Cats, a globally invasive species

A ban on cat ownership needs consideration

istockphoto

Cats are among the most popular pets in the United States, but they come with a lot of issues their owners tend to overlook. Odds are good that even if you’ve never had a cat in your house, you’ll still comprehend what I’m saying here — because we’ve all encountered feline faults. They range from problems with physical traits like sharp claws, teeth, and illnesses, to more serious issues regarding their parasitic origins, unsuccessful domestication, and the harmful effects of their wild behaviors on ecosystems. Despite those who try to sugar-coat kitty’s shortcomings, there is no escaping the truth. Cats might sometimes be considered funny or cute, but the evidence is overwhelming that they’re a horrible choice for a pet. They’re a globally invasive species causing harm to people, preying on wildlife, and disrupting ecosystems.

First: their claws. They’re sharp, very sharp; like built-for-piercing-flesh sharp. If you’ve ever felt the painful sting of several little nails digging into your thighs as kitty settles onto your lap, you know how problematic this is. And, their claws cause damage. Scratching furniture beyond repair is a common behavior, even with adult cats. A surgical procedure is available to have a cat’s claws removed, but this typically involves removing the entire lower bone of the toes, and acute pain or other undesirable behaviors such as biting and defecating outside of the litter box are potential issues post-op (these behaviors are generally common for cats anyhow). It’s hard to snuggle when you’re scarred, but altering an animal’s body like this is an extreme action to take only to make it a safer, more appropriate pet. Still, the American Veterinary Medical Association says many cat owners report that they wouldn’t have kept their cats if not for the option to declaw them.

Disease is a more serious problem associated with cats’ sharp claws. Several diseases can be contracted when a person is scratched or bitten by an infected cat. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, approximately 25,000 people are diagnosed with cat-scratch disease (bartonellosis) every year in the United States alone. They say children are particularly at risk for several diseases that can be contracted by cats, whether they’re kept indoors or allowed to go outside.

A great number of cat-related pet-peeves (pun intended) are familiar to most of us. These include, but are certainly not limited to, going out to a newly washed and waxed car only to find an absurd number of paw prints on the hood and windshield, discovering the stench of a kitty-sprayed stain on your porch or patio furniture, having to repeatedly clean up dead birds from the driveway or feces from the mulch around your favorite flowers, or being kept up late at night because of the horrendous meowing of fighting or mating cats outside your window. Isn’t this especially annoying when the damages are from a neighbor’s pet cat? City ordinances generally require pet owners to keep their animals safely away from others. Why are cats allowed to run amok? Even when kept locked up in the house they exhibit other aggravating behaviors such as jumping onto tables and counters, refusing to come when called, and urinating in your guest’s suitcase. This raises an important question:

Are cats a truly domesticated pet? You can’t train them to change their behaviors because they have no regard for reprimand. They either want to be with you, or they don’t. Current scientific consensus is that felines were never successfully domesticated. Evidence of this includes that house cats are easily able to survive on their own, and because their genes don’t differ greatly from their wild relatives they can still breed with wild cats. Additionally, unlike other domesticated animals, they never learned to obey or provide any service to humans. The nearest possible exception to this is that cats help keep rat populations down, but as it turns out, that’s a modern myth.

Field & Stream. 2017

Laura Helmuth, a health, science, and environment editor, explains that felines began their relationship with us as parasites in farming communities. As humans began to grow grain, she says, wild cats showed up to feast on the large number of rodents attracted to the grains. Then, people welcomed cats and tried to domesticate them for thousands of years. However, modern agricultural practices, food-storage vessels, and mouse-proof houses have all rendered rodent problems uncommon and cats as parasites in our communities once more.

Feral cats have become a global problem, spreading disease and disrupting natural environments everywhere. One Australian organization refers to them as part of an “ecological axis of evil.” The problem isn’t just with feral cats, either; pet cats contribute largely. Some hypothesize that cat culture persists partly because of their large-eyed, infantile appearance that reminds us of babies. While this might help explain why some people are so forgiving of their flaws, it doesn’t excuse the damages. Cats kill billions of birds every year in the United States alone (some of which are endangered and vital to local ecosystems), and have been implicated in dozens of mammalian extinctions.

A 2017 Defenders of Wildlife webpage discusses the “ecological havoc wreaked by the domestic cat” and offers the pie-chart at left to visually demonstrate the impact pet cats have on wildlife in the environment. Even well-fed cats hunt for fun. On the Global Invasive Species Database, they’re listed as one of the worst globally invasive species. In countries like New Zealand, bans on cats are considered an important step toward repairing damaged ecosystems and restoring native species populations.

Cat’s have become a tremendous problem causing both household grief and environmental catastrophe. It’s past time we all recognize our part in perpetuating the problem, and consider banning ownership of this invasive species.