Cats Kill Billions of Animals Annually in U.S.; Cuddly Kitten Becomes a Myth

First Posted: Jan 29, 2013 12:06 PM EST

Fluffy may not be as cuddly as you once thought. A new study shows that domestic cats in the U.S. kill up to 3.7 billion birds and as many as 20.7 billion mice, voles and other small mammals each year.

The study, conducted by Scott Loss at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington and colleagues, looked at published research into the predation habits of cats. In order to estimate the total amount of bird and mammal fatalities, they had to do a bit of estimating. They found that cats that have outdoor access kill between 30 and 47 birds and between 177 and 299 mammals apiece in temperate parts of Europe and North America each year.  They then estimated the number of cats in the U.S., calculating that there were around 84 million cats with owners and around 30 to 80 million strays.

The researchers tallied the numbers and found that cats were causing a massive death rate among birds and small mammals. That said, they found that strays were causing the majority of this mortality.

This new research shows that the estimates for cat kills are much bigger than previously thought. In addition, it demonstrates that cats are one of the largest sources of man-made mortality for U.S. birds and mammals.

What to do? The paper suggests that conservation and policy interventions are crucial to help prevent this loss of wildlife. It also raises questions on the correct methods of controlling cat populations. A popular system is TNR, which stands for trap, neuter, return. This process involves trapping feral cats, neutering them and then releasing them back into the wild; it's popular among cat proponents. The idea is that eventually the cat population will age and die off. However, it also leaves cats with the option of hunting in the outdoors.

This isn't the first time that Fluffy's nature has reached the news, either. A current debate in New Zealand also tackles the issues that surround the ownership of cats. Gareth Morgan, a businessman turned philanthropist, is attempting to convince pet owners to stop owning cats for the sakes of birds and wildlife in New Zealand.

Currently, it's not clear how completely removing cats from outdoors will affect the ecosystem.

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