By: Mary Campbell, Extension Director and Urban Sustainability Agent
As we all look for more ways to reduce our environmental impacts, there are many ways to be “greener” with your pets. Some great “green” practices include adopting a pet from a shelter, making sure your animals are neutered/spayed, cleaning up your pet’s waste and purchasing organic pet foods, natural pet care and cleaning products. Also, look for non-toxic products and chemicals for use around your pets, as well as your family. These are all environmentally friendly practices, but there is another way that pets can have a big impact on the natural environment – pets that are free to roam outdoors.
There are tremendous impacts of free-ranging pets on wildlife. Cats and dogs have the potential to severely impact local wildlife populations. The instinctive hunting and killing behavior of cats is extensively documented. Unlike wild predators that kill to eat, cats kill impulsively even when they are not hungry. Animals that nest or feed on or close to the ground such as cardinals, bobwhites, towhees, wrens, rabbits, and lizards are most susceptible. At least part of the population declines experienced by Florida's endangered beach mice are due to domestic cat predation. A Michigan study provided some insight into the impact of a single cat on local prey. During an 18-month period, one well-fed, domestic farm cat killed at least 60 birds and 1,600 small mammals. A study in England estimated that over a million birds are killed each year there by free-ranging cats.
Dr. H.W. Kale, II and David Maehr recommend actions in their book, Florida's Birds, which you can take to reduce the chances of cats' sneaking up undetected on wildlife on your property:
- Do not place a bird feeder or bath immediately next to dense shrubbery or other cat hiding places.
- If you own an outside cat, place two bells on its collar--some cats can learn to adjust their moves to silence a single bell.
- Do not let your cat roam at night when they can be much more effective predators on sleeping prey.
- If you are having problems with a neighbor's cat, speak to the neighbor about the problem and see what can be worked out.
If the cat is an untagged stray or feral, trap it with a live trap (the raccoon-type trap) then turn it over to the local animal control office or Humane Society.
Impacts of Free-ranging Pets on Wildlife
Kale, II, H.W. and D.S. Maehr. 1990. Florida's Birds. P. 250. Pineapple Press, Inc. Sarasota, FL 288 pp.