Keeping cats inside is safer for them and local wildlife, but does an indoor life prevent a cat from being a cat?

The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates there are roughly 74 million pets cats in the United States, making them the country’s most popular pet. While many of these cats are kept indoors, others are allowed to come and go as they please or even roam outside full-time — an allowance that’s become a growing source of controversy in recent years.

What’s all the feline fuss about?

A 2012 study by the University of Georgia and National Geographic found that U.S. cats could kill as many as 4 billion birds and small mammals a year, and in 2013, similar research by the Smithsonian’s Migratory Bird Center and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded the real numbers were even higher.

The majority of these animal deaths were attributed to feral cats or stray cats, but the 2013 study notes that domestic cats allowed to roam outdoors “still cause substantial wildlife mortality.”

However, it’s not just the health of wildlife that’s at risk. Outdoor cats are nearly three times as likely to become infected with pathogens or parasites than indoor-only kitties, according to an April 2019 study published in Biology Letters.

Lead author Kayleigh Chalkowski of Auburn University and fellow researchers looked through almost two dozen previous studies and found that no matter the disease or the country, the theme held true: cats with outside access were 2.77 more likely to become infected with parasites.

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