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Westchester Cat Owners: Keep Your Felines Indoors

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. — Cats kill birds, not to mention chipmunks, frogs, snakes and other small wild animals. It’s among the behaviors woven into their DNA. A new study by the University of Georgia and National Geographic estimates that 500 million birds alone fall prey to cat claws every year — some of them from species already facing survival problems.

I don’t want to put cat owners on the defensive, but birds are outdoor cats’ natural prey. I would like to give you a few reasons for keeping your house cat indoors and not putting out food for colonies of feral cats.

Foremost is the danger to your cat’s own life and well-being, mostly from encounters with other animals. Your pet can suffer torn ears, scratched eyes, abscesses and other injuries requiring expensive veterinary treatment.

In one study, researchers found that about 13 percent of a coyote’s diet consists of cats. Our next-door neighbor has lost at least two cats to raccoons. And think about having to clean a cat after an encounter with a skunk!

We also have a rabies problem in Westchester and Fairfield. Outdoor cats can become victims when they encounter rabid wild animals.

Fatal diseases such as feline leukemia virus (FeLV) can be transmitted by bites or simple interaction between infected animals. Bites from other cats during a fight can transmit feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), which destroys a cat’s immune system. FIV is always fatal, although some cats do live for years with the disease.

Toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease, can be carried by cats and transmitted to humans. It’s especially dangerous to children and those with compromised immune systems. In 1995, 110 people in British Columbia, Canada, succumbed to severe infection from drinking water apparently tainted by the feces of a colony of feral cats.

If disease and wild animals don’t get kitty, the family car might. Millions of cats are run over every year. You might even kill your pet yourself. Cats like to sleep under cars and sometimes crawl into a wheel cavity or up into the engine compartment to get warm. A cat napping in your engine will die if you turn on the car.

How do you make your pet happy indoors? Now is the perfect time to start the training.

Cats love warmth, which makes the house more appealing as fall turns to winter. Be ready to give your cat more attention so it relishes being inside. Add toys, playtime and other ways for your cat to remain active.

You’ll have a healthier and longer-lived pet, not to mention happier birds in your backyard.

John Hannan is director of development for Audubon in Connecticut .

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