Fluttergate: The Uproar Over Cats Slaughtering Birds and Wildlife

House cats can be cuddly indoors but may hone killer instincts outside. Here’s Dr. Deb’s take on house cats killing birds and other wildlife.

Cats and birds
Scientists report that cats that roam the outdoors kill 3.7 billion birds annually. (Photo illustration by Pets Adviser)

Cat lovers have compassion for all cats, no matter where they live. Indoor, outdoor, feral, stray. But they are split on the issue of letting your house cat wander beyond the house! Why do you think they call it a house cat, stupid?!

Recently, new studies claiming that cats massacre more wildlife than previously estimated are ramping up the controversy between the indoor versus outdoor camps.

Scientists with the Smithsonian and US Fish and Wildlife have concluded that free-ranging domestic cats kill up to 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion mammals annually. This report has received a lot of media coverage.

Scampering sparrows, Batman, that’s a lot of feline feathering!

We’re also talking about hundreds of millions of reptiles and amphibians turning into Eye of Newt Super Supper and Frogs Legs Appetizer.

As if the fear of your cat falling into the abyss of the unknown isn’t enough to force you to keep your cats in, the indoor cat lobbyists are correct to call your cat out as a major assault weapon on wildlife. While the country debates gun control, naturalists and cat owners are debating cat control. But now the bird huggers have some serious statistics to back up their claims that cats are more than just an upsetting menace — Kit and Kaboodle are terrorists on a global scale!

This media coverage of cats killing birds has given birders the evidence they need, but has ruffled the feathers of a number of feline friendly groups. The Humane Society‘s Veterinary Association and many cat adoption groups don’t want this coverage to deter future cat adopters, and stress the point that the majority of wildlife is killed by feral or stray cats.

The feral cat is the true Hannibal Lecter of the neighborhood, according to the feline groups. The studies suggest, however, that Fluff and Muff account for 29% of bird homicides and about 11% of small mammal deaths.

On My Homefront…

Did you happen to read my post a few weeks ago about the saga of OG, my cat’s version of The Return of the Native? My sweet 3-year-old cat had been missing for three weeks when he walked back in the cat door one breezy night, skin and bones, but ready to chow down to a deep sleep and keep his story to himself.

I’ve been thrilled to have him back in the bosom of his kitty, canine and human housemates, but I am newly racked with guilt about the dangers of letting my cats go outside since the incident. And now that it’s spring, my cats are dropping birds and rodents in the kitchen on a regular basis. I’m worried about them, and I’m guilt-ridden about the wildlife. It’s time to put the kitties under house arrest.

In terms of your cat’s safety, the “hippy-dippy, live-free, smell-the-roses” folks extoll the enrichment of a cat’s life climbing trees, munching on spring grass and chasing autumn leaves. (But how about hanging out by the bird feeders?)

The “safety first” camp conjures up Stephen King images of Puff being abducted by coyotes, or Muffin caught in the headlights of an old pickup that splatters her body parts across a country road. Time to close the book or stop the movie.


The wildlife supporters want your cats kept inside, and they are rabid about Trap-Neuter-Return programs (TNR), which are gaining huge popularity across the country. TNR programs may be helping to control feral and stray cat populations, but these cats are also the heaviest of hunters. “Fixing” these cats and returning them to the outdoors does anything but fix the wildlife population.

The alternative? Euthanizing the cats. The Wings versus Paws face-off gets really ugly when it comes to TNR issues. This is much more heightened globally, in countries like Australia and New Zealand, and island nations where the cat is certainly not a native and the exotic bird and marsupial collections are at great risk.

Wildlife Is Precious

Last night, just as I was closing the hospital, a frantic woman called, begging us to stay open until she could get to us with an emergency euthanasia. “Who is your pet?” my receptionist asked. “It’s a sparrow,” cried the woman. “My cat just brought it in, and it’s suffering.”

Don’t Miss: My Cat Won’t Kill a Cockroach

Every spring, my veterinary hospital in Pelham, Massachusetts, is taxed by injured wildlife calls. Many of these birds and baby bunnies are the victims of cat attacks, dropped at owners’ feet as a gift. Some people even bring us mangled field mice, hoping we can save them. (Sometimes we can.)

Although most owners love all animals and are very upset that their sweet fur-face could wreak such havoc on unassuming birds and critters, they think of this as an isolated incident of bird-o-cide. Maybe their cat catches two birds a year, they think. Sad, but no big deal. Circle of life, yadda yadda yadda.

But according to researchers, it IS a big deal. New statistics demonstrate that your cat kills something every 17 hours he’s outside.

The University of Georgia, in cooperation with National Geographic, has developed a “kitty cam.” This is a video recorder attached to house cats as they hit the streets.

In a recent kitty cam outing, 60 cats were followed as they attacked prey, approached toxins such as antifreeze, and other antics. About a third of house cats are good hunters, killing something 1.2 times a week and bringing only 25% of their victims back home. I guess they’re waiting for a deal from the DA before they let you know where the other guys are buried.

Back on the home front, OG won the indoor/outdoor battle last week. He has embraced spring, darting about underneath the deck (his favorite place), climbing the big maple tree and frolicking amid the daffodils. And he brought in a chickadee, a nuthatch and a tufted titmouse. I managed to save the nuthatch and chickadee. If I want to institute a lockdown, the cat doors will have to be removed. They don’t “lock” anymore. Time for some plywood and nails.

I’ll Kill That Cat!

I close with a fond memory of a street cat I adopted in South Philadelphia. When I was in vet school at Penn, I lived in a 12-foot-wide row house. Think Betsy Ross. This very savvy urban feline prowled the cement walls that separated our tiny, 12-by-12-foot attached back yards. The yards were all concrete, or so I thought. (Ours had a built-in Virgin Mary erected by the previous owner, also concrete.)

One day, as Cheesesteak was jumping back into his own little patch of concrete heaven, I saw a stone-cold face peering into my yard over the seven-foot wall. It was the visage of a very angry man.

“The next time I see that cat in my tomato plants, guess what I’m gonna do?”

I suddenly had an image of a kitty decapitation.

“I’m gonna (expletive) kill it.”

From that day forward, “Steaks” was safe and sound inside the row house. The tomatoes flourished, no longer fertilized by cat pee, and the birds and rodents of South Philly were targets for other feline criminals.

The risks to your cat, and to wildlife, are very serious out there in placid suburbia and bucolic rural areas. As far as Philadelphia goes? Fuggedaboutit. The average outdoor cat lives four years; the average indoor house cat, 12. A great compromise is to develop an enclosed outdoor area for your cats that is safe for them, keeps them and their feces out of your neighbor’s garden, and keeps the wildlife population free to be mangled by machinery, other predators and the open road.

Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD

View posts by Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD
Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, is a small animal and exotics veterinarian who has split her time between a veterinary practice in Pelham, Massachusetts, and her studio in New York City. Dr. Lichtenberg is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine with 30 years of experience. Her special interests are soft tissue surgery and oncology.

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