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Are housecats killers? Where do you stand on this issue

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Do We Really Know That Cats Kill By The Billions? Not So Fast

Alexnika/iStockphoto.com

On NBC Nightly News on Thursday evening, Brian Williams revealed there's a backlash underway to all the cat-killer headlines of this past week.

Those headlines reported a startling result from a new study in the journal Nature Communications: free-ranging domestic cats in the United States kill many billions of birds and small mammals per year, far more than previously thought. Many cat owners, Williams reported, took umbrage. He featured a photograph of a cat from Rhode Island named Magoo who had sent in to the NBC studios a protest note ("I am not a bird murderer; don't judge me"). Williams commented that the bird community has so far been silent, possibly because of its "decimated" numbers.

In fact, the situation is no laughing matter. Cats are hunters and other creatures do fall prey to them in significant numbers.

And yet there are serious reasons to suspect the reliability of the new, extreme cat-killer statistics.

The study at issue is a meta-analysis, an overarching review that aggregates data from previously published sources. The accuracy of meta-studies in health and medicine raises some concern, and it's easy to see why: for a meta-analysis to be solid, wise choices must be made among the available sources of information, and results that may vary wildly must be weighed fairly.

In the Nature Communications study, authors Scott R. Loss, Tom Will, and Peter P. Marra needed to incorporate into their model the number of "un-owned cats" (such as stray, feral, and barn cats) in the U.S. As they note in an appendix to the article, "no empirically driven estimate of un-owned cat abundance exists for the contiguous U.S." Estimates that are available range from 20-120 million, with 60-100 million being the most commonly cited. In response to this huge uncertainty in the numbers, they performed mathematical calculations using what they feel to be a conservative figure (specifically, they "defined a uniform distribution with minimum and maximum of 30 and 80 million, respectively.")

At this juncture, the authors note that local analyses of cat numbers are "often conducted in areas with above average density." That is an obvious problem, yet when they estimated the proportion of owned cats with access to the outdoors (and thus to hunting), of eight sources of information, "three [were] based on nationwide pet-owner surveys and five based on research in individual study areas." Are the local studies representative of the national situation? For that matter, are the different owner surveys administered in a consistent enough manner to allow them to be aggregated?

Of course, the authors make statistical perturbations designed to increase the reliability of their conclusions, but it seems to me there's an unsettling degree of uncertainty in the study's key numbers.

It seems this way to others also.

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, had this to say in response to the study: "It's virtually impossible to determine how many cats live outside, or how many spend some portion of the day outside. Loss, Will, and Marra have thrown out a provocative number for cat predation totals, and their piece has been published in a highly credible publication, but they admit the study has many deficiencies. We don't quarrel with the conclusion that the impact is big, but the numbers are informed guesswork."

If even animal advocates admit "the impact is big," why do the specific numbers matter so much? Because when people start thinking of cats primarily as murderers, it then becomes the cats' lives that may be seriously endangered. Of concern are not only extremists like the man in New Zealand who recently suggested a ban on pet cats; cat advocate organization Alley Cat Allies says that the study is so "biased" that it amounts to an invitation to "ramp up the mass killings of outdoor cats."

As a cat rescuer, I know such threats to outdoor cats are real. I've heard them. And as a cat person, I also care very much about the lives of birds and small mammals, taking steps in my own life to reduce our cats' predation upon them. The truth is that we do need to better understand the relationship between cats and the greater natural world.

Demonizing cats with shaky statistics, however, won't help us build the pillar of understanding required to strike a satisfying balance between the needs of cats and their supporters with the needs of wildlife facing a feline threat.

Should house cats be required to stay indoors? Or wear a bell?

North West Passage

by on Feb. 3, 2013 at 2:26 PM
Replies (231-237):
eema.gray
by on Feb. 5, 2013 at 11:39 AM
1 mom liked this

Mine moves her fat butt from one sunshine spot to another throughout the day.  She knows exactly what part of the house to be in every hour, LOL.  The only exercise she gets is being forced to jump for her food (on top of the fridge) and into her litterbox (we have one of the top entrance ones that look like a rubbermaid tub).  Occassionally, she attempts to kill a bug.  She fails miserably.  When we move out of the city in a few months, I'm going to get her a companion cat who comes from a good line of mousers because this housecat will be utterly useless at that job.


Quoting Whaaaaaa....O.o:

In order for my cat to be a killer he would have to un-butt his spot in the middle of my bed and actually move. Lol. The only thing he has "killed" would be a feather stick. His favorite toy. We had to buy a new one. He knows where I hide it when we aren't playing with it. He sits at my closet door and "chirps" hoping I will give in and just let him have it. Lol



"I am only one, but I am still one; I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do." ~~ Edward Everett Hale 1822-1909
Euphoric
by Thumper kid spanks on Feb. 5, 2013 at 11:44 AM

 My cat used to be quite the hunter, now she's just lazy, lazy, lazy.

lizzielouaf
by Gold Member on Feb. 5, 2013 at 11:48 AM

My cats are strictly indoor cats but I pity any mouse seeking shelter indoors. Interestingly enough when we had a hamster it used to get out all the time but they never bothered it.

LindaClement
by Linda on Feb. 5, 2013 at 7:03 PM

My 7 were not. Three were, but they still tended to hunt rodents.

Quoting DivingDiva:



Quoting LindaClement:

Cats who are fed, and not taught by their mothers how to hunt, don't.

Cats who need to hunt to live --well, obviously.

Yes, there is a difference. I've owned 10 cats --three of which were ever hunters, and mostly of rodents not birds.

Quoting frogbender:


It is not just feral cats. It is any cat, even pets, that have free access to the outdoors. Housecat is a generic name. Perhaps more apt would be 'domestic cat' problem.

Quoting LindaClement:

The misnomer is labelling it a 'housecat' problem.

The problem is feral cats.

Quoting frogbender:

Actually, yes, they are having an impact on animals that are not doing well, especially ground-nesting birds. There is some very good scientific articles out there if you just bothered to read them. It is a huge concern to wildlife biologists.


Quoting MrsHMS:

 Are they killing something that is on the verge of extinction?  I know they carry rats and rats carry disease. That is about as much as I have thought about it.  This is one more thing people want to feel guilty about for existing and leaving an ecological footprint. Doesn't bother me in the least.








 Some cats are born hunters and have a powerful urge to hunt and kill even if they have not been taught.   Empirical evidence suggests many cats are good at killing birds, even if your three were not. 


lalasha
by Bronze Member on Feb. 5, 2013 at 7:11 PM
1 mom liked this
That is like asking do fleas transmit plague. Scece has already proven house cats are a danger to our ecosystem and they either need to stay indoors or you need to put a loud bell on them to warn song birds and the like.
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Redwall
by Silver Member on Feb. 5, 2013 at 7:53 PM

In my community cats are required to be indoors or on a leash.  I can't tell you how many times I've caught a cat (they came willingly) and called the Humane Society.  It costs $50 to get them back.  Domesticated cats to NOT belong outside.

DivingDiva
by Gold Member on Feb. 6, 2013 at 4:21 PM
1 mom liked this

 


Quoting LindaClement:

My 7 were not. Three were, but they still tended to hunt rodents.

Quoting DivingDiva:

 

 

Quoting LindaClement:

Cats who are fed, and not taught by their mothers how to hunt, don't.

Cats who need to hunt to live --well, obviously.

Yes, there is a difference. I've owned 10 cats --three of which were ever hunters, and mostly of rodents not birds.

Quoting frogbender:

 

It is not just feral cats. It is any cat, even pets, that have free access to the outdoors. Housecat is a generic name. Perhaps more apt would be 'domestic cat' problem.

Quoting LindaClement:

The misnomer is labelling it a 'housecat' problem.

The problem is feral cats.

Quoting frogbender:

Actually, yes, they are having an impact on animals that are not doing well, especially ground-nesting birds. There is some very good scientific articles out there if you just bothered to read them. It is a huge concern to wildlife biologists.

 

Quoting MrsHMS:

 Are they killing something that is on the verge of extinction?  I know they carry rats and rats carry disease. That is about as much as I have thought about it.  This is one more thing people want to feel guilty about for existing and leaving an ecological footprint. Doesn't bother me in the least.

 

 


 

 


 

 Some cats are born hunters and have a powerful urge to hunt and kill even if they have not been taught.   Empirical evidence suggests many cats are good at killing birds, even if your three were not. 


Another reason it's very hard to quantify the actual number of animals killed by cats in that there is quite a lot of variation among individual cats in terms desire to hunt and/or kill and which species they go after.  My cat was far too stupid to ever catch a bird but many are not. 

 

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