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Are you feline bad about cats killing wildlife?

If there’s one topic that’s likely to get us gardeners going, it’s the animals that share our gardens with us. And cats roaming free in our gardens is an issue that splits opinion.

We all regard the creatures that live in our gardens differently.

Some people are happy to see hedgehogs, but don’t like badgers because they can cause damage. Some of us are horrified to see sparrowhawks descending on our bird tables, while others are thrilled to see nature in action.

And sometimes our idea of a pet and wildlife can become muddled – some people feed foxes, but others are hell bent on getting rid of them, especially if they’ve got chickens – which are either pets or considered as ‘livestock’…

Predatory pets and our wildlife population

But if there’s one animal that really divides opinion, it’s cats. According to our recent survey, eight in ten people reported troublesome cats in their gardens. And half cited problems with these cats killing wild birds.

And in the June issue of Which? Gardening, garden writer and biologist Ken Thompson points to a survey that was carried out a while ago (but is still the best data around) about the antics of our feline friends. The survey suggests that over five months, British cats killed 57.4 million mammals, 27.1 million birds and 4.8 million reptiles and amphibians.

The survey leaves plenty of questions unanswered, but there’s no denying that this is slaughter on a pretty massive scale.

Ken says that we don’t know how far cats are just mopping up ‘surplus’ wildlife, ie. young, old or sick animals that might have died from other causes anyway. But what we do know is that fear of predation is a problem in itself, and can reduce wildlife populations.

Pouncing on the problem of killer cats

As a cat lover, this all makes me feel pretty uncomfortable. But not as uncomfortable as Ken’s suggestion: think twice about keeping a cat.

If you must have a cat, just have one of them. Also attaching a bell or alarm to a cat’s collar has been shown to reduce predation, and keeping it indoors means killing is kept to a minimum (nocturnal animals are protected at night, and birds during the day).

There’s one piece of good news – feeding birds in your garden doesn’t increase the number killed, since the large numbers of birds seem better at spotting cats and raising the alarm.

Dog owners out there may be feeling smug at this point, but Ken says that dogs can induce exactly the same fear as cats. And a big dog is one of the few things that can kill an adult hedgehog (cats and foxes can’t).

The animal lover’s dilemma – wildlife versus pets

So, it’s a tricky one, isn’t it? As a nation of animal lovers, we’re not about to give up our pets. Maybe it’s a case of managing them as best we can, and doing our best to help wildlife thrive at the same time (putting out bird feeders, for example, and creating wildlife-friendly gardens).

If you’re anti other people’s cats, you could try an ultrasonic device – our research has shown that while they might not deter cats altogether, it might stop them sticking around.

Ultimately, though, we probably just need to learn to live with everything that comes into our gardens. As Ken says: ‘If you provide an opportunity, whether living space or food, don’t be surprised when something takes advantage of it.’

Comments
Guest
deegeepee says:
2 October 2014

What do teh RSPB have to say on this emotive subject? Well the below is taken from their website…

Are cats causing bird declines?

The most recent figures are from the Mammal Society, which estimates that the UK’s cats catch up to 275 million prey items a year, of which 55 million are birds. This is the number of prey items that were known to have been caught; we don’t know how many more the cats caught, but didn’t bring home, or how many escaped but subsequently died.

The most frequently caught birds, according to the Mammal Society, are probably (in order) house sparrows, blue tits, blackbirds and starlings.

Despite the large numbers of birds killed, there is no scientific evidence that predation by cats in gardens is having any impact on bird populations UK-wide. This may be surprising, but many millions of birds die naturally every year, mainly through starvation, disease, or other forms of predation. There is evidence that cats tend to take weak or sickly birds. It is likely that most of the birds killed by cats would have died anyway from other causes before the next breeding season

Full article can be found here:
http://www.rspb.org.uk/makeahomeforwildlife/advice/gardening/unwantedvisitors/cats/birddeclines.aspx

[This comment has been edited to meet our guidelines – please try not to post whole articles and instead link to the original source. Thanks, mods]

Guest
deegeepee says:
2 October 2014

Hi Moderators, I am not quite sure why the relevant bits of this post have been removed “to fit in with the guidelines”, they are entirely relevant to the post, such as the following:

(in relation to bird species in gardens)
“Populations of species that are most abundant in gardens tend to be increasing, despite the presence of cats. Blue tits, for example, the second most frequently caught birds, have increased by over a quarter across the UK since 1966. Of the birds most frequently caught by cats in gardens, only two (house sparrow and starling) have shown declines in breeding population across a range of habitats during the last six years.”

Why would this very pertinent part of a post be removed? Is it for example, just to appease the dog lovers on the forum?

The same goes for the paragraph about the major species that have suffered the most decline in population

“Those bird species that have undergone the most serious population declines in the UK (such as skylarks, tree sparrows and corn buntings) rarely encounter cats, so cats cannot be causing their declines. Research shows that these declines are usually caused by habitat change or loss, particularly on farmland.”

Without these two very important parts of the argument presented, only a very small minority of the point in question is put across.

If the mods could say which part of the guidelines were breached, I will be interested to hear and take note from the feedback.

Guest

Hi deegeepee, thanks for your question and I can definitely clarify it for you.

We removed part of your comment because you copied a whole article from the RSPB website, and this could infringe their copyright. We’ve added a link through to the specific article (good tip for next time) and have cut it back to a few paragraphs so that people can click through to read the full article on RSPB.

In short, try not to post whole articles and instead post an extract and a link to the original source.

Thanks for getting involved in this convo, deegeepee. You’ve posted some interesting articles which are really adding to the debate.

Guest
deegeepee says:
2 October 2014

Ok, thanks for the clarification Alex, I will bear that in mind. I did mention the source, I thought I’d also included the link, as the RSPB has a wealth of information around this topic. Cheers.

Guest
Melissa S says:
3 October 2014

It is incredibly appalling that ‘nature organizations’ like the RSPB will protect the only animal they favor over every other organism, the domesticated cat. You citations read as looney as “despite the presence of pollution, species do not appear to be declining, so there is no reason to stop polluting”. I wouldn’t believe it for 1/100th of a second. No actual organization that cares about nature makes excuses for verminous invasive species to stay put. It just doesn’t happen.

It’s likely that the long history of cat predation that dooms the UK has destroyed the more fragile species, leaving only the extremely hardy birds (that cats ‘commonly’ catch because they’ve annihilated everything else) like house sparrows, that are highly invasive in my country. Your endangered fauna are doomed to remain in that state, forever.

[This comment has been edited to align with our community guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Guest
deegeepee says:
3 October 2014

you have obviously done a lot of background checking on this. RSPB is actually the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. As the biggest UK nature conservation charity with a history going back to 1889, they focus on conserving the UK’s wildlife and restoring and protecting it’s natural habitats. They also work internationally in key areas to protect birds and other wildlife. saving and safeguarding species is at the heart of their work. the Rspb wad initially founded to country the barbarous trade off plumes in women’s hays which was a trade responsible for the inhumane killing of species such as egrets, birds of paradise and other species whose plumes had become fashionable in the late victories era. welcome back melissa2?

Guest
Melissa S says:
3 October 2014

-No- organization that is genuinely for the protection of animals suggests that we should keep a non-native predator roaming about, haplessly looking for evidence to claim ‘oh they don’t kill that many birds!’. Organizations that care about wildlife do not tolerate unnecessary destruction or poaching of wildlife because they found ‘no evidence’. I will speak out against this organization.

[This comment has been edited to align with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Guest

Hi Melissa, thanks for getting involved and adding to this debate, but please try not to stray from the commenting guidelines. You are more than welcome to post your views – critiquing organisations is fine, but please do not accuse them of lying.

We mentioned earlier in the thread that we’d like the issues to be discussed in a mature and constructive way – making comments both useful to you and others that read it. But you’re still ignoring our input so now we’re checking the comments before they’re approved. Oh and make sure to stick to one username (as per our T&Cs) so we all know who we’re debating with

Just a final comment for everyone in this thread – have a read of our guidelines – they’re there to help all of us 🙂

Guest
deegeepee says:
3 October 2014

so, am I correct in assuming you do not support the rspb?

what about the mammal society? try reading their report on domestic cat predation on wildlife. one very I interesting point rsised is that the number of birds caught by domestic cats is significantly lower in households that feed birds. it sounds counter intuitive but is supported on every single report that I can find. source is http://www.mammal.org.uk/sites/default/files/Domestic%20Cat%20Predation%20on%20Wildlife.pdf
if you can back up your statements with valid research then please do share the links so that their evidence can also be taken into consideration. I am honestly interested in both sides of this debate. I do research in some depth to back up my points Melissa S.

Guest
MELISSA S says:
3 October 2014

Stop getting your information from UK sites. It is well known that much of the UK’s population are cat lovers that will looks for excuses to keep them roaming. It is engrained in their culture. They are the -only- invasive species that organizations will look for excuses to keep them in the environment. Not even some of the native animals can enjoy such treatment. That’s why badgers are culled and foxes are hunted. British go on and on about how great it is that cats kill other ‘vermin’, but they cherish the biggest vermin of them all, and if a dog escapes and does what it does naturally, there is outrage.

I will only accept studies from non-British research conductors with positively no ties to organizations like Alley Cat Allies or any other agenda group. I will only listen to British organizations that speak out against unnecessary cat roaming. I crave objectivity, not nonsense.

“birds caught by domestic cats is significantly lower in households that feed birds.”

Use a little logic skills to determine why this might be so. The most likely explanation is that the birds are avoiding the area! Or maybe they’ve all been killed off. Which reveals the impact vermin cats are having on the quality of life of people who want to enjoy birds.

What other reason could there be? Either way, I do not accept even a single unnecessary death for pets we are responsible for.

[This comment has been edited to align with our guidelines. Thanks, mods.]

Guest

All the birds have gone from our garden. We have bird feeders and Birdbath both constantly used. There is anew cat roaming and it has cleared the birds away.

Guest
deegeepee says:
3 October 2014

There looks like an interesting bbc article and program coming up. cat watch 2014 looks at how domesticated cats are changing in more recent years through their evolution. Looks like dogs have been a bit quicker to evolve or adapt alongside humans than cats have. check it out…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-28795300

maybe our feline friends are coming to useful point in their evolution that marks a turning point in their behaviour.

Guest
Georgina T says:
1 April 2015

We have a wildlife friendly garden, with a pond full of frogs. We were fed up of clearing up dead frogs that our neighbours cats had killed. The best solution we found, that worked a treat, was a motion detector device that was fixed to an outside water supply. The first one we bought was rubbish and didn’t work, even after taking it back to the shop and getting a replacement, so we tried another manufacturer that was much better ( look for on line reviews before you buy). They can be adjusted for animal size and distance so small birds could still access our lawn and bird feeder.

Guest
Paul says:
8 May 2015

I think Melissa S talks a lot of sense. Cat owners on here are deluding themselves if they think cats aren’t having a huge impact on wildlife. A number of people on here have given clear and heart-breaking examples of that happening. I lived next door to someone who had two cats which came into the garden every few minutes to pick off the feeding starlings with young. On one occasion, I was brought to tears by the bone chilling squeal of a young starling in a cat’s mouth. I was accused of upsetting their daughter who one of the cats belonged to and told that the birds being killed by cats was my fault for feeding the birds!!! The arrogance and selfishness of cat owners is unbelievable. They seem to think it is their right to have as many as they want without taking responsibility for them (a bit like children!!) Cats are domestic pets introduced by humans. They have no place in the natural world. It is not acceptable to let them roam at will through other people’s gardens defecating and eliminating wildlife. I, like Melissa S, am more than a little surprised that the RSPB (who I think do amazing work) are downplaying the impact of cats on wildlife. What also horrifies me is that RSPB members are also cat owners. There is no way that you can claim to be a wildlife lover and have a cat as a domestic pet. I am an animal lover but British wildlife is my passion and therefore I will do what I can to protect it. That means not having a cat. If you really love wildlife, is foregoing your pet pussy too much to ask? I am tired of my hard work to protect wildlife being undone wherever I live by plagues of cats. I am hoping for strict controls on cat ownership at some point in the future and will be very happy to join any campaign.

Guest
Steven says:
17 May 2015

Yes, I agree with Paul. We’ve had a peaceful few days without the cat next door) watching various birds feeding nestling and fledgling young. On the return of the cat the parent robin disappeared with two young left in the nest, whilst 5 fledgling dunnocks were easily picked off to ‘play with’. We now have to consider making our small urban garden ‘bird unfriendly’ as our work (over the past year) encouraging wildlife is counterproductive and even the pleasure we experience watching the birds feels selfish. I like cats – even kept a ‘rescue’ cat for 15 years that (luckily) hated to go outl. But that cat was the exception. I don’t ‘blame’ cats (that would be silly), but feel that (like everything pet related) we have to consider the impact that any pet has upon the environment and take ‘ownership’ seriously. I would never again keep a cat as a pet but feel that if even the RSPB are ‘frightened’ of getting to grips with this problem (due to risk to donations / membership reduction / powerful business lobby?) then it is the (urban) birds and wildlife that are being sacrificed to avoid upsetting cat owners. Following the RSPB suggestions to prevent birds being killed just doesn’t help.

Guest
Mrs Jean Sidebottom says:
31 May 2015

My neibour 4 doors down has 4 cats, they are out all day and night. They dig holes in my garden and leave their poo for me to pick up. This morning 31st may 2015 I fed the birds (song thrush, black birds, , loads of hedge sparrows and many more, Iwas sat on the garden swing with a coffee watching the birds when one of the neibours cat jumped out and caught a sparrow then ran off.
I was incest with anger to the point I was crying. I knocked on the neighbours door but no answer, as I turned
Round the cat was in their garden eating the bird.
I love all animals but I have to say I could have killed that cat.
We must look at changing our laws to protect our wildlife

Guest

Jean, watching Springwatch the other night I saw a stoat take a live chick for its tea from a nest of birds. It is the way of the wild world and we can’t presume to interfere with nature, can we?

Guest
Amy_the_veggie says:
3 June 2015

The stoat was wild, cats are domestic, completely different.

Guest

We are “domestic” and we kill people. We have no control over animals’ nature, only by restraining them. As I say, it is the way of the natural world and we don’t control it. We are, in fact, more destructive than other animals.

Guest
Amy_the_veggie says:
3 June 2015

A lot of people seem to be focussing on birds here but I think that’s because the only time you really get to see the mammals cats snack on is after they’ve been killed. Humans get no enjoyment from watching mice and voles in their gardens so they don’t think to speak up for them, however cats kill twice as many mammals as they do birds and, while not solely responsible for declining numbers, it’s naive to think that 9 million predators aren’t putting unnecessary strain on some native species.

“Although it is unlikely that cats alone will cause any species to become endangered in Britain, for those which are already under pressure for other reasons, such as thrushes, harvest mice, grass snakes and slow-worms, cats could tip them over the edge.”

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-19353/Cats-kill-275-million-animals-year.html#ixzz3c0ubY374

Studies have shown in the case of birds that cats are less likely to catch anything where there are more birds, as counterintuitive as that sounds, because the more birds there are the more eyes there are looking out for a cat and someone will sound the alarm – like meerkats 🙂 So you don’t have to feel guilty for attracting birds to your garden, the more the better!

Now to the cat part or, more accurately, the cat *owner* part. Let me preface this by saying I used to have a cat myself that I let out because I thought it was cruel to keep her in all the time but I always felt guilty when she toyed with or killed some poor defenceless animal. Five years later I’m a LOT more educated and if I had it to do over again I would never have let her out of the house. I know now that it was completely irresponsible and ignorant of me to do it but, with her being my first cat, I just did as 90% of people here do. So here are the reasons you should keep your cats in:

1) 1 in 4 cats in the UK are killed by cars in their first year of life. Those are worse odds than Russian roulette and apply to both urban and country cats. Not very responsible.
2) One of the most common problems vets deal with are cats injured in fights with other cats. Why would you keep putting your pet in a position to get hurt?
3) Contact with other cats can also expose your moggy to lots of parasites and diseases.
4) The idea that keeping cats indoors is cruel is losing support in other parts of the world (such as America and Australia, in fact I believe there’s some legislation about keeping cats in overnight in Australia) as people realise that the risks of free-roaming far outweigh the benefits to your cat – if you as an owner are willing to put in the effort your cat can be just as happy, maybe even happier, indoors.

It is true that cats can get depressed or develop behavioural problems when kept indoors 24/7, but I argue that this is a result of insufficient exercise and stimulation not the confinement itself: wouldn’t a dog be just as likely to become depressed or destructive if it was constantly bored? I think we’ve spent so long expecting cats to exercise and entertain themselves that we haven’t asked ourselves how *we* could meet those needs in the safety of the home, and the key to that is understanding cats and being willing to go the extra mile to make your cat happy.

For instance you may have heard that cats love to climb so you should put up shelves and allow them to use other furniture as stepping stones to get around a room without ever touching the ground. Jackson Galaxy calls it the cat superhighway: it’s good exercise, it gives them somewhere safe to sit and watch what’s going on around them, gives them an escape route from other animals in the house (so make sure there are no dead ends!) and it makes their usable space much larger.

Cats also like to hunt so you should be as diligent in playing with them as you would be about walking your dog. Get them really running around after their favourite toy, keep going until they literally flop down panting then let them get their breath back for a minute. Outdoor cats will generally hunt three times before they catch anything so repeat the process three times. Your cat clearly won’t have as much stamina the second and third time but he’ll be ready for dinner. A cat’s routine is basically hunt-eat-groom-sleep so ideally you will exercise your cat before meals and brush him (if necessary) after meals.

So what about stimulation when you’re not home? This could be provided in the form of a simple, homemade puzzle box: Just put something your cat likes in an object you can cut holes out of so your cat has to roll it around to get the treats to fall out – motivation, stimulation and exercise all in one. There are also automatic toys you can get for your cat.

But ultimately I think we should be thinking of cats more like dogs (no, I don’t work for O2) and stop considering them the “independent” pet for the working person. You should be as responsible for your cat as you are for your dog and expect their needs to take up just as much time as a dog’s would.

Hopefully some of these points will be useful and I could say much more on the subject but I’ve rambled on enough for now 😉

Guest
Amy_the_veggie says:
4 June 2015

I forgot to mention the danger to your cat from being accidentally or intentionally poisoned, the number of cats that are lost or “decide to move” (what a ridiculous notion!), the dangers posed by dogs when your cat wanders freely into their gardens and the unfortunate danger of people who don’t like cats.