Waynesboro, VA - The Journal of Wildlife Management has just published an extensive 11-year study conducted by the Wildlife Center of Virginia which shows that domestic cat attacks are one of the most frequent and most lethal causes of animal admission to this world-renowned wildlife hospital.
The study examined nearly 21,000 patient records, including 11,144 small mammals and 9,777 small birds, admitted between 2000 and 2010. Of this total, 2,970 patients were admitted due to confirmed interaction with cats.
The study graphically illustrates that cats, when allowed to roam freely outdoors, are taking a terrible toll on wildlife. Contrary to suggestions by some cat advocacy groups and what many pet owners would like to believe, outdoor cats are not just killing mice and rats. At the Wildlife Center of Virginia alone, 83 species of wild birds and small mammals were admitted due to cat attacks, including both common and rare species. Among the most frequent avian victims were mourning doves, blue jays, robins, and cardinals. Gray squirrels, chipmunks, cottontail rabbits, and Southern flying squirrels topped the list for small mammals that fell victim to cats.
According to Ed Clark, President and Co-founder of the Wildlife Center, and a co-author of the study, “This completely discredits the assertion that outdoor cats only kill mice and vermin; cats are killing a wide range of wildlife, including many of our most beloved songbirds and backyard species.”
According to Dr. David McRuer, Director of Veterinary Services at the Wildlife Center, and primary investigator for the study, the true situation is likely much worse than the study documents. “These figures are deliberately conservative. During the study period, we had many more patients admitted with injuries which were consistent with cat attacks; if a cat was not actually seen interacting with the patient, that case was not included in our analysis.”
Unfortunately, when small birds and mammals are attacked by cats, their chances of survival are extremely low, due to both the severity of direct injuries and the very aggressive infection that invariably occurs with cat-related injuries. Of all small mammals admitted due to cat attacks, more than 70 percent died or had to be euthanized. For small birds, the mortality rate is a staggering 81 percent.
Clark pointed out, “These high mortality figures are occurring in one of the world’s leading veterinary hospitals for wildlife, where antibiotics and state-of-the-art care are available. For victims that receive no veterinary care whatsoever, the chances of survival are almost certainly close to zero, even if they initially run off or fly away when ‘rescued’ from a cat.”
Not all free-roaming cats are created equal. Some are pets and may only be allowed outdoors for limited periods; they are owned and may be well fed and cared for. Others are unowned, abandoned, or truly feral animals, spending all of their time outdoors, often surviving on their own. For their victims, the distinction makes little difference.
According to McRuer, “We have no way of knowing whether the cat that has attacked our patient is someone’s owned pet that was allowed to roam outdoors, or an unowned or feral cat. It really doesn’t matter to their wild victims; most cat victims are going to die from the encounter, either way.”
The implications of these findings are personal to Clark, himself the owner of three (now) indoor cats, “I used to let my cats go outside anytime they wanted. I live in the country and never gave it a thought. However, back in 1992, when the Wildlife Center first started documenting the number of patients admitted due to cat attacks, and how few of them survive, I decided that my cats were going to become strictly indoor pets. Not only are my cats healthier and living longer, within weeks, I started seeing species of birds and mammals around my house I had not seen in years. I never realized what a terrible toll my cats were taking on the wildlife in my yard and surrounding woods.”
For Clark and McRuer, the overriding message found in this study is that outdoor cats have a devastating impact on a wide variety of wildlife species. The way to reduce this carnage is by keeping cats confined – indoors and in restricted, safe outdoor spaces.