Those cute, fluffy killing machines

I like cats.  I like dogs too, but I appreciate cats.  But those cool, purring, graceful creatures are formidable killers.  One estimate is that cats kill as many as one out of ten birds.  From ABC:

Cats are responsible for the deaths of 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals every year, according to research conducted by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The study, published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, highlighted the impact that both un-owned cats and owned cats have on wildlife populations in the United States.

Feral, un-owned cats are responsible for the majority of deaths, and the study found previous wildlife mortality estimates to be far too low. It remained to be seen what large-scale impacts the killing sprees have on wildlife populations.

“It’s hard to know,” Dr. Peter Marra, research scientist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and co-author of the study, told ABC News. “We think there are 15 to 20 billion adult land birds in the U.S. If we are suggesting 2.3 billion are killed annually, that means 1 in 10 birds are taken by cats every year.”

via Cats Kill Billions of Animals Annually, Study Finds – ABC News.

This does NOT, however, mean that we should get rid of cats.  There is a movement in New Zealand to make the country “cat free.”


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  • Ooookaaaaay… not sure why this is news. ABC must be really bored. Either that or they’re afraid to touch anything political.

  • Julian

    This came as no surprise to someone familiar with What Jeff Killed (look it up for the lurid evidence).

  • Tom Hering

    The first thing to ask, as always, is who funded this study – and the 22 studies aggregated in this study? Then, how good are the research methods involved? Watch this site to find out. 😉

  • Kirk

    And handy info-graphic on the subject:

  • Tom Hering

    Re: Kirk @ 4. Ah yes, the kitty cam study. Brought to us, in part, by National Geographic, who backed all that good research into the historical Christ, like the Jesus tomb and the Jesus wife. 😀

  • Joe

    So I guess my reaction is, “who cares?” Are we running out of birds? Even if they take 10% of the bird population that is not going to have any real impact on the replacement rate of the birds.

    And of course that cat’s kill things is not a new revelation . That’s why I have the two I have. They live in the garage and have the job of keeping the rabbit population in my yard/garden down (we have a huge rabbit issue in my town). They do a great job.

    And, yes they kill for fun. Its pretty much common knowledge that well feed cats are more productive hunters. I’ve even watched my cat have a little sport with a field mouse before she finally killed the little bugger.

  • You can have my kitty when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands.

    Well, okay; you can take it now, for all I care. I’m with New Zealand. Kiwis, unite!

  • Our big old yellow Tabby cat, Rose, used to be love killing baby bunnies, decapitating them, perhaps gnawing the head, and then dropping the little bunny bodies by our back door. She seemed quite proud of herself. Now she is too old to do anything like that.

  • Kirk


    You’re in denial. Your cats a psychopaths.

  • One out of ten birds are killed by cats?
    Yeah, sure.

    Where’s my remote control…

  • Kirk

    *Cats are psychopaths.

    I swear I passed 4th grade.

  • HippoAugustine

    But should these cats be allowed to purchase assault weapons? That’s the real question.

  • Hunter

    For Joe and others:

    Who cares? What better proof that we live in a fallen world than the nature of cats. When you pet a cat well enough, it will want to bite, claw, and draw blood. Cats are very efficient killing machines; but they do not kill quickly. I have seen a cat we had take over an hour to torture a mouse to death. Our neighbors say this is nature’s way – but does nature include vet visits, regular meals, and a safe place to sleep? We have far fewer songbirds than when we were younger. Farmers have to use more pesticide because fewer birds eat fewer insects. The world can be beautiful as well as wretched. Do we need to feed and encourage those aspects reminding us of the Fall?

  • Joe

    Hunter – melodramatic much? Of course that cat’s kill is a result of the fall, all death is. My who cares statement is not a statement of support for the fall, it is a statement that I don’t need a bunch of studies to tell me that cats kill things. Why not have do a study about whether the sun will rise in the east?

    Also, if people decide they want to kill feral cats, knock your self out. Just don’t kill things on my land and be mindful of whether your municipality has a leash law that applies to cats – mine doesn’t and my cats roam free (most of my neighbors like it that way). The feral cat you kill might be someone’s pet.

  • Joe

    Of course by writing sentences like this gem: “Why not have do a study about whether the sun will rise in the east?” I have probably convinced you all that I could benefit from a study of the sun’s rotation around the earth. 😉

  • TE Schroeder

    Great. Now I will always hear the Jaws theme song whenever I see Tom’s avatar. Thanks.

  • Cincinnatus

    1) I hate cats.

    2) I hate people who let their cats roam the outdoors.

    3) We are running out of some birds, in a manner of speaking, partly due to items 1 and 2 above. Domestic cats disproportionately kill (attractive) songbirds that like to hang out in residential neighborhoods. In fact, within about ten years in my last neighborhood, we went from being a veritable songbird sanctuary to a desolate barren of ugly brown sparrows and starlings because a few neighbors started letting their stupid, sociopathic cats out.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Hurrah for Cincinnatus!!

    The point is actually that we are increasing the predator population. In a natural ecosystem, there are controls. But with cats, we have taken away the natural population control (minimizing disease, malnutrition, larger predators), while the prey (song birds) have not been handed a similar reprieve. Thus we have swung the balance well towards the cats, thus it is actually a real problem. Especially when they eat insect-eating birds. Thus the insect population grows. Then we use more garden pesticides. Which, along with other sources, contaminate ground water. Cats are evil!

    Of course, taking that beyond breaking point (ie, henceforth, tongue is in cheek): Water pollution, among other things, rile up environmentalists, which in turn aggravates Republicans, which leads to the breakdown in political communication, which leads to more extremism. Thus, Tom, you are responsible for Carl’s behavior here…..

    Again: First paragraph – very serious. Second – not so much.

  • Abby

    Give the cats this toy:

    Maybe with such kind, loving care we could stop the killings:

  • Abby

    Who does all this counting? And how much do they get paid? And by who?

  • Tom Hering

    Never mind that the cat/bird predation studies are badly flawed (one reason being they’re usually done on the cheap), but it’s generally recognized, even by the anti-cat types, that the biggest killer of bird populations is … ta da! … impacts with windows in cities, i.e., a human effect on the environment.

  • Cincinnatus


    I’m not denying the possibility of other variables–climate change, hawks, new agricultural chemicals, whatever–but I lived in a rural neighborhood. When I was younger, the neighborhood was a paradise of colorful birds. Is it coincidental that the collapse of the songbird population in my neighborhood happened to coincide with some new neighbors who liked to let their cats roam loose?

    Look, if you like cats, fine. I’ll think less of you as a human, but that’s your choice. At least keep them inside–for their own safety and for the safety of birds. We would think it outrageous if the average dog owner let his pets roam the neighborhood freely all day, killing small animals, collecting parasites and diseases, running out in front of cars. In fact, it is for precisely this reason that most localities forbid the practice. And yet cat owners have practically formed their own self-righteous lobby in favor of free-roaming felines.

  • Tom Hering

    Abby @ 20, these predation studies usually involve a couple of researchers with limited time and funds, a tiny sample of cats, and the birds in a very small area. It’s bad enough that their conclusions, just for those small areas, involve a lot of guesswork, but then they extrapolate to whole regions and the country, arriving at worst-case counts.

  • Tom Hering

    Cincinnatus @ 22, are you seriously arguing that a few neighborhood cats devastated the bird population of whole neighborhood? Seriously? No other possible cause or combination of causes? A very good (extensive) study in England found that most cats (feral and domestic) had a pretty low success rate when it came to bird predation. Almost all their kills were weak birds – injured, sick, or fledgelings. And they didn’t get all that many of those. Most of their predation involved small mammals, rodents, frogs, snakes, and bugs. I suppose Klasie’s questionable progression of causes and effects might have been at play, but it’s more likely – you say it was a rural area – that chemicals alone got the ball rolling downhill, before cats were brought into the picture. Of course, cats are visible and chemicals are not.

  • Abby

    @23 Great.

  • rlewer

    Our lazy cat also has his claws trimmed and the birds and squirrels laugh at him. He is fierce on bugs.

    Thank you, Tom for the new information.

  • Cincinnatus


    First, I didn’t dispute the possibility of other causal variables. That is, I doubt the cats worked alone. But that’s no reason for you to pretend that they had no impact on the bird population whatsoever.

    Second, I didn’t claim that the cats decimated the songbird population by killing all the birds. Of course, I know for a fact that these cats (more than a few!) were fairly successful when hunting. But I also know that the mere presence of cats can keep many birds out of a given neighborhood. Bird are very sensitive to their ecosystems: the mere presence of a hawk, cutting down a favorite shade tree that provides a safe roost, or changing up the recipe in your bird feeder can be enough to keep certain species of birds from entering an expansive radius around said tree or bird feeder–or cat.

    Of course, this contributes to actual declines in the population of the birds. Unable to find suitable habitats due to the presence of cats, etc., the birds either die or stop reproducing. So even if the cats aren’t directly killing that many birds, they’re absolutely contributing indirectly to the broader decline in songbird populations in United States.

  • Joe

    Let me clarify something, I don’t like cats. I had a problem (too many dang rabbits eating my flowers and veggies – it was a village wide epidemic). The cats have been the solution to the problem and the vast majority of my neighbors are very happy with the little killing machines. The only reason I got two is because they hunt better in pairs. Keeping them in the house would defeat the entire purpose of the cats’ existence. If I wanted a pet I would do what any sane person would do and get a dog. Perhaps this is a result of my farm/rural upbringing but I have always thought that people who let animals live in their homes are odd.

  • Jon

    Our Chihuahua thinks he’s a cat. He, too, likes to hunt birds and rodents. And he’s quite good at it.

  • Tom Hering

    Cincinnatus, of course cats kill, and of course they kill songbirds. But decline is far from extinction. Can it be said that if the feral/free-roaming cat population were to, say, double, – its predation rate would cause extinctions? Even using the highly inflated predation rates of the studies we’re talking about, extinctions are very unlikely. There’s a heck of a lot of birds flying around.

    If we’re going to trade anecdotes, my cats spend a lot of time outdoors – either leashed in the yard, or going for walks with a harness. And my yard is packed with rabbits, songbirds, and squirrels. So much for the mere presence of cats – unless these prey species understand what leashes are and how they work.

    And I still say you were arguing, with anecdotal evidence about your old neighborhood, that a visible correlation was the same thing as an actual cause.

  • Where I live, the coyotes keep free-roaming cats in check. We have plenty of birds of many varieties.
    However, I can imagine that cats do kill a large portion of birds that live in more urban neighborhoods.
    But still, 2.3 billion per year across the country? That’s hard to believe.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Mike @ 31 –

    When we had foxes living in the small park across the road from us, the neighbourhood cats didn’t roam as free. But they’ve left now, so the “cat came back”. OTOH, our border collie / lab cross isn’t bothered by birds, but has kept our yard cat free for a number of years now. Maybe letting him out occasionally will bring order to the neigbourhood… 🙂

  • Our dog has killed more birds (one) than my two cats put together (zero). In my area we have no free roaming cats and virtually no song birds, but huge numbers of plant-killing urban rabbits. I’m not sure that getting rid of cats will bring the birds back, but seeing as they are out of the bag, so to speak, I’m keeping my kitties. By the way, I’m suprised by the venom with which cat haters [HATERS!] criticize cats. Man, I mean I don’t really like dogs that much but not the way the anti-cat crowd hates cats.

  • SKPeterson

    Mike has identified the solution – more coyotes. Then we need some wolves, bears and cougars to control the coyotes and the rampant deer who consistently destroy bird habitats by eating them (the habitats that is).

  • Cincinnatus


    Well, at the level of my old neighborhood, yeah, I think cats were a causal factor based on my personal observations. My entire region (Appalachia!) was static, and virtually no other discernible variables changed during the songbird decline I observed except the presence of cats. The only bird whose increasing absence was not due to cats was the purple martin: it’s a bird that migrates each winter to Brazil, where its rainforest habitat was being destroyed.

    But no, I don’t think that my anecdote is equivalent to data that would prove that cats are behind America’s songbird implosion, if such a thing exists.

    Anyway, I don’t know why anyone would apologize for free-roaming cats–unless, like Joe, you live on a farm and have barncats, who thus serve a utilitarian purpose. But in a typical, densely-populated neighborhood, free-roaming cats (i.e., cats that aren’t leashed–can’t help but laugh at that thought–or kept indoors) are little better than half-feral vermin. They pick up diseases and carry parasites. They serve as a vector for rabies and other dangerous illnesses. They run in front of cars, and when hit, cause grief for both drivers and owners. They kill useful creatures like songbirds and field mice that keep pest populations down. They attract more dangerous predators like coyotes to neighborhoods (currently a problem where I live now). There’s just no reason to let your cat out unattended.

  • Cincinnatus

    And if you have a problem with rabbits, get a trap, people. Or a .22.

  • Tom Hering

    Cincinnatus, you do understand, don’t you, that the point in leashing cats is to protect them. From the diseases you mention, deliberate poisonings, and getting run over.

    Peskoponian @ 33, yes, it amazes me the way we either divinize or demonize cats – things we don’t do with dogs. Of course, it’s an indication of something irrational about us, not of something wrong with cats.

  • Cincinnatus

    Tom@37: Um, yes. Did I criticize leashing? It’s obviously better than letting your vermin roam around killing stuff for sport.

    Anyway, I don’t demonize cats. Yes, I’m allergic. Yes, I find them annoying and mercurial. But if they make you happy, you can breed them in your kitchen for all I care. Like the original article, I’m merely objecting to those who leave their cats unattended outdoors. That’s not good for the cats, and its not good for the environment. Weren’t you the one critiquing our attitudes about the environment the other day?

  • SKPeterson

    Song (and other)birds are making something of a comeback in Appalachia, at least in my small backyard portion of it. We have cardinals, blue birds, robins, mockingbirds, jays, song sparrows, house sparrows, chickadees, a few orioles now and again, cowbirds, towhees, house finches, gold finches, purple finches, some nuthatches, and titmice that I can think of off the top of my head. Others say they see juncos, catbirds and even indigo buntings in the area. My wife swears she’s seen a pileated woodpecker, but I told her to lay off the sauce. We also get a small hawk or two (not sure of the exact type) that prowls around the farm out back looking for rabbits, mice and stray cats presumably. Then again, our neighborhood is mostly dogs, very few cats, but mostly I attribute it to conscious efforts by people in the neighborhood to put out houses, feeders and gardens/beds that will attract birds.

  • Tom Hering

    Cincinnatus, I don’t agree that feral/free-roaming cats are bad for the environment, because the oft-claimed predation rates (and your presence hypothesis) are ca-ca. If I keep my own cats close to home, it’s only because I want to protect them. But I share your attitude: if you want to hate cats, knock yourself out. What do I care? I’m concerned with the facts, and with policies based on flawed studies.

  • Cincinnatus


    I appreciate your scientific skepticism. So let’s discuss other studies on the subject. For example, this one (which I randomly selected from Google; many other studies have been conducted, with similar results):

    Key finding: 79% of fledgling bird deaths in the Washington, D.C., area were a result of predation. 47% of those predations were committed by domestic cats.

    A fairly obvious conclusion from such studies, in my opinion, is that domestic cats are a causal factor in declining bird populations. They are not the only variable, and probably not even the most important variables (I think urbanization in general gets that award). But they are certainly a non-negligible variable in, at the very least, localized bird population declines.

    Besides, there must be some reason many jurisdictions across the developed world officially consider domestic cats an “invasive species.” Cats, when not properly controlled, create imbalances within local ecosystems. They are bad for the environment, in other words–like kudzu.

    Bottom line, you sound rather like apologists who deny that pit bulls were selectively bred to be aggressive. Well, speak for your own dog, but facts are facts.

  • Joe

    I don’t live in the rural setting anymore. I’m in a tightly packed suburban setting but I have the equivalent of barn cats. I’ve had them for close to 8 years now and have had no issues with diseases. Also, don’t worry if you run my cat over or if you dog kills it and eats it, I won’t care (and quite honestly, I don’t think my kids will either). I may or may not replace the cat depending on how the rabbits are doing (or I may just start live trapping the rabbits and eating them). I tried shooting them but my neighbors will only put up with some of my efforts to bring the “county” into our country club suburb.

    No need to import Coyotes – the rabbits brought them with them before I got the cats. The presence of cats seems to have kept the Coyotes out of my neighborhood. The Coyotes don’t have the advantage of living among the prey, they have to retreat to the safety of wooded parks while my cats get to live among the enemy. As the rabbit population went down, in large part to predation by cats and small dogs, the Coyotes left on their own accord for more fertile hunting grounds to the north. I actually miss the Coyotes. It is kind of nice to have nature encroach on us for a change.

    Also, the cat population is not exploding requiring us to engaging the never ending quest for the next level predator because the cats are spayed. The humane society makes you do that when you get them.

    As for the idea that wild cats are bad for the environment, that is just odd. I’m pretty sure cats are designed by God to live outdoors. And, the environment seems to handle other small predatory mammals just fine. If a cat population really does explode in an area, hunger, disease, migration and predation will reduce the cat population.

  • Cincinnatus


    A few fallacies in your comment.

    1) …how could cats drive coyotes out of a neighborhood? That’s not only counterintuitive, but factually wrong. My own (fairly wooded) city is currently having a problem with coyotes because–guess what?–domestic cats and dogs make easy pickings for a hungry coyote. So, in fact, it’s likely that your cats would attract coyotes to the neighborhood. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    2) The cat population is exploding. Globally, the domestic cat population has tripled in the past four decades. Obviously, not all cats are spayed. Again, not there’s anything wrong with this, but it does mean you’re flatly mistaken. And it also means we shouldn’t just laugh off claims that domestic cats are a threat to local wildlife.

    3) Claiming that domestic cats are “made” for the outdoors suffers from two problems. First, it’s simply not true. Domestic cats were bred to hang out with people indoors, which is why they tend to kill for sport and not survival; claiming that your tabby was “designed” to live outdoors is equivalent to claiming that your Yorkshire teacup terrier was designed to live outdoors. Second, even if domestic cats are designed for outdoor life, that doesn’t justify letting them roam free. Kudzu is also designed to thrive in the wild, but that doesn’t mean we should have imported it to the Deep South. Tigers love the outdoors, but that doesn’t mean we should turn a few loose in, say, Missouri. Ball pythons do pretty well in the outdoors too–and now the Everglades is having a huge problem. You get the idea: Asian carp, English sparrows, smallpox–these are invasive species that, when transplanted to a new environment, are bad for that environment.

  • Joe

    Cincy – your article talking about a study doesn’t say anything about what the actual effect the domestic cat predation is having on the replacement rate is for the birds studied. Or whether the effect is material. In fact in one of the three areas studied, they did not detect any domestic cat predation at all. Yet, there is nothing in the article discussing how the population of birds is doing at the sites with predation and the site without predation.

    Raw numbers of how may birds are killed are quite useless by itself. The key is the impact on the replacement rate. That is the key measure for any species management study. How many fledgling birds need to reach adulthood each year to keep population levels steady. Is it 10%, 20%, 50%? Without that information, death tolls mean nothing.

  • Cincinnatus


    Fair enough. I’ll advance a hypothesis: in the early twentieth century, there were very few domestic cats roaming about killing birds (this is a fact). Can I assume, then, that, in the past, about 47% fewer fledgling birds were killed each year? And wouldn’t that obviously decrease the replacement rate? It’s not as if birds are laying more eggs now to make up for the loss caused by cats.

    Or are modern cats just getting to the fledglings faster than previous predators, meaning no effective change in replacement rate?

  • Joe

    Cincy @ 43

    1. How do cat’s drive out coyotes? Its pretty simply. My two cats (and the few other cats semi feral cats in the area) have dramatically reduced a rabbit population that was reach epidemic levels. It was the availability of the rabbits as a food source that brought the coyotes to our village in the first place. The number of lost rabbits is exponentially higher than the number of introduced cats. So regardless of whether the coyotes would the cats, there are simply not enough cats around to keep the coyotes feed. If we get too many cats perhaps the coyotes will come back but we are not anywhere near those levels.

    2. So the anecdotal evidence from your neighborhood is okay to consider but the anecdotal evidence from my neighborhood is evil? My comment re: teh cat population was meant as a comment about it in my neighborhood/village. We don’t have a high population. My village seems to be filled with dog people.

    3. Now your just being silly. Domestic cats are not anymore invasive as to the greater Milwaukee area than are pheasants. Yes they are technically not from here, but they are not without natural predators which is the generally the problem with invasive species. If it makes you feel better, I’ll kill the cats and get a couple of foxes.

  • fjsteve

    The fundamental structure of our country is changing under our feet. Depressions. Wars.

    And the story with the most comments by far? Cats kill birds.

  • Cincinnatus

    I frankly don’t care what you do or don’t do with your cats. I just find it puzzling that you and Tom so intransigently deny statistical evidence suggesting that domestic cats–a non-native species–could possibly be a disruptive influence in certain local ecosystems.

    I’m sure some kid’s mom in Florida thought the same thing when she dumped her son’s ball python down the storm drain. No doubt cats are less harmful to the average environment than pythons. But to claim that tens of millions of cats who weren’t there a few decades ago roaming our forests and meadows couldn’t possibly have any effect on the environment, and certainly no bad effects–well, that’s just a bit ignorant.

    And, seriously, to clarify: I’m not anti-cat; I’m anti-cat-people, by which I mean the types who, with some measure of indignance, insist that everyone else in the neighborhood silence all concerns they might have when Fluffy terrorizes their birdbaths, etc.

  • Joe

    Cincy – You have asked the fundamental question: “Or are modern cats just getting to the fledglings faster than previous predators, meaning no effective change in replacement rate?”

    That is the real question that must be answered. And, it is answerable.

  • Cincinnatus

    Well, given that bird populations have declined in the United States, and given that cats kill lots of birds, I don’t think skepticism of the sort you and Tom display–“Cats? Killing too many birds? ABSURD!”–is the appropriate posture.

  • Joe

    Cincy – I should probably clarify too. I’m not actually of the position that feral cats could never be a problem. I’m just against the idea good policy can be achieved by looking at SOME data disconnected from the measures that actually matter. If they really are having a significant effect on the songbird replacement rates then that would be a real problem. This is not that hard of a puzzle to solve, yet I have never seen anyone report this data. This data was curiously missing from the debate over a bill that would have made it legal to hunt feral cats with a small game licence a few years back. The backers of the bill justified it by citing the raw data in number of birds killed but never said anything about the actual impact on replacement rates. (I opposed the law because a plan reading of the current small game hunting regulations does not excluded feral cats – you can already shoot them.)

    Steve – chill out, we can all chew gum and walk at the same time. Do we ever get to have any fun or must we always be serious.

  • Just for the record, I woke up one summer morning and found my Norwegian long-hair kitty in my back yard, cuddling with a rabbit he had half-eaten.

    Hannibal Lechter has nothing on my Edmund….

  • Pete

    Wow – who’d of thunk everyone would be so riled up about cats! My wife and I have had one or two cats running around all our married lives. Each one has had a distinct and memorable personality. There seems to be an inverse relationship in our yard between the number of cats and the mole population. They do score the occasional bird, which is okay by me – I keep bees and the birds don’t seem to have any qualms about dive bombing my hive entrances and snatching a few. Any bird that gets itself caught by a cat needs to be out of the gene pool, for sure.

  • fjsteve

    Joe @51: No, we must all discuss topics that are of interest to me! And I’m neither a fan of cats nor particularly fond of birds. 😉

  • Joe


  • Tom Hering

    Cincinnatus @ 41, a response to the study and article you linked to is here:

    and here:

  • Cincinnatus


    Maybe I’m missing something, but the links–especially the first link–seems to be critiquing the Smithsonian’s report on the study and not so much the study itself (which, as I recall, was published in The Journal of Ornithology).

    Some of their critiques are well-taken: at best, the study–like most scientific studies–proves correlation, not causation. And that makes sense: if bird populations are declining, it’s probably not due to a single isolated variable. As I said above, cats would be joining a host of problems like (sub)urbanization, climate change, windmills, and so on.

    But pardon me if I’m just not very convinced by the word of a blog called “vox felina” that proclaims itself a partisan of “free-roaming cats.” At least I bothered to find something from a reputable source 😛

  • Cincinnatus

    Anyway, Tom, I could link to different studies all day. You probably wouldn’t like any of them because they don’t corroborate your presuppositions–which apparently endorse free-roaming cats.

    What basically everyone agrees upon, though: domestic cats kill lots of birds. Conservative estimates put the annual number (in the United States) at 19 million. Less conservative estimates suggest 100,000,000 (or, as above, 3.5 billion).

    You seem to be a fan of biased studies. Here’s a good summary of where I stand on the issue 😉

  • kerner

    Tom H should be forced to get rid of his cats for the same reasons gun owners should have to get rid of guns:

    1. He doesn’t really need one,
    2. They pose a hypothetical danger (no case by case stuff, don’t try to claim that some individuals might be responsible owners), and
    3. Some people, for emotional reasons, don’t like them.

    Joe, maybe YOU can keep your cats. But only if you pass a background check. 😉

  • kerner


    “in the early twentieth century, there were very few domestic cats roaming about killing birds (this is a fact). ”

    If that’s a fact, how do we know that? I have never heard that before.

    If it is a fact, another fact is that, during the early 20th century, dog owners used to let their dogs roam free much as cat owners do now. At least that’s what my father told me was the case when he was a boy. And he grew up in suburban Chicago. Maybe the roaming dogs were what kept down the cat population.

  • What a great story!

    I had no idea that cats liked to kill other critters!

    I can’t wait for another hard hitting expose’. Maybe they could let us know how many bugs are killed, inadvertently, by people walking in public parks all throughout the world! (horror). It must be a tremendous number.

  • Tom Hering

    Cincinnatus, so you agree that the 3.5 billion estimate, which is behind this whole discussion here, just might, possibly, be a little bit out there?

    Kerner, you can come and take my cats away when I use them to kill twenty elementary school children. I won’t stop you.

  • Abby

    I was going to make some comment about “global warming” but thought, “no, that couldn’t apply to this topic.” Well, while I was at Starbucks today reading the USA Today, up popped the article about “Bad Kitty — Study tracking cat carnage.” Sidebar article to the main article: “Report: Climate change a threat to wildlife.” “From birds in the Plains to bighorn sheep in California, a new study says animals are struggling to adapt to the warming atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels.

    Climate change is the biggest threat wildlife will face this century, says the report out today from the National Wildlife Federation in Reston, VA.”

    @23 Between the Smithsonian doing the “cat study” and this one on “global warming”, sounds like big Federal bucks to me!

  • Hanni

    I posted earlier on this topic, but obviously didn’t punch right button to send. Cats are predator. Suggestion: the money spent on this study would have been better spent on establishing fund to neuter feral cats, they are the ones (mostly) killing birds, et al. Many animal (cat lovers esp) have tried to get vets to do this for free (many do). If publicity for this fund was nationwide, if might be effective. Of course it would take a good leader.

  • Tom Hering

    Hanni @ 64, unfortunately, many of the researchers, and the organizations for whom they do these predation studies (including the American Bird Conservancy, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), are opposed to TNR (trap/neuter/release) programs. Vehemently opposed. Indeed, some of the predation studies are done to support their anti-TNR campaigns (which of course involve getting their studies written up in USA Today, the New York Times, Mother Jones, etc.)

  • helen

    Joe @ 14
    The feral cat you kill might be someone’s pet.

    There is a great difference between feral and tame cats in a live cage. I handled the feral ones, in the cage, with an 18″ pliers to move it safely, not being interested in getting clawed. (They went to the SPCA.)
    The tame ones just looked bewildered, and their owners soon came for them. [I’d posted warnings around the neighbourhood but I got a couple anyway. This live trapping came about in cooperation with a new neighbour who wanted his flower beds to flourish sans 20-25 feral cats.]

    Is Patheos a Canadian site, Dr. Veith? It wants English spelling!

  • kerner

    But Tom @62, it doesn’t have to be you or YOUR cats. Your logic has always been that everyone’s guns should be taken away if ANYONE uses a gun to kill, say, 20 people. Therefore, if ANY cats spread enough disease to kill 20 people, by you own logic, everyone’s cats should be taken away. And as I said, nobody really NEEDS cats, so you have no reason to claim you have any individual right to have one of these dangerous creatures. Live by your own rules, pal.

  • Tom Hering

    So, what are the numbers for the transmission of disease from cats to humans, using Center for Disease Control data? How about rabies? Two (2) U.S. cases since 1960, the last in 1974 (and the first was flown to the U.S. from Guatemala!). How about toxoplasmosis? Zero (0) confirmed cases of transmission referenced. Even pregnant women can safely live with cats who carry the toxoplasma virus.

  • Hanni

    Hi Tom @65,
    Really like your posts, but am shocked at this one, will have to check up, my daughter works for Audubon, and she told me (cat owning mom) that cats can give me skin diseases. I am not worrying, am just getting over amonths flu from a human, I imagine.

  • Tom Hering

    Hanni, there are a number of diseases it’s possible to get from cats. The questions to ask are how easy is it for cat owners to catch them, and how many cat owners do in fact catch them. Get your answers by searching the CDC’s website – not from bird research/advocacy groups who, like the NRA, raise money for their organizations by scaring people (bird lovers) about an enemy (cats).

  • Cincinnatus


    When did the discussion become one of diseases? The diseases that can be transmitted by cats are well-known, which is why doctors sternly warn pregnant women to avoid emptying litter boxes. None of that is in dispute, nor is your associated claim that these illnesses are nonetheless rare.

    The claim is that the dramatic rise in the domestic and feral housecat population (in case you forgot, tripled since 1970) has had something to do with (localized?) declines in bird populations. Obviously, this claim only applies to cats–unlike yours–who are allowed to roam freely, killing whatever they find. How is is possible to deny that cats kill lots of birds? I’m inclined to believe that the middle number–100,000,000 birds–is closest to the truth. That’s a lot of birds!

  • Cincinnatus

    So I’m with kerner: irresponsible cat owners are responsible for a lot of death and damage. Obviously, then, the government should outlaw cats, or at least require rigorous background checks of prospective cat owners.

    Of course, when cats are criminalized, only criminals will have cats.

  • Holly (aka Med Student)

    To emphasize Tom’s point, just looking at so called “cat-scratch disease,” it’s not terribly common, although this is rate for the entire population, not the rate for cat owners specifically: “In one study using a United States national database, the incidence of CSD was approximately 9 to 10 cases per 100,000 persons per year (22,000 cases per year); most cases occurred in persons less than 21 years of age.” It is notable that cat-to-cat transmission is usually via fleas, so letting your cat outside to roam around may lead to increased likelihood of your cat getting fleas which transmit the bacteria. As for toxoplasmosis, infection in pregnant women is much more likely to be due to ingesting improperly cooked meat or unwashed vegetables than from cats. (UpToDate is the most fantastic website ever invented for looking up current medical information, with links to all the original data.)

  • SKPeterson

    Cat scratch fever is real. Otherwise there wouldn’t be a song about it.

    kerner @ 67 – Be it therefore resolved that all cats be killed post haste.

    Problem? I has solution.

  • kerner

    We get it Tom H. The Government can have your cats when they pry the cats from your cold dead fingers. 😀

  • kerner

    @68 : “Even pregnant women can safely live with cats who carry the toxoplasma virus.”

    Sure they can. And pregant women can, and do, live safely with a Bushmaster .223 in their closets as well. What of it?

  • Tom Hering

    Kerner @ 59, 67, 75, 76: I’m glad you’re not irritated by my gun control comments elsewhere. If you were, who knows – you might try to drag the subject over into unrelated threads. And sound like a Gun Nut ™ doing it.

  • Tom Hering

    As I expected way back @ 3, Peter Wolf at Vox Felina has responded, point by point, to the Smithsonian study.

    Garbage In, Garbage Out

  • @Tom #37- Actually there’s no S in pekoponian, but that’s ok.
    @Cincinnatus #38- I don’t really care if oher people like my cats or anyone else’s fro that matter. You probably don’t intend to demonize cats, but it sure sounds that way when people are saying things like kill them all, sane people get dogs, and yes, I know that was Joe who said that. I’m also not a blanket defender of all cats. Some do suck and I have given away one who was a thoroughly unsuitable pet. And yes, they really should stay indoors or on a tie-out for their own good.

  • Tom Hering

    Pekoponian @ 79, the demonizing of cats – by means of misinformation and exaggeration – by one pope started a culture of slaughter that lasted for 600 years in France and the rest of Europe. I’m not saying that the misinformation and exaggeration being spread by conservationists and bird advocates will inevitably lead to a revival of large-scale cat abuse, torture, and killings, but it’s a real danger. We’re not beyond being irrational about animals – we’re not beyond a capability for mass hysteria and animal cruelty. Look at the rash of eagle killings in the past month, that have followed the posting of a video (made by Canadian high school students), which showed a faked eagle abducting a faked human baby in sight of its parents. There are people out there (hopefully not here, though it sounds like it in a few instances) who don’t need much of an excuse to go crazy on God’s creatures. (Yes, they absolutely do belong to Him, and not to us.)

    Is it fair for me to characterize studies like the Smithsonian’s as misinformation and exaggeration? Well, just look at their main claim: cats kill 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals per year in the U.S. That’s a lot of slop – a LOT of slop – in their concluding numbers, and it very clearly indicates we’re not talking rigorous scientific research here, but rather wild guesswork dressed up as rigorous science. (And there’s good reason to believe this guesswork is motivated by a strong, general dislike of cats, and cat owners, and cat welfare initiatives. For just one bit of evidence, Google the care2 dot com article about the Smithsonian/National Zoo researcher, Dr. Nico Dauphine.)

    As for Cincinnatus, I checked his argument that birds are endangered because the feral/free-roaming cat population has tripled since 1970. I could find only one source that backed up his claim. It was an article in Conservation Magazine, which mentioned pet industry data for the tripling claim, but cited no references. An article at Animal People Online, on the other hand, provides plenty of support for its claim that the feral/free-roaming population has actually declined considerably since the early 1990s. I’ll give the link in a separate comment to follow, as more than two links in one comment seems to send the comment to moderation, and moderation seems to be a permanent state here at Patheos.

  • Tom Hering

    I’ve tried twice now to post that third link, and both attempts have gone to moderation. Google “animal people news roadkill of cats” if interested.

  • Uh, Tom? I think you isunerstood me. I wasn’t arguing for or against the Smithsonian’s numbers. I would not be the least bit surprised to find the data being massaged. (It may also be correct for all I know.) I haven’t researched it, largely because I’m not that interested. I had not heard about the eagle killing thing, though. That’s pretty disturbing. I think it is a huge red flag for bad character if a person kills animals for no reason and/or a dubious reason.

  • SKPeterson

    All this points up is that if you are going to have communities banning pit bulls, they would actually be doing society a greater favor by banning cats who are probably the greatest danger to public and animal health ever conceived in the wicked imagination of Satan who they almost certainly worship.

  • Whom, SKP. Whom.

  • Tom Hering

    Pekoponian @ 82, I wasn’t in any way correcting you. I just used your comments @ 79 as a springboard.

    SK @ 83, 😛

  • Tom Hering

    Just saw this over at The Scriptorium (Patheos Evangelical Channel):