Cats are domesticated predators, with natural prey-chasing, capturing, and killing instincts. They have the potential to impact local wildlife populations by reducing the number of prey items for native predators. Free-ranging pets can serve as a reservoir for human and wildlife diseases such as ringworm, toxoplasmosis, leptospirosis, distemper, and rabies, and may be an important factor in introducing these diseases into susceptible wildlife populations.
The instinctive hunting and killing behavior of cats is extensively documented. Unlike wild predators that kill to eat, cats kill impulsively even when they are not hungry. Animals that nest or feed on or close to the ground such as cardinals, bobwhites, towhees, wrens, rabbits, and lizards are most susceptible. A Michigan study found that in an 18-month period, one well-fed, domestic farm cat killed at least 60 birds and 1600 small mammals.
Cats do little damage to lawns and gardens but can be a nuisance. Cats are attracted to bare soil and as they carry out their normal toilet habits, they can damage seed beds and seedlings.
Fences do little to keep cats out.
Integrated Pest Management Strategies
1. Local animal control agencies. Use an agency to report feral cats or other troublesome animals.
2. Repellents. Naphthalene flakes (moth balls) or camphor chest rubs are said to repel cats; however these scents are not long-lasting and must be replaced. They are best used to protect single, prized specimen plants or objects.
3. Fright. Scare tactics such as scolding, hand clapping, loud noises, and hurling small objects may be effective in chasing cats away.
4. Bird feeders. Do not place a bird feeder or bath immediately next to dense shrubbery or other cat hiding places.
5. Water. Cats hate water, so you may be able to discourage a cat from entering your yard by spraying it several times with a garden hose.
6. Traps. Use a large live trap (raccoon-type) baited with fish or canned food. Turn over the stray or feral cat to the local animal control office or Humane Society.
7. Protection. Cover small garden areas with seeds or transplants by using floating row covers or fruit-tree netting. Large areas can be protected by building a wood frame and covering it with window screening.
8. Responsibility. Responsible pet ownership is the best solution including spaying/neutering and confining. Avoid letting your cat roam at night when it can effectively attack sleeping prey. Keeping your pet indoors will also protect it from being hit by vehicles, reduce exposure to diseases transmitted by wildlife and other pets, prevent injuries from fights with other cats (or dogs), or attacks by wildlife predators, and avoid various animal control practices used by unhappy neighbors. If you have an outside cat, place two bells on its collar to make it easier to determine their location. Some cats can learn to adjust their moves to silence a single bell.