Cats were predominantly domesticated in order to control pests such as mice, rats, birds and snakes. Only relatively recently have they been bred solely for their beauty. Now, cats are amongst the most common companion animals; however, they have evolved into efficient predators for birds or rodents around the house. Domestic cats are highly efficient killers, so efficient, that they can themselves become a pest when it comes to different bird species. Cats are known predators of many ground-feeding or ground-dwelling animals, but also of birds.
Cats have been known to extirpate a bird species within specific regions and may have contributed to the extinction of isolated island populations. They are thought to be primarily, though not solely, responsible for the extinction of 33 species of birds, and the presence of feral and free ranging cats makes some locations unsuitable for attempted species reintroduction in otherwise suitable locations.
Domestic cats – pests or pets?
Domestic felines are predators that you can have control over. Ways of preventing them from creating damage around the house is by sterilising them, as cats can have a lot of offsprings. Should you wish to protect birds form becoming victims of the cats, you can attach a bell to the cat collar. This will help alert the bird and giving it time to make her escape. Unlike some predators, a cat’s desire to hunt is not suppressed by adequate supplemental food. Even when fed regularly by people, a cat’s motivation to hunt remains strong, so it continues hunting.
Cats can also cause a lot of damage in gardens, as when they are stalking their pray, and running to catch it, they are also ruining plants that gardeners have grown. They also use gardens or soft dirt as litter boxes so apply a solution consisting of ammonia, as they do not appreciate its smell.
A new study from the Smithsonian Institution, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service has revealed that free-ranging pet and feral cats in the USA kill perhaps 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals each year, such as the brown rat. Although cats respond to changes in prey availability they still have a tremendous impact on their prey populations. Natural predators are usually unable to keep up with the numbers of their prey population, but domestic pet cats and stray cats are different because they are not regulated by the availability of wild prey and their populations are stable regardless of prey availability.
Feral cats – infestation risk control
Feral cats live, hunt and reproduce in the wild. They have the body shape, acute senses and fine coordination perfectly suited for stalking and capturing prey. Feral cats need large amounts of fresh meat to survive and reproduce. They mainly eat small mammals, birds, lizards and insects. About 80 endangered and threatened species are at risk from feral cat predation in Australia, for example.
We can easily assume that feral cats, which subsist almost completely on natural prey take more live prey items than stray or domestic pet cats who are fed by human or subsist on human waste.
Predation has direct effect on prey survival but may also have indirect effects. Domestic cats may compete with native predators for prey animals. Unlike many other predators, domestic cats do not strictly protect or defend their territories and therefore live in much higher densities in colonies that can grow to include dozens of animals. As cats are fed by human caretakers, and vaccinated against disease, they are stronger, and may be superior in competition with other wild predators. However, depending on the Prey size and difficulty of capture may greatly influence the predation attempts by cats as urban cats avoid foraging on large rats, for example.
Feral cats are harder to control and to prevent, however, if you have a cat, there are easy steps you should take to minimize the impact on local wildlife. Keeping it in at night can reduce the kills it makes by half. Cats should also wear a collar with a bell, or, even better, a sonar beeper that produces high-pitched tones, which doesn’t bother cats, but alerts birds to their presence. Neutering stops cats procreating and makes them less likely to roam and hunt.
Health impact caused by cats
Domestic cats serve as a reservoir for numerous wildlife and human diseases, including cat scratch fever, distemper, histoplasmosis, leptospirosis, mumps, plague, rabies, ringworm, salmonellosis, toxoplasmosis, tularemia, and various endo- and ecto parasites. These diseases may be transferred to wildlife species that come to contact with feral, stray and domestic pet cats, threatening vulnerable populations. Reversibly, domestic pet cats may acquire numerous diseases from wildlife and transmit them to their human owners.
In order to do to minimize the effect of your cat on wild animals, here are a number of things responsible cat owners should do:
- Keep your cat in at night or even better, keep it in a safe outdoor enclosure and encourage cat-owning neighbours to do the same. By doing this, you can reduce to half the amount of killings your cat does in a day;
- Spay or neuter cats between 8 weeks and 4 month of age; This way you will avoid having to deal with a lot of kittens, as females can have two to three litters per year, with 3 to5 kittens in one litter;
- Support humane removal of stray cats from neighbourhoods and wildlife areas;
- Fit your cat with a collar with a noisy bell, as it will help alert the bird and give then an advantage and a chance to escape the stealth cat attack;
- Provide your cat with toys; Keep it occupied and provide it with the opportunity to exercise her hunting and attacking drive through play;
- Feed the birds in your garden; If they have a continuous food source, they will come and feed in groups and this will help them be more vigilant against the cats of the neighbourhood.
Should you need details regarding methods of repelling or controlling expansion of the stray cats from your neighbourhood, visit the “How to get rid of Cats” article, which tackles this subject.
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