/ Home & Energy

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
Dave D says:
20 May 2012

I wish to decalre an interest before going any further: I’m a cat lover (as I am sure my avatar shows!) and a vigourous supporter of Cat’s protection.

Now that’s out of the way here’s my two-penn’orth:

IMHO there are two issues that kead to cats killing birds, etc.

1) abandoned cats which become feral, and cats which are badly looked after by their keepers, are not neutered and this leads to a very much more territorial and aggressive cat, which may kill for food, or simply because it is declaring its’ territory. We can’t hope to neuter 100% of all cats, and iof we did there would be no more cats for those who want them anyway, but being a responsible pet keeper and, if possible, supporting RSPCA, PDSA, Cats’ Protection and other neutering campaigns will help.

2) cats, like children and dogs, can be brought up well by their keepers. I’ve lived with cats all my life and the number of birds. mice, etc., they have caught between them all is in single digits still. I am confident of this because all our cats have always spent almost all their lives languishing, spoiled rotten, in the house, only going into the garden to accompany us, and staying within sight when they do so. My last two cats and my current one regularly sunbath, flat on their backs, all four paws in the air, and birds come and sit within inches of the cats. The most the cats do is roll over, look lazily as if to say “Oh look, a bird. How nice” and then resume snoozing. This is the result of the cats having been brought up in a caring, quiet, home, where they have never had to fend off over-enthiusiastic children nor scavenge for food.

I might add that I am also a member fo the RSPB and I feed the birds and encourage them into the garden in great numbers. At the last RSPB Bird Watch earlier this year I have upwards of 14 species during the hour of monitoring and as many as 36 of any one species at one time. Wrens nest in the garden, as do Blue tits, Sparrows and Blackbirds, and Starlings, now in danger of extinction I understand, are here daily is huge numbers, including fledglings.

I’d also add that I’m an avid gardener (indeed I open my garden to the public under the National Gardens Scheme and I raise money for Cats’ protection through refreshment sales at the openings) and the only problems I have with cats digging in the wrong place or fouling where they should not comes from an un-neutered, aggressive, Siamese tom cat from a street away. My own cats have regular toilet digging places, which are in parts of the garden where there are only hardy shrubs. It is my opinion, though I have no scientific evidence, that most cats which did where you don’t want them to do so because you either have long, unkempt, grass in which they can perform, or their own gardens are concreted over (or never dug) leading them to wander to nearby gardens with soft earth.

There you go, I am sure there will be many readers who disagree with me, and hopefully a few who agree, but 44 years of experience leads me to the opinions above.

Just a quick note Dave D, your cat avatar hasn’t been showing for a while. Either you haven’t logged in properly or it’s decided to cat walk somewhere else. You can upload it again here: https://conversation.which.co.uk/your-account/

I don’t like the idea of keeping cats indoors, and three’s a very friendly cat that visits my home garden. I don’t mind it in the slightest, but I haven’t seen my friend Rocky Robin for some time. He used to sit on my spade while I was gardening – prancing around picking out worms – hopefully he hasn’t been pounced on:

Thanks for the note Patrick.
Had some trouble with logging in today actually – mailed you direct as I’m slightly suspicious in case it’s not totally above board.

That aside, I must point out hat I certainly don’t keep my cats indoors against their will: they have cat flaps (three in fact, in and out of the house and both front and back of the workshop so they don’t have to walk round! I said they are spoiled!!), but the fact is that they know a good thing when they are on to it and a cosy house, be it to themselves when I’m at work or shared with me when I’m in, versus a garden with no soft chairs, the chance of rain, damp grass, muddy bits to get in their pads, noisy machines in nearby gardens, etc., is a bit of a feline no-brainer ……. the house wins every time!

pickle says:
26 May 2012

I used to like cats, indeed I am quite happy to feed my neighbour’s two when she is away, but it is their habit of leaving their poo in my garden I hate. I also have 2 cats and 2 dogs the other side, 4 cats is excessive IMHO and lacks consideration for the neighbours, especially when the owners are all out at work (they are fortunate to have full time jobs) all day long. One cat hovers under my birdfeeders and runs under the shed when I rattle the door. No, sorry, either keep your cats in the house or don’t have them at all

Phil says:
20 May 2012

The RSPB says not:- http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/gardening/unwantedvisitors/cats/birddeclines.aspx it also disagrees with the Which? figures but both surveys can only ever produce rough estimates.

There is a colony of semi-feral cats living on the farm next to where I work. They’ll take anything that moves including rabbits but it was the cold winter two years ago that wiped out the entire population of wrens we used to have.

Two or three cats from neighbouring gardens frequent ours but they are not a problem and I have seen no evidence of bird killings caused by cats. Sparrowhawks do most of that around here but because we encourage birds to come into the garden there are always plenty around and they are collectively alert to any raptors or captors. Our own cat was so docile she never deterred the birds and she would never stray beyond the garden fence. With a pair of gold tits doing aerial acrobatics outside my window as I write, and plenty of other birds in all parts of the garden, I must assume this is a feline-friendly place.

I meant to say “gold finches” inn the final sentence.

par ailleurs says:
20 May 2012

I admit as well to being a cat keeper. ( I don’t think you actually own them, they deign to live with you.) I am also a keen gardener and a RSPB member. What always bothers me is the bad maths here: there are x million cats in Britain and they could all kill 10 birds each per annum therefore cats must kill 10x million birds. Not so. Ignoring the poor creatures which are kept indoors, a large number of the rest kill very few birds. The hunters among them mostly prefer rodents as they’re much easier to catch. We must not be blinkered of course. Some cats are naturally good hunters and will kill many birds as well as rodents. The problem is however clearly nowhere near as large as the bad statistics often quoted.
I wonder how many cat hating gardeners actually keep their gardens as wild as possible. I certainly do within the ornamental part. I also only use natural predators on my fruit and veg. My garden is full of birds, insects and from time to time, cats. They all jog along quite well. I feed the cat and the birds. Indirectly I also feed the creatures which the birds eat and grow seed bearing plants which also feed birds.
A sense of proportion is needed. Cats can cause damage but not as much as feared. They are also rather endearing creatures if you get to know them and treat them well. One last thing though, please don’t put them out at night. It’s cruel to the cat; they will hunt more at dawn if left out and will be more liable to road accidents.

I am a dog lover – I have three greyhounds. I object to cats because they invade my garden – mess there – dig up the plants and cause havoc because my dogs bark at them – Then I get blamed for my dogs barking loudly at the invaders in MY garden. I could remove the obstacles (fences and such) that I have had to put in the garden to stop my dogs catching and killing the neighbour’s cats (if I didn’t I would be castigated – not the out of control cats) – which would remove the problem of invading cats. My garden is a wild life haven with three foxes (that my dogs do not bark at) and I have seen cats stalk and kill the birds in my garden. I have no wish at all “to get to know cats”.

Purely as a matter of interest my greyhounds will catch and kill squirrels, mice and rats silently and bring them to me as trophies – but unlike cats – will instantly stop chasing if I give the commands to do so (I reserve this to stop unnecessary killing of squirrels).

steve says:
26 May 2012

If your dogs disturb the neighbourhood, that’s your fault and your problem.

I don’t think you are right to say that “unlike cats” dogs will obey commands. This morning the cat from next door jumped up on a low wall in teh garden, not realising that Prudence (my cat) was sunbathing there. Both cats got a shock and started to howl at each other, but I called their names, in a tone that they both know means “stop” and they immediately did stop, Prudence trotted to me for a fuss and Dougal followed slightly after for his share of fuss.

Next door’s cat also sometimes goes for birds, but when his family call him he turns-tail and trots back to them, leaving the birds alone.

Equally I know of people with dogs that are very disobedient or simply ignore their owners.

In both cases it’s back to how the animals have been brought up more than anything else (though I do have my suspicions that certain breeds of dog, mainly covered by the dangerous dogs act, have been bred to ignore any human commands).

Steve is right – if your dogs cause a nuscience it’s down to how they have been brought up, and if they bark at cats it’s a possibility that you have (albeit unwittingly) brought them up to understand yoru dislike of cats which they are copying.

Sorry, missed this point in my post above, I was also going to remark that I know many households where dogs and cats live in harmony, because their humans have brought them up to do so. This includes a lady who homes retired guide dogs, not all of which come to her from cat-households, but it doesn’t take long for them to start treating the resident felines as surrogate brothers and sisters.

Steve

My dogs only bark at cat invaders – not dogs – not foxes – not birds – Just invading cats – They did not bark at our cat when we had one (my wife’s choice when alive) – I am not going to have a cat – I don’t like them . But I have more sympathy for the idiot untrained uncontrolled cats . Frankly it is the cats owners responsibility to keep their pesky cats away from my private garden.

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

Not sure about now, but at one time Cats (domesticated or otherwise) were classed as wild animals, and as such cannot have “owners” and cat “hosts” have no responsibility for them.
Dogs, on the other hand, were (perhaps they still are?) classed as ‘ownable” (if that’s the right word) and it was (or is) their owner’s legal responsibility to look after them and prevent them from causing nuscience, damage or other unwanted problems.
I know that was the case in the days of the dog licence and I think I’m right in saying that it is still the principle under which Dog Owners are legally responsible fro clearing up their faeces when they relieve themselves.
I worry about Richard’s rather aggressive attitude towards several species of creatures – IMHO it doesn’t sound like a particularly responsible set of values upon which to train / bring up dogs. Not sure what other dog owners think, I am sure there must be some on here.

Melissa S says:
10 December 2013

Who gives a **** what the animals were classed as? They can class them as unicorns for all I care, it’s still absurdly WRONG WRONG WRONG.

For the avoidance of doubt, can you clarify what the “it” is which is wrong.

Melissa S says:
10 December 2013

For any domesticated animals to roam free, period. Or any non-native animals. All belong on their owners property due to the most basic common sense.

Animals and birds killing each other is all part of natures cycle. The problem is made worse however by irresponsible owners, and this goes for cat owners too.
I have 3 cats, and I’m confident that they rarely cause upset to any of my neigbours. They have all been neutered which immediately decreases their desire to go out so much. They are all homely cats, and prefer to be indoors, and we have litters trays for them all.
I really dislike dogs, but it’s each to their own, and I can understand dog owners getting upset by “wild” cats that are just let loose to do their own thing.
The bottom line is, all pet owners, whatever the aminal, have to be responsible.

In our new house, nature is just establishing itself.

In our back garden we have had our first cat poo, a resident wagtail (called Shearer) and a couple of ducks who fly in every once in a while to say hi and get some bread.

I don’t mind cats at all, I find them rather amusing when they are trying to kill another animal and there are plenty of species where we live to keep them entertained.

My Dad on the other hand, has a bird table, but if the wrong type of bird lands on there, ie a pigeon, he breaks out the air rifle and they go the way of the dodo. So he protects the feed for the rarer species by killing the more common ones.

With regard to animals that dig things up, I have no problem with the 2 cats in my locale but I have a terrible problem with squirrels digging in my tubs as one of my neighbours feeds the pesky varmits!

I’m a not so proud involuntary owner of three cats whom I can only assume belongs to my neighbours and two foxes who does not belong to anyone that comes into my garden on a daily basis, digs up my bulbs and worse.

The foxes keep on digging big holes and the cats use my garden as a ‘cat litter’! I also have a lot of birds visiting my garden which I’m really pleased about, but although the cats tries to chase them, I have not noticed any being killed as yet.

I don’t mind little birds as they don’t make a lot of mess, but I do mind the huge wood pigeons who have also adopted my garden as they produce a lot of bird mess, which is often hard to get rid of.
As for being a nuisance, I’d rather be surrounded by animal life and live with the mess they make, then not have any at all.

We the deadliest and most efficient predictors the world has ever known [we even put the Humboldt squids to shame]. We have exterminated, tortured, exploited and abused all other forms of life on our planet. Know we are ‘worried’ that an animal we have engineered to be our pet, is following it’s natural predatory instincts. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!
Please do not bell, or declaw these wonderful animals, we did this to them, brought them into our homes and gardens [and some Islands & countries] and let them loose on the wildlife. Cats are not the problem we are, not content with domestication we now want to denature them!
There are 3 ways forward:
Stop keeping cats as pets, as the fashion dies off, and feral cat colonies are eradicated the cat population will diminish.
Put them on the menu, I do have some cat recipes at home I can post.
Genetically engineer them, to remove the ‘predator gene’ [why not we’ve done everything else to them.

I wonder if there is scope to breed cats that are unlikely to chase birds etc. It is clear that some don’t do this, either because of training or for other reasons. What upsets me is to see a pet play with a bird that it has injured.

Annie says:
25 May 2012

My old cat is deaf as a post and sits on the bottom tray of the bird feeder, eating bits of bread, totally ignored by the birds. The killers are the magpies. They stand watch in nearby trees and pounce. I moved to Devon five years ago from South London, where, in my leafy neighbourhood, magpies decimated the songbird population.

Just this month magpies have appeared here, and this week we have seen less of the blue tits, finches, sparrows and wrens. The jays haven’t been near either. The blackbirds and robins are still around, but not for long if the magpies have their way.

What we need is a big cat to take on the magpies.

@Annie,
Outside of my offices I have a garden, as it is in central London I have / had a variety of local wildlife; foxes, cats, rats and birds, lots of birds, all those you have mentioned and a few more, I have even been fortunate enough to have seen a red headed woodpecker on a couple of mornings.
Then the magpies arrived: Most of the birds have disappeared, we still have our Wood pigeons [ born on a local building, had them since they were eggs] as they are bigger than the magpies they seem to have an uneasy truce. We have our Robin, which spends most of it’s time in our office.
The magpies have seen off most of the cats, attacked the foxes, chased the rats and have even given me the evil eye on occasion. Sometime a large gang of them arrive sitting around and just making a lot of noise, chattering loudly and banging on anything that makes a loud noise, I really believe they are trying to intimidate us.
I am sure that soon one of them is going to swagger up to me, gold chain around it’s neck, joint in hand, pitbull on an anchor chain, and say ‘whats up blood show some respeck innit’.

Garden design can help, as can careful siting of feeders. My borders are planted pretty densely so it is difficult for a cat to get out of an ambush position in a hurry, and include holly, berberis, hawthorn, etc. which birds fly into, but cats give a wide berth. Open areas are big enough for ground feeding in the middle without risk of ambush. My garden is a little larger than average for a modern estate house.

We had a magpie problem for several years, but it got sorted by the local avian vigilantes. A small group of jackdaws would “fencehop” into the garden and buzz the magpies. The magpies turn up each spring, but after a few days of being buzzed they tend to clear off. The jackdaws can bully other birds round the feeders, but they tend to move on and more to the point I’ve never seen them attack a fledgling.

I try site my feeders so as to make life difficult for sparrowhawks, but they still occasionally manage to take a bird off the feeder.

Annie says:
27 May 2012

To m. Your garden sounds lovely. Today the magpies have gone and the birds are back. Fingers crossed! My neighbour has some land adjoining the end of my garden, with two big old pet sheep, ducks and chickens. Watching the various neighbourhood cats stalking up there can take up too much time, but I have never yet seen them catch, or even try to catch a bird. They take home small vermin and one even got a rabbit back through his catflap. His owner had a dreadful fright in the morning finding a rabbit cowering in the corner of the downstairs loo. The most fun is when a particular cat sits and stares for too long at the sheep, ending in a surprisingly fast chase, the sheep only losing because he can’t climb trees. Not yet, anyway!

Since most cat owners are animal lovers (hopefully) they should surely bell their cat.Cats (whom I love) are definitely having an adverse effect on bird numbers in suburban gardens. Surprised the RSPB doesn’t push for legislation or at least an advertising campaign to make people aware of the problem.The problem is human…there are an unnaturally high number of cats around so,as usual,we’ve upset the balance of nature.

relaxing says:
30 May 2012

U report that 9 million cats kill 57.4 mill mammals + 27.1 mill birds + 4.8 mill amphibians
& reptiles = 89.3 million. Per cat, that’s fewer than 10. Over 5 months. So, 2 per month,
tops. Get real. That’s not worth looking at. Yr problem is that they bring them home still
a bit alive and play them to death. What we’re Really being asked to share with is yr
squeamishness. We do, we truly do, we respect u, massive. What were the cats doing,
who weren’t bringing home prey?….same as usual, sleeping; or eating it on-site. So,
double the number and u have 1 per week per cat. Zero effect on the environment.
Cars, lorries, busses and taxis take out ten times that number. Plus, they frisbee
rabbits, hedghogs, cats, dogs, foxes, and squirrels. Please do yr math here. OK?.
This is a non-item.

Jacqui says:
2 June 2012

There are at least 3 cats that visit my garden regularly, and it really annoys me. We’ve found two of them crouched underneath our birdbox which has nesting blue tits in, and they are clearly hunting them. They mess in the garden, and I believe cat mess is toxic. If I had a dog, I would be responsible for clearing up after it, but cats can go wherever they want to, and can sit in my garden and terrorise my local wildlife. I chase them off when I can, but I’m in work 7am – 7pm during the week. I think cats should have to wear a collar with a bell or something else that alerts birds to their presence, if they have to be let out of the house, but I’d rather cat owners kept them inside and out of my garden. It really gets on my wick!

@Jacqui.
I’m not sure about cat mess being toxic – it sounds doubtful but could be true, but I do know that Dog faeces carries bacteria which can cause blindness. It could be that cat faeces does too, I really don’t know. Either way the excrement of any animal, including humans (and yes, some humans do deposit faeces in public places sometimes – look around your nearest town centre doorways on a Sunday morning, especially near to night clubs) is very unpleasant to have to deal with and certainly carries many germs.
However, unlike dogs, a cat’s natural instinct is to bury what they do, rather than leave it on the surface, so if you have a problem with cats leaving it exposed it could be that you have some long grass (which some cats seem to like using as a toilet and not covering up, but I don’t know why) or that you have un-dug and hard soil (in which they cannot dig a hole and fill in afterwards.
These are only two possible suggestions based on a great number of observations – I am sure there are other reasons too, but you have control over the length of your grass and how well dug your garden is, so if either of these is the case you might like to try making some changes to see if it helps.

Dave

Do you know if there is a possibility of breeding cats that are more likely to leave birds alone. I did ask earlier but no-one has offered an opinion.

@Wavechange.
I don’t **know** but I suspect that the humble NEUTERED “moggie” – I.E. mongrel cat – is far less likely to go hunting than many of the Siamese / Burmese cat and UN neutered males in general.
All the Siamese / Burmese cats I have ever known have been real fighters (despite most being very loving and gentle-natured with humans). By contrast I’ve not yet come across a neutered moggie that fights much.
In cat terms, as far as I can see, fighting nature also = hunting nature.
So my unscientific answer to your question is that breeding ‘natural’ cats – as opposed to show breeds, etc., – and having them neutered seems to lead to cats which don’t hunt very much.
However, as I said in an earlier post, I also think that how a cat is “brought up” plays a very major role in determining it’s nature: my brother-in-law was a police dog handler. The first cat that he & my sister had was ‘brought up’ mainly by John, who ‘played’ with it as he used to ‘play’ with the police dogs. The result was that Fred (the cat) became a great hunter and could also turn quite suddenly on a human that he was ‘playing’ with. By contrast all the cats I have ever had have grown up being spoiled rotten and constantly fussed and have been loyal, docile, lap-cats with no interest in hunting at all.
Sorry, that isn’t a very concise or conclusive answer for you but I hope it helps a little.

Thanks Dave. I appreciate that neutering and the efforts of owners are important factors, but not all owners have the time, patience and ability to make an influence on the behaviour of their pets.

Sadly, I have an allergy to most cats and dogs. For reasons I don’t understand it was diagnosed long before I had a problem.

D Tomlinson says:
7 June 2012

My garden is fully enclosed and I attempt to attract as much wildlife as possible. However, I am plagued by the number of cats owned by neighbours surrounding my house. Whereas by law I have to control my dog at all times there are no regulations whatsoeverfor cats. Cats come into my garden to use it as their latrine notwithstanding “sonic”, gel and pellet repellants. Nothing seems to work to keep cats at bay. Has anyone come up with a humane method of keeping these predators away? Needless to say I have had numerous birds killed in my garden.
Frustrated. Dorset

Stuart Donnelly says:
11 August 2012

A watergun!

Steve W says:
18 July 2018

You need to remove the word “water” from your comment lol that would provide a permanent solution to this hideous problem of humans upsetting the eco system with their obsession with having a pet cat!!! I used to scoop the poop and lob it back in the neighbours garden who owned said cat!!! When he stood in the plethora of poop he wasn’t best pleased lol learn’t the hard way!!!

I’m living with my third cat since moving here [30+ years ago] and all three have not been hunters – one tabby, one rescued Birman and now a black and white tom. Collars with bells are the easiest way to control things although you may have to keep fitting new collars until the cat gets fed up trying to remove it. None have been allowed out at night. They settle into a routine of being in at night if you encourage the staying in with suitable treats. I put two bells and a tag on the collars so even I can hear my cat moving around. I have bird food out in daytime. And a lot of birds of many varieties, small and large, all year round. They make the most mess of my patio flags, car windows, and occasionally house windows. Near me is open country where regulars shoot pigeons, pheasants and no doubt anything else they choose that flies overhead. Let’s not blame cats for the destruction of wildlife. I pick up dead animals from local roads most weeks – muntjac deer last week, squirrels, badgers … and plenty of birds that don’t make it either.