I’ve always known that cats are natural, instinctive predators. Sister Erin and I share our little home with two of them. We feed them well. But a new study reminds us, cats are, “invasive carnivores that markedly impact biodiversity.”
Stalking his prey: A cat prepares to pounce…
Far from Erin’s and my impressions of our Calvin and Pumpkin (see photo, top of page), the study published in Nature Communications brands domestic cats (Felis catus) as marauding little murderers who are killing wildlife at an alarming rate. And the authors present startling (to me, anyway) statistics to back up their assertions.
What they found
Forthwith, some nasty little info-nuggets from the study’s findings:
- Some 2,084 species are identified as eaten by cats
- 347 (16.65 percent) are of conservation concern
- Birds, reptiles, and mammals constitute about 90 percent of species consumed
- 97 percent of species consumed are less than 5 kg in adult body mass…
- … Though much larger species are also eaten.
Larger than themselves?
I feel that last point, in the list above, needs a little explanation. The researchers stipulate that, while domestic cats have been reported to feast on other animals as large as cows, in those cases they hunted and killed very young individuals, or scavenged carcasses brought down by other, larger predators.
I was beginning to wonder if I should close my bedroom door at night. Just in case…
What can we do?
Obviously, we as human ‘parents’ of our cats, have a responsibility to feed our little fur buddies well. My lifelong experience with cats in the family has been that they won’t hunt out of hunger if you feed them well and regularly at home.
That’s not to say that they won’t bring home the odd mouse to lay with pride at your feet.
I’ve seen a change in the way house cats view wildlife over decades of observation. When I was a child, we always had cats at home. Dad was a keen observer of nature and a firm believer that God provided cats to humans as a means of keeping the birds and squirrels out of his beloved vegetable garden. The cats we had when I was little ranged far and wide outside and came in only at night or to get out of the rain.
Those cats brought us many ‘trophies’. Especially the wiry black female we simply called Blackie. I don’t remember Dad ever feeding her any kind of prepared cat food. So she must have subsisted entirely on her own hunting skills.
Fast forward to 2023
Our current feline buddies represent two very different lines of ‘evolution’. I use the word here to describe how they lived before they came to us from the shelter.
Calvin was an ‘outdoor’ cat. He lived in proximity to humans in a built-up area. But he didn’t ‘belong’ to anyone. We suspect he did some hunting of his own, scavenged the green bags on garbage days, and maybe enjoyed the odd handout from his local humans.
Since he ‘came home’ with us, he’s been skeptical of the Great Outdoors. He prefers to stay in the house most of the time. And eat the scientifically-formulated, vet-approved food we serve at regular intervals. Why not? That he had it tough for the first two years of so of his life probably has something to do with his choices.
Pumpkin, on the other hand, was a half-and-half cat before he came to us. That is, he wanted to go out for an hour or so at a time, to patrol his ‘territory’. But he always came home for supper and had napping spots staked out all over the house. The older he’s become, the more he prefers to stay inside.
When he first came home, he would pound his little feet on the patio door to get outside when he woke up to a fresh new fall of snow in the morning. He’d play hide-and-go-pounce for hours, heedless of the cold.
We all slow down as we age.
I’ve become a firm believer that, if you feed your cats well and regularly, they’ll do the easy thing. That is, they’ll take the handout and not go to the bother of actively hunting outside for food.
That’s a good thing, because wildlife can pass parasites or diseases to your furry kids. Most of those afflictions can be treated by the vet. The pros recommend strongly that you have your cats vaccinated for a whole laundry list of common diseases.
All of which is not to say, keep your cats inside all the time, and make sure they get only vet-vetted cat food. The situation is not dire. Especially if you adopt a shelter cat that’s already an adult. Cats can be even more set in their ways than the most stubborn human you’ll ever meet. So get used to ‘negotiating’ access to the outdoors. And make sure there’s always approved food available in their bowl.
~ Maggie J.