Cat lovers and bird lovers can agree on one thing at this time of year: cats are best kept inside.
These last few days have brought many migratory birds into our backyards. On Thursday we spotted a Tennessee Warbler and a Yellow-rumped Warbler. Many people in our area were talking about the sudden appearance of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings at their birdfeeders. These birds are gorgeous, and they are also impressive little athletes. In many cases they fly more than a thousand miles to get to their spring nesting areas. They are particularly vulnerable now because their energy stores have been depleted by travel. Unfortunately this means that they are easily caught and killed by feline hunters.
Do these birds a favor: keep your cats inside for the next couple of weeks. The future of many species rests on the reproductive success of these individual birds. If we can keep Felix busy inside during this time, we will be doing our feathered friends a tremendous favor and ensuring that our grandchildren will have a chance to see these beautiful birds one day.
In general animal welfare advocates recommend keeping your cat inside for the health of the cat. Fluffy will have a longer life if she doesn’t have to deal with threats like cars, dogs, and other (meaner) cats. If she roams outside, there is a better chance that your cat will be exposed to bacteria or other substances (which can make her sick) or diseases such as feline distemper or feline leukemia (which can be deadly). The average life span of an indoor cat is 15 years; in contrast, an outdoor cat lives only half as long.
If your cat is used to going outside, the transition to keeping him indoors can seem difficult. Chances are he’ll let you know how unhappy he is with you. Try to ease this transition by adding new toys that play into his predator instinct: get him a tower to climb, an indoor seat by a window (with a view of a birdfeeder, even!), or just a little (feathered) toy to chase. Failing that, consider a little kitty time-out with catnip … or a colon cleanse with cat grass. New stimuli will eventually help him forget his old routine.
If that’s all too radical, a more gradual step that might be worth trying (and might save some lives) is to keep your cat inside at dawn and dusk when birds are most active.
Whatever you do, please spay/neuter your cat! That’s another terrific way to protect birds from future predators!