Are you more of a dog person or a cat person? With so many cat lovers in the world, it is not surprising that cats are the most popular pet in many countries. And yet, the number of cats euthanized in shelters is staggering. On the other hand, cats allowed to run free pose a serious threat to wildlife.
Cats: A threat to biodiversity
The cat—scientific name Felis sylvestris catus—originated in the Middle East, where its ancestor, Felis sylvestris, spent happy days as a small predator in its natural habitat. Cats were domesticated about 10,000 BC and now come in a range of breeds. These carnivores are excellent hunters—and even well-fed domestic cats may still give in to their predator instincts, often with their owners’ approval. They bring home their prey—a small mammal or a bird—which they do not necessarily eat. But is this behaviour as innocuous as it might seem? Researchers have attempted to quantify the number of animals killed by these efficient, exotic predators (in that they are not native to North America), and the results are thought-provoking. In fact, stray cats—or those whose owners allow them to roam—play an undeniable role in the disappearance of millions of birds and small mammals every year. One cautionary tale to keep in mind is that of Stephens Island, off New Zealand, where a single cat was responsible for the extinction of the native Stephens Island Wren at the end of the 19th century.
The solution? Sterilization
Life outdoors is full of dangers. Male cats are likely to travel long distances to find that female in heat whose scent is so irresistible but may be several kilometres away. He may risk injury by getting into multiple fights just for the chance to pass on his genes. Female cats, having mated in fall or late winter, can have two or even three litters of four to five kittens each year. What should be done with all these future predators that end up in shelters and are too often euthanized? The solution for any responsible owner is simple. Sterilization avoids a great deal of suffering, and its cost—spread over some 15 years of life (and sometimes more than 20)—is really worthwhile, especially if combined with controlled access to the outdoors.
A dubious honour
If you love your cats, make sure they are sterilized and kept indoors. This might ensure that, one day, they will lose their unenviable title as the “world’s worst exotic invasive species,” bestowed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2008!