbor’s back porch for the local stray cats. If she eats from the same food bowl, there is also a risk of developing diseases.
It is easier to monitor the urinary and gastrointestinal health of an indoor cat
Outdoor cats do not always use the litter box indoors, making it impossible for guardians to monitor urine output and stool consistency. This can lead to life-threatening complications from urinary blockages.
Indoor cats are better neighbors
Cats outside have a tendency to run around and if your neighbors are not cat friendly it can create problems which in some cases can result in the cat being accepted by animal control or worse. If you let your cats outside, they can migrate to your neighbors’ property. Under Leon County’s Animal Control Ordinance, this is considered “at large” and can result in a fine for the owner.
Additionally, if your cat produces litter outside of your yard and you improperly dispose of it, an additional fine may be imposed. It is “unlawful for any person to allow their animal to become a public nuisance”. If you’ve been the victim of spraying an uncastrated hangover, you know how bad it can be and how uncomfortable it can be.
Allowing your cats to spray in a neighbor’s garage or on cars or other outdoor property falls under the public nuisance category. The county also sets a limit on the number of cats each person can own.
If you really love your cat and you are interested in birds and other wildlife, please keep your cat indoors.
Susan Barnes is a Master Gardener Volunteer at UF / IFAS Extension Leon County, an equal opportunity institution. If you have any gardening questions, please email the extension office AskAMasterGardener@ifas.ufl.edu.
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