If there’s one thing that cat owners can’t seem to agree on, it’s whether or not cats should be kept indoors exclusively or allowed to roam outdoors unsupervised.
It’s a topic that some people feel strongly about, as some cat owners argue that cats need to be kept inside for their own health and safety and the safety of local ecosystems, while others argue that cats need to roam freely for exercise and fresh air.
As it turns out, scientists now have something to say on the topic thanks to a study conducted by researchers with the University of Maryland.
According to that study, the evidence is clear: Cats should be kept indoors for their own health as well as the health of others.
In a press release about the research, the study’s lead author, Daniel Herrera, explained that allowing our cats to roam outside puts them at risk of not only being hit by cars or injured by predators but also of contracting and carrying potentially deadly diseases. He said: “We discovered that the average domestic cat in D.C. has a 61 percent probability of being found in the same space as racoons.” He added that they also have a “61 percent spatial overlap with red foxes, and 56 percent overlap with Virginia opossums.”
While that may not seem like a huge deal, Herrera noted that those wild animals can pose serious risks for our furry friends. According to the Humane Society of the United States, “Raccoons—along with foxes (red and gray), skunks, and bats—are considered a primary carrier of the rabies virus in the United States.”
By allowing cats to roam freely outside, we’re risking their health. As Herrera said in the press release, “by letting our cats outside we are significantly jeopardizing their health.”
Their own health is just one reason that pet cats should be kept indoors, with the study noting other concerning reasons for it as well.
It’s no secret that cats have been known to decimate local ecosystems, with Poland going as far as to label felines as an “invasive species.” While it’s well-known in the literature, not all cat owners have gotten the memo. In fact, many cat owners believe that allowing their cats outside is a good thing because the feliens can act as natural pest control by catching rats and mice. The new study, however, suggests otherwise.
In the press release, Herrera explained:
“Many people falsely think that cats are hunting non-native populations like rats, when in fact they prefer hunting small native species. Cats are keeping rats out of sight due to fear, but there really isn’t any evidence that they are controlling the non-native rodent population. The real concern is that they are decimating native populations that provide benefits to the D.C. ecosystem.”
The study found that the “distribution of cats is largely driven by humans, rather than natural factors.” In other words, we’re the ones who are bringing cats into new areas and we should be the ones responsible for their impact.
The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution in a paper titled, “Spatial and temporal overlap of domestic cats (Felis catus) and native urban wildlife.”
The paper concluded that the primary responsibility to prevent cats from harming themselves or others is on humans and an effective way to reduce these risks is by keeping cats indoors.
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