The average pet cat kills up to 40 small creatures every year. With almost 9 million domestic cats living in the UK, that accounts for over 300 million deaths a year. Unfortunately, many of the casualties are garden birds whose numbers are already diminishing. Some are even endangered species. Cat hunting might be a drop in the ocean compared to the threat posed by loss of habitat but it is still worth minimising through responsible ownership.
The simplest way of making a difference is to keep your pet in at night when the hunting instinct peaks. Restricting night-time activity not only reduces hunting, it might also reduce the incidence of unwanted litters. In turn, this will prevent quite so many domestic cats contributing to the feral population, which poses a greater threat to wildlife. For feral cats, hunting is a matter of survival and they are responsible for many more kills than the average domestic moggy. Keeping your pet in is therefore an effective step in protecting our wildlife.
Many owners are concerned about being cruel by restricting their pet’s natural instinct to hunt and roam. Evidence suggests, however, that decreasing a cat’s opportunity to hunt actually decreases its desire to – so you won’t deny your cat’s freedom of expression by keeping it in at night.
Whilst turning your garden into a haven for birds might seem like an open dinner invitation to neighbourhood cats, there is a positive side to increasing the bird presence in your garden. The greater the number of birds, the higher their rate of survival, as increased numbers create a more efficient and alert early warning system.
Attaching bells to your cat’s collar may help protect mammalian prey, but seems to have little effect on birds. Eventually the cat learns to hunt without jingling its bell. There are also concerns that collars can get caught on bushes and perhaps hurt the cat. A better solution might be to fit a sonic collar, with an elasticated section to prevent problems from snagging. This emits a sound that alerts birds to the cat’s presence. If you decide to use bells, fit two to make it harder for the cat to stop them sounding.
Neutering probably has the greatest impact on protecting wildlife from cats by stopping unwanted litters that are often left to add to the feral population. Even keeping your cat in at night won’t stop it mating altogether, so it needs to be neutered as well.