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Dear EarthTalk: please help settle the debate about whether or not my cats should stay in or go out. My neighborhood is relatively safe for cats, vis-a-vis car traffic, and I think it is more natural for them to be outside and not always inside. They do kill wildlife, including birds, but aren't they just taking the place of natural predators that once did the same?



Most environmental advocates believe that keeping cats indoors is better for both the health of the felines themselves and for their prey. Scientists estimate that the typical free-roaming housecat house·cat  
n.
A domestic cat kept as an indoor pet.
 kills some 100 small animals each year. This means that the 90 million domestic housecats living in the U.S. alone are killing hundreds of millions if not billions of birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians amphibians

members of the animal class Amphibia. Includes frogs, toads, newts, salamanders and cecilians all capable of living on land or in water.
 every year. And while housecats on the prowl may serve to replace the natural predators long ago extirpated by humans, their popularity as pets puts their population density far ahead of those that came before them.

"Cat predation predation

Form of food getting in which one animal, the predator, eats an animal of another species, the prey, immediately after killing it or, in some cases, while it is still alive. Most predators are generalists; they eat a variety of prey species.
 is an added stress to wildlife populations already struggling to survive habitat loss, pollution, pesticides and other human impacts," says the American Bird Conservancy American Bird Conservancy, commonly abbreviated ABC, is a charitable organization that works solely to conserve native wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas.

After ABC threatened to sue the U.S.
 (ABC ABC
 in full American Broadcasting Co.

Major U.S. television network. It began when the expanding national radio network NBC split into the separate Red and Blue networks in 1928.
), which in 1997 launched its controversial Cats Indoors! campaign to educate animal lovers about the benefits of keeping Tabby inside. ABC also points out that free-roaming cats are exposed to injury, disease, parasites and collisions with cars, and can get lost, stolen or poisoned. Cats can also transmit diseases and parasites such as rabies, cat-scratch fever and toxoplasmosis Toxoplasmosis Definition

Toxoplasmosis is an infectious disease caused by the one-celled protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Although most individuals do not experience any symptoms, the disease can be very serious, and even fatal, in
 to other cats, wildlife or people. To help drive its point home, ABC produces a wide range of educational materials (including a brochure, "Keeping Cats Indoors Isn't Just For The Birds") and public service announcements in the service of their ongoing campaign.

Nonetheless, many cat lovers believe that it is inhumane to confine felines indoors, since they have evolved as hunters and thrive on the natural stimulation only available outside. To help soften the blow and wean wean (wen) to discontinue breast feeding and substitute other feeding habits.

wean
v.
1. To deprive permanently of breast milk and begin to nourish with other food.

2.
 your cat off of the outdoors slowly, ABC suggests gradually curtailing your cat's out-of-doors time over the course of a few months until it is eventually not let out at all. In doing so, you will need to provide your cat with a lot of attention and play indoors. New scratching posts and toys are a good bet as they may entertain cats that ordinarily occupy themselves chasing birds and rodents. ABC suggests hiding various toys around the house so cats can sniff them and not miss so much the thrill of the hunt outdoors.

One last bit of important advice: Many fear that confining their cats indoors will lead to more shredded upholstery. But de-clawing your cat should never be an option. According to Veterinarian veterinarian /vet·er·i·nar·i·an/ (vet?er-i-nar´e-an) a person trained and authorized to practice veterinary medicine and surgery; a doctor of veterinary medicine.

vet·er·i·nar·i·an
n.
 Dr. Christianne Schelling, cats' claws are a vital part of their anatomy. De-clawing is not simply fingernail fin·ger·nail
n.
The nail on a finger.
 trimming but the removal of the last joint in a cat's "toes." It is a painful procedure and can lead to serious physical, emotional and behavioral complications.

Alternatives to de-clawing include providing scratching posts in various locations around the home, and trimming your cats nails occasionally. This involves trimming only the clear tip of the nail (never the pink or dark fleshy parts, which are skin) and should be done only upon first consulting with a veterinarian. Another option is a product called Soft Paws, lightweight vinyl caps that you apply over your cat's own claws. They have rounded edges, so your cat's scratching doesn't damage your home and furnishings.

CONTACTS: Cats Indoors! www.abcbirds.org/cats/; Declawing declawing

surgical removal of the claws of Felidae and Canidae. Not a universally accepted procedure except where there are specific health implications for the patient. Can happen accidentally in penned wildlife, e.g. anteaters. Called also onychectomy.
 Cats: More Than Just a Manicure, www.hsus.org/ace/11780; Soft Paws, www.softpaws.com.

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.

--Bill Thomson, Bangor, ME
COPYRIGHT 2007 Earth Action Network, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Thomson, Bill
Publication:EarthTalk: Questions & Answers About Our Environment. A Weekly Column
Date:Oct 21, 2007
Words:588
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