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We are unleashing perfect killing machines on nature

For many families, the cat is the best friend, and in many places, to this day, it remains an important pest controller, keeping away unwanted rodents. However, our pets returning from their explorations can potentially bring back dangerous pathogens, and in the wild, they can cause unimaginable destruction. Keeping them indoors has significant advantages, and with a bit of attention, the cat won't feel like it's in a prison.
Cats are among the world's most popular pets, alongside dogs. In Hungary, research indicates that 37 percent of households own a cat, tallying up to roughly 2.3 million individuals. This figure establishes the country as a true feline superpower in global terms.

Yet, general awareness regarding cats significantly lags behind that of dogs. This could be due to several factors: scientific studies on canines boast a much longer history, and loose dogs can pose a greater danger to humans, resulting in stricter regulations.

This lack of awareness translates into less responsible cat ownership, which could endanger not only the pets themselves but also the environment. In addition to various vaccinations, microchipping, proper nutrition, sterilization, and regular veterinary visits, it is critically important to keep our cats in an enclosed home environment.

DANGEROUS PREDATORS

Since 2003, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature has recognized the domestic cat as a distinct species. Cat domestication happened several thousand years ago in the Fertile Crescent of the Near East research suggests as far back as 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Whether humans selected certain traits or simply tolerated friendlier wildcats is unclear, but early cats significantly aided ancient farmers by keeping crop-damaging rodents in check. Archaeological and historical evidence also shows that cats were quickly revered in some civilizations ancient Egyptians, for instance, considered cats sacred.

Today, cats still play an indispensable role in many homes, curbing potentially dangerous rodents that carry pathogens. But their impressive hunting instincts and abilities can be striking even for those who keep them as leisure pets. Although relatively small, cats are perfect killing machines: incredibly quick, agile, with exceptional sight, smell, and hearing. They use unique hunting strategies and are highly adaptable.

These traits make them extraordinarily dangerous predators. In regions where they lack natural competitors due to extermination or where they were introduced into the environment, they are considered apex predators.

Many cat owners may be familiar with their pet proudly depositing a captured songbird or field rodent on the doormat. Although one can get over the shock or inconvenience, it's worth considering the damage our freely roaming pets cause in nature.

Accurately assessing the damage is challenging due to the large number of free-roaming cats, but estimates suggest that in the United States alone, cats kill approximately 1.3-4 billion birds and 6.3-22.3 billion mammals annually. These small predators also take a heavy toll on reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates, and can endanger large numbers of threatened species.

As invasive species, domestic cats cause particular issues in regions without natural predators. New Zealand is one such place, where the cats were brought over by Europeans. There, proliferating predators threaten about a hundred native species. Some programs use drastic measures like community hunts to combat feral cats, and Australia faces a similar situation.

A THREAT TO THEMSELVES

Free-roaming cats not only pose a threat to nature but also endanger themselves. Uncontrolled populations can overbreed, and interactions with each other and different species increase the risk of infections, reducing survival chances.

For example, in Cyprus, a significant outbreak of feline coronavirus (FCoV) has killed thousands of cats, prompting initiatives for a medication program to control the virus. Some pathogens can also be transmitted to other species, including humans, with rabies posing a significant risk.

Although vaccinations can reduce dangers, there are known diseases without a preventive vaccine. Moreover, cats can carry pathogens unknown to science, making the best solution to keep our vaccinated pets from roaming freely.

Ticks, worms, and fleas also pose risks as they can spread infections and potentially attack other animals or even humans in the household. Certain products and collars can offer protection, but their effectiveness may drastically decrease after a few months.

At home, the risk of accidents is much lower than outdoors among vehicles, tall buildings, protruding wires, fences, and toxic substances—walls provide physical protection for cats. Although it might seem selfish, letting our pets roam could end with them in an animal shelter or a new family, so even if they survive, we may never see them again.

It's also worth noting that while cats are excellent hunters, their skills do not make them invincible; other predators can pose a threat. Outside, dogs, foxes, or even birds of prey can kill them, and it's not uncommon for a cat to become prey.

THE CAT'S PRISON?

There are many arguments and myths about indoor living, with some believing that confinement compromises their welfare and happiness. While it's natural for animals to want to go outside, if their needs are met with appropriate space, nutrition, entertainment, and litter, indoor living doesn't necessarily diminish their well-being.

Cats may not be as playful and sociable as dogs, prone to boredom. However, stimulation through play can help for those who have cats, it quickly becomes apparent when their pet needs attention.

Additionally, having a feline companion can help, although keeping more than two is not recommended. Different scratching surfaces, toys, cat trees, and boxes can enable cats to exercise their instincts sharpening their claws, climbing, or jumping just like unique feeders can make them feel they're hunting for food.

Indoor living is advantageous for both the environment and the cats, with studies showing that indoor cats live longer, healthier, and more balanced lives.

Even for cats that live outdoors or occasionally venture out, risks can be mitigated. Vaccines, sterilization, microchips, and anti-parasitic collars can all improve a cat's survival chances. The truly dedicated may also try leash training or even build special escape-proof fences for their cats.

It's important to consider an individual cat's upbringing. Even if we decide to move an old, outdoor cat indoors, there's a significant chance it will not adapt to the new rules because of its previous experiences.
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