Good for Cats
By Hugh Chisholm, DVM (retired)
Emily was an adorable little kitten when she came to me for her first vaccination at 8 weeks of age. She had the biggest, brightest eyes I’d ever seen and a purr that would drown out a lawnmower! I fell in love instantly (I fell in love with a LOT of kittens over 25 years of veterinary practice). I wasn’t prepared for the sight of her when she returned two weeks later barely clinging to life. Her owner had been letting her roam outdoors and a neighbourhood dog had attacked her. The good news is that she survived and lived to a ripe old age. The bad news is that she suffered greatly as a result of the attack – 3 broken legs, bruised lungs and multiple lacerations. Needless to say, her veterinary bill was steep. Fortunately, her owner had the financial resources to pay for her care.
The risks for outdoor cats are numerous – automobiles, predators, parasites, diseases, evil humans and even other cats. Many people think their cat has “street smarts” until the day they find out that bad things can happen to ANY cat, no matter how clever they are. Why take the risk? Your indoor cat will be safer, healthier and happier than they would be in a recovery kennel in a veterinary hospital… assuming they survive.
The key to keeping an indoor cat happy is to provide a stimulating environment. The best time to start is when they’re kittens but even adult cats can become indoor cats – it just takes a bit longer. There’s nothing worse than a bored cat who sleeps all day and becomes fat and lazy! Check out Ohio State University’s Indoor Pet Initiative website for some great ideas on enriching the life of your indoor cat.
Can’t stand the idea of keeping your cat indoors? Why not consider a catio or a cat-proof fence? Your cat can enjoy the outdoors in a safe, controlled environment. Many of my friends have catios attached to their homes and their cats love them! Another friend takes his cat for leash walks around his neighbourhood. I enclosed my back yard with a cat proof fence. My cats safely roam around outdoors without the risks they’d face if they were roaming the neighbourhood. I regularly see posters of neighbour’s cats that have gone missing – I hate to think what might have happened to them.
Good for Wildlife
Cats are natural predators. Cats who are allowed outdoors may catch a mouse, rat, bird, squirrel, snake, or other, from time to time. Cats have different hunting abilities; observational studies have reported that only about 44% of outdoor cats hunt wildlife. Some cats are skilled, others are not – some just enjoy observing other creatures.
Even if your cat does not hunt wildlife, they may still give chase and can impact wildlife in that way. We believe that it is prudent to try and remove any possible stressors on our wildlife. Given the current state of increasing habitat loss, climate change, pesticide use, and pollution, the struggle to survive is real. That’s why we say indoor cats are good for wildlife.
There has been some debate/disagreement on the impact of outdoor/free roaming cats on wildlife. It is important to correct any misconceptions and ensure only accurate information is shared. In some municipalities in Canada and countries around the world, policy is being made based on skewed data and flawed research. Such policies may put cats at risk.
We recognize and are concerned that there are many wildlife species at risk. Do outdoor cats have a significant impact on our wildlife? There is no scientific data to support this notion. We do know however that cats are not implicated in any species at risk in Nova Scotia.
Detailed discussion on this topic is beyond the scope of this project. For additional and in-depth information on the science and issues behind free-roaming cats visit voxfelina.com
Good for Our Community
Have you ever had neighbours who let their cat(s) out? Did the cats dig up plants in your garden, or use it as a litter box? Did they ‘mark their territory’ (spray urine) on your house and car? Did they dig in your garbage when it was curbside, and make a mess? Or have you been awoken by cats fighting outside your window? These things have happened to me and it is aggravating.
Let’s be clear – the cats don’t open the door and let themselves out, people let them out. I have complained to neighbours who allow their cats to roam. One person told me that I should just spray their cat with my garden hose so it would leave. Seriously? I have to assault your cat so that my garden and garbage remains intact?
I have cats. I keep them inside for their safety, and out of consideration for my neighbours and local wildlife. So imagine my ire when the neighbourhood cats stalk my indoor cats through our windows and our catio! My cats get along well, but visiting cats have caused them enough stress and misplaced aggression that they have gotten into some pretty wicked fights – one of my cats required veterinary treatment after such an episode! Another of my cats started to mark his territory inside.
In addition to the annoyances caused by the nuisance behaviour of roaming cats, I find it stressful because I love all animals. I know it isn’t safe for these cats to be outside and I worry about them. I see them cross the street and I hold my breath. When I see a hawk or eagle fly overhead I go outside to check and make sure they are safe. It’s not their fault they are outside, it’s a decision made by their humans, their owners.
Be responsible and considerate of others – keep your cat(s) inside. Be a good neighbour. Don’t let your cat be a nuisance; it can cause conflict and hard feelings.
The Community at Large
Animal shelters and rescue groups exist because the need is there. The numbers of free roaming cats who end up missing or lost is high – check out the numerous lost and found cat groups on social media, and missing cat posters on lamp posts and bulletin boards across the city. Veterinary clinics are frequently contacted and maintain lists of missing cats, as does the City Pound.
There are far more stray cats than dogs taken to shelters, and very few of these lost cats get reunited with their owner. Once an owner cannot be found, and after the required waiting period, the cat is put up for adoption. This process costs money – there is veterinary care, food/litter, employees’ wages, and shelter space to pay for.
If there were fewer homeless cats, resources could be reallocated. The focus could be on enhancing programs that benefit the community as a whole, for example – low-cost spay/neuter, education, and cruelty investigations.
Fewer missing cats mean happier families and happier healthier communities.