+
Science

New study shows that allowing cats outdoors is bad for their health and the environment

Settling the debate once and for all.

New study shows that allowing cats outdoors is bad for their health and the environment
Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

Bad for kitty. Bad for the environment.

It’s an age-old debate between cat parents—letting their feline roam outdoors versus adopting a strict indoor-only policy. Usually in cases like this, when there are two polarizing opinions, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, with pros and cons belonging to both sides.

This is not one of those times. Team Indoor is the winner here, hands down. And there’s new science to prove it.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, revealed that allowing cats to free-roam is bad on multiple levels, putting themselves, their owners and even the environment at risk.

For the study, researchers recorded the comings and goings of free-roaming cats using 60 motion-activated wildlife cameras across 1500 different locations in Washington, D.C. Over the span of three years, the D.C. Cat Count Survey’s findings revealed an overwhelming amount of reasons to opt for the great indoors instead.

For one thing, free-roaming cats are exponentially more exposed to dangerous diseases.

a cat sits alone on a paving stone outdoors, while people mill around in the background

"By letting our cats outside we are significantly jeopardizing their health."

Photo by Emre on Unsplash

"We discovered that the average domestic cat in D.C. has a 61% probability of being found in the same space as racoons – America's most prolific rabies vector – 61% spatial overlap with red foxes, and 56% overlap with Virginia opossums, both of which can also spread rabies," said Daniel Herrera, lead author of the study and Ph.D. student in the University of Maryland's Department of Environmental Science and Technology (ENST).

Herrera’s conclusion was straightforward: "By letting our cats outside we are significantly jeopardizing their health."

Free-roaming didn’t only put cats at risk of infection—they often wander to high-exposure areas of rabies or toxoplasmosis, both of which can be transmitted to their owners.

Diseases aside, free-roaming cats pose a threat to wildlife.
A closeup of a grey and white cat hunting in the grass

The common misconception is that cats help control non-native species like rats.

Photo by Ke Vin on Unsplash

Herrera explained that while most people might assume cats help balance the food chain by hunting invasive species like rats, they frequently shared spaces and preyed on small native wildlife, including grey squirrels, chipmunks, cottontail rabbits, groundhogs and white-footed mice.

"Cats are keeping rats out of sight due to fear, but there really isn't any evidence that they are controlling the non-native rodent population. The real concern is that they are decimating native populations that provide benefits to the D.C. ecosystem,” said Herrera. Though this study only took place in one city, it feels pretty safe to assume that its findings are fairly universal.

It’s only natural to want to give our pets the best life possible. And while the thought of letting Whiskers out on an adventure might seem like a way to honor his primal side, Herrera and his fellow researchers strongly encourage keeping him safely indoors.

Luckily, there are other ways to let a cat express their natural instincts. As cat expert and influencer Jackson Galaxy advocates, consider 10-15 minutes of play a necessity, the same way you'd consider walking a dog as something that comes along with the job. Playing is a great way to not only keep your feline friend happy and healthy, it’s an adorable bonding meowment.

Ginger and white cat playing with a furry jingle bell toy.

1-15 minutes of play can go a long way.

Photo by Dorothe Wouters on Unsplash

Ultimately, the choice on whether or not to allow a cat to roam free is up to the owner. But with great companions comes great responsibility. And all pet parents should at least be aware of the risks that come along with their decisions.

This story first appeared on the author's Medium and is reprinted here with permission.

Because you're a girl.

This article originally appeared on 04.14.17


I was promoted a few weeks ago, which was great. I got a lot of nice notes from friends, family, customers, partners, and random strangers, which was exciting.

But it wasn't long until a note came in saying, “Everyone knows you got the position because you're a girl." In spite of having a great week at a great company with great people whom I love, that still stung, because it's not the first time I've heard it.

Keep ReadingShow less
Identity

This blind chef wore a body cam to show how she prepares dazzling dishes.

How do blind people cook? This "Masterchef" winner leans into her senses.

Image pulled from YouTube video.

Christine Ha competes on "Masterchef."

This article originally appeared on 05.26.17


There is one question chef Christine Ha fields more than any other.

But it's got nothing to do with being a "Masterchef" champion, New York Times bestselling author, and acclaimed TV host and cooking instructor.

The question: "How do you cook while blind?"

Keep ReadingShow less
All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

I have plenty of space.

This article originally appeared on 04.09.16


It's hard to truly describe the amazing bond between dads and their daughters.

Being a dad is an amazing job no matter the gender of the tiny humans we're raising. But there's something unique about the bond between fathers and daughters.

Most dads know what it's like to struggle with braiding hair, but we also know that bonding time provides immense value to our daughters. In fact, studies have shown that women with actively involved fathers are more confident and more successful in school and business.

Keep ReadingShow less

Gordon Ramsay at play... work.

This article originally appeared on 04.22.15


Gordon Ramsay is not exactly known for being nice.

Or patient.

Or nurturing.

On his competition show "Hell's Kitchen," he belittles cooks who can't keep up. If people come to him with their problems, he berates them. If someone is struggling to get something right in the kitchen, he curses them out.

Keep ReadingShow less

This article originally appeared on 01.27.20


From 1940 to 1945, an estimated 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz, the largest complex of Nazi concentration camps. More than four out of five of those people—at least 1.1 million people—were murdered there.

On January 27, 1945, Soviet forces liberated the final prisoners from these camps—7,000 people, most of whom were sick or dying. Those of us with a decent public education are familiar with at least a few names of Nazi extermination facilities—Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen—but these are merely a few of the thousands (yes, thousands) of concentration camps, sub camps, and ghettos spread across Europe where Jews and other targets of Hitler's regime were persecuted, tortured, and killed by the millions.

Keep ReadingShow less
Health

What I realized about feminism after my male friend was disgusted by tampons at a party.

"After all these years, my friend has probably forgotten, but I never have."

Photo by Josefin on Unsplash

It’s okay men. You don’t have to be afraid.

This article originally appeared on 08.12.16


Years ago, a friend went to a party, and something bothered him enough to rant to me about it later.

And it bothered me that he was so incensed about it, but I couldn't put my finger on why. It seemed so petty for him to be upset, and even more so for me to be annoyed with him.

Recently, something reminded me of that scenario, and it made more sense. I'll explain.

Keep ReadingShow less