You might want to reconsider the next time you open your backdoor to allow your cat to go on its daily adventure. The outside holds a lot of unfavourable potential for cats. Like the dangers of contracting and spreading diseases, as well as the insatiable want to kill wildlife, which has been proven to decrease the numbers of local animals and destroy biodiversity.
According to a recent study by experts at the University of Maryland, humans are mostly responsible for reducing these dangers by keeping cats indoors.
Data from the D.C. Cat Count, a survey of all of Washington, D.C., that deployed 60 motion-activated wildlife cameras dispersed across 1,500 sample locations, were used in the study's analysis.
The cameras documented the prey the cats consumed and showed how they interacted with local animals, assisting researchers in understanding why cats and other wildlife are present in certain places but not in others. On November 21, the article appeared in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
"We discovered that the average domestic cat in D.C. has a 61 per cent probability of being found in the same space as racoons -- America's most prolific rabies vector -- 61 per cent spatial overlap with red foxes, and 56 per cent overlap with Virginia opossums, both of which can also spread rabies," said Daniel Herrera, lead author of the study and PhD student in UMD's Department of Environmental Science and Technology (ENST). "By letting our cats outside we are significantly jeopardizing their health."
Outdoor cats endanger local wildlife in addition to the possibility of exposure to illnesses that they could later transmit indoors to the people in their families (such as rabies and toxoplasmosis). According to the D.C. Cat Count survey, cats with outdoor access also coexist with and hunt other small native animals, such as groundhogs, cottontail rabbits, grey squirrels, and white-footed mice. Cats can limit biodiversity and worsen ecological health by hunting these creatures.
"Many people falsely think that cats are hunting non-native populations like rats, when in fact they prefer hunting small native species," explained Herrera. "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."
Herrera discovered that access to open water and tree cover are both related to the existence of wildlife. On the other hand, the presence of cats increased with human population density while decreasing with those natural elements. These associations, he claims, run counter to claims that free-roaming cats are simply filling a natural ecological niche by hunting animals.
"These habitat relationships suggest that the distribution of cats is largely driven by humans, rather than natural factors," explained Travis Gallo, assistant professor in ENST and advisor to Herrera. "Since humans largely influence where cats are on the landscape, humans also dictate the degree of risk these cats encounter and the amount of harm they cause to local wildlife."
To prevent potential contact between pets and local wildlife, Herrera advises cat owners to confine their pets to indoor spaces. According to his research, feral cats should not be allowed to roam freely in areas where there is a high risk of conflict with wildlife because they are equally susceptible to contracting diseases and contributing to the decline of native wildlife. This finding supports earlier calls for geographic restrictions on the location of approved cat colonies.