Cats, cats, cats. What to do about these mischievous felines? Some owners let their cats roam freely around the neighborhood. These owners have good intentions; they want their cats to have freedom. However, as you probably guessed, this is not the best solution for birds...or for cats themselves!
Some people say that keeping cats indoors is the best solution. While that is undeniably the best solution for birds, it's not always the right solution for a cat. Indoor cats need a lot of stimulation, and owners aren't always able to keep up. (Note: this doesn't mean you should let your cat roam about outdoors—it means you need to look into other solutions!)
So, if it's bad for cats to be outdoors, and indoors isn't always the perfect solution either, what can you do? Introducing middle-of-the-road solutions: catios, cat leashes, scrunchie collars, and monitored outside time.
If you have an indoor cat, please read the “Indoor Cats: Facts and Misconceptions” section, so you understand how to properly take care of an indoor feline (you might be surprised!). If you have a free-roaming cat, consider the dangers your beloved pet faces—they can still go outside through one of the techniques below, but it is harmful for birds and the cat for them to have unrestricted freedom.
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List of Solutions
A catio is an enclosed space specifically designed for your cat, like the cat version of a chicken coop. This solution allows your cat to spend time outside; however, they are physically separated from birds and other animals, so these populations are less affected by their presence.
Catios can be purchased from a variety of companies or homemade, if you enjoy projects. Regardless, get a catio that has a variety of perches and toys. You could also put a pot of grass inside (if you don’t know, cats love to chew grass!). Catios are usually placed against an exterior wall of a house; if you have a kitty door, placing the catio in front of it will still allow your cat to come and go as they please!
Cats can walk on leashes just like dogs; it just takes some training. Walking your cat provides them with the simulation they need. If you want to try this solution, purchase a cat leash and a harness, attaching the leash to the harness—cats can sometimes slip out of collars.
Of course, this solution does come with a downside parks typically have some dog-walkers. Find a quiet park or take a stroll with your cat around the backyard! The important piece is that you can keep your cat away from nearby birds while letting them explore!
Scrunchies are brightly-colored collars specifically designed for cats (in other words, no, don't put a human scrunchie on a cat!). Photo courtesy of Kristin Alford.
Declawing: Don't Do It
Please, please never declaw your cat. Declawing is like cutting the finger to the last knuckle off on a human hand. While it might make your life more convenient, it’s inhumane, painful, and can have medical consequences for your cat—multiple countries have even made declawing illegal. If claws are a big issue for you, a cat is not the right pet for you. To learn more about declawing, click here.
A scrunchie collar is a brightly-colored collar cover that helps prey spot cats. In one study, which tested a scrunchie collar from Birdsbesafe, bird, amphibian, and reptile fatalities decreased by 54% when cats wore these collar covers.
In another study by St. Lawrence University, bird fatalities decreased by 87% among approximately 50 cats.
Rainbow or red scrunchie collars were the most effective, according to the first study. However, it is important to note that the collar cover didn’t seem to have an effect on rodents. It is believed this is because rodents aren’t as sensitive to color as the other species cats often hunt.
So, does that mean you can still let your cat roam freely, as long as they have a scrunchie collar?
No—while these collars are effective, the outdoors is still a dangerous place for cats. You should implement “restricted” free-roaming where your cat is able to move independently in a restricted space. For example, the cat is allowed in the backyard, but isn't allowed to go over the backyard fence.
To visit Birdbesafe, who’s product was tested in both aforementioned studies, click here.
Monitored Outside Time
This solution should be a last resort if nothing else works for your situation. It’s also important to note that this solution hasn’t been studied or supported by any major bird conservation organizations—this solution is purely based upon anecdotal evidence.
Monitored Outside Time is just how it sounds; watch your cat as they are given free range of an enclosed backyard. The closer you are to them, the decreased risk of them catching something, because your presence will alert birds. Don’t watch your cat from inside; be outside with them as you watch them. This could be a good way to get the kids outside (or let your cat join you as you do yard work!).
If your cat begins stalking or a bird lands in your yard, that's your cue to get moving (to either grab your cat or scare away the bird). If you're worried about human error, putting a scrunchie collar on your cat would make this a more effective option.
"Monitored Outside Time works well for my family and my cat, Koda. We restrict Koda to the deck most times, where she likes to lay in the sun. When we're in the yard, she is able to explore, take dirt baths, and chewi our plants. However, it is important to note that this solution isn't as effective as, say, a catio." - Anna Hartwick (creator of this site).
Note on Bell Collars
Bell collars are believed to warn birds of a cat’s presence by literally "ringing an alarm" as a cat moves in. However, bell collars are mostly ineffective, and it's a common misconception that they reduce bird fatalities. They don't.
One study, according to the American Bird Conservancy, found that cats with bell collars killed more birds, on average, than cats without bell collars.
Researchers think that bell collars aren't that effective because they don't create much noise when the cat is stalking. Bottom line: bell collars aren't very effective in reducing bird fatalities, so use other options.
Indoor Cats: Facts and Misconceptions
If you ask a bird conservationist how you can reduce bird fatalities, concerning your cat, it’s likely they will tell you to keep your cat indoors. While this is the best solution for birds, it is a major responsibility for an owner.
First of all, it’s important to know that indoor cats usually have overall poorer welfare than outdoor cats. This is because indoor cats often don’t get the proper level of simulation they need to by healthy and happy. (This might sound like an argument for having an outdoor cat—but having unlimited access to the outdoors isn’t good for your cat either, as you’ll learn in the “Health Impacts on Free-Roaming Cats" section below.) So, if you want to have an indoor cat, you need to make a serious commitment to keeping your cat stimulated.
For indoor cats, you should....
Catify. Give your house a cat-friendly makeover by adding a variety of toys and perches.
Dedicate at least 40 minutes, daily, to playing with your cat. Ideally, you play with them at least four times in 10-minute intervals.
Misconception: cats are easier to take care of than dogs. Quite frankly, this is not true. Cats need as much as love and attention as dogs, even if they seem distant at times. This misconception contributes to the poorer welfare indoors cats often experience.
To learn all that it takes to entertain a strictly-indoors cat, here are some resources:
PetMD and Playtime: here
PetMD's "How to Exercise Your Cats Through Play:" here
"Playtime: Keep Your Kitten Active and Healthy" with Veterinarian Marty Becker: here
"Tips for Keeping Your Indoor Cat Mentally Stimulated:" here
Jackson Galaxy's "Tips to Catify Your Home:" here
Health Impacts on Free-Roaming Cats
Using leashes, catios, etc., or keeping your cat indoors isn’t only for wildlife. It’s for your cat, too. Having free range of the neighborhood poses many risks to your beloved pet, including disease, injury, and even death. While this isn’t a perfect analogy, you wouldn’t let a toddler ran around the neighborhood. So why would you allow your cat to?
Consider these cold, hard facts:
Cats can live indoors or outdoors. For outdoor cats, restrict them through catios, leashes, and more to help wildlife populations. For indoor cats, properly keep them simulated through playtime and catifying your home.
A bell collar is not an effective solution to protect wildlife from cats.
Restraining outdoor cats is for their own good: those who roam freely have an increased risk of disease, injury, and death.
If you choose to keep your cat indoors, remember that they need as much attention and care as dogs to lead happy lives! It is a misconception that they need less care.
Declawing is never an option.