Should Cats be Kept Indoors? New Videos Promote Controversial Message

Safer for everyone concerned | Photo: Rachel Ford James/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Two bird-protection groups are reaffirming their stand on one of the most polarizing contemporary wildlife issues: outdoor domestic cats. And they're doing so with video public service announcements that are about as unpolarizing as possible.

The Washington D.C.-based American Bird Conservancy (ABC) released a set of four PSAs this week in cooperation with the Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation to encourage cat caretakers to keep their charges indoors, calling the practice "better for cats, better for birds, and better for people."

The groups recognize that tempers can run high when the topic of outdoor cats comes up. "The issue of cat management elicits strong emotional responses everywhere it is talked about," said Don Thompson, Executive Director of Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation. "However, these PSAs present a friendly, non-confrontational approach that I think will be well received by all interested in animal well-being. After all, there really is no credible debate against the many benefits of keeping cats indoors."

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The predation pressure cats can put on native wildlife is well-documented, with new studies suggesting that outdoor cats kill between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals in the U.S. each year. Feral cats account for about 69 percent of those deaths. That's a significant majority, but the figures still add up to pet cats allowed outdoors being responsible for between 434 million and 1.145 billion birds deaths a year in the U.S.

And few argue with the impact of an outdoor lifestyle on cat longevity, with indoor cats enjoying lifespans three to five times longer than their outdoor pals.

But you don't hear as much about the public health impact of outdoor cats, and ABC and Hillsborough hope to change that with PSAs like this one, which talks about the link between outdoor cats and toxoplasmosis infection:

Toxoplasmosis, a disease spread by contact with cat feces, can cause miscarriage, birth defects, and memory loss in the elderly. Immune-compromised people can die from toxoplasmosis infections. While the pathogen responsible, Toxoplasma gondii, rarely causes ill effects in the cats it infects, those cats can easily pass the disease on to human household members. And keeping your cat indoors can reduce her chance of Toxoplasma infection by 75 percent.

Toxoplasmosis has also been implicated in die-offs of other wildlife, including California sea otters.

The three other videos in the series cover safety for wildlife and for the cats themselves.

"Reducing your cat's exposure to outside safety and disease threats, and reducing cat-inflicted mortality on wildlife, are things that I think everyone will agree are positive steps," said ABC President Dr. George Fenwick. "We hope these PSAs create greater awareness of the benefits that cat owners realize when they keep their pet indoors."

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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