How Many Birds and Other Animals Do ‘Outdoor Cats’ Kill?

It’s a no-brainer that cats who are kept indoors are safe from the many dangers that roaming and “indoor/outdoor” cats face every time they set paw outside—infectious and deadly diseases, speeding cars, and cruel people, to name just a few. But keeping cats indoors makes life easier and safer for birds and other animals, too. Cats who are left outside unsupervised kill animals in colossal numbers—an estimated average of 14.7 billion birds and other animals every year in the U.S. alone.

A brindle cat with an injured ear and swollen eyes looks into the camera

If you allow your cat to roam outside, they may occasionally bring home a mouse or bird, but that’s just a fraction of the animals they actually maim and leave to suffer and die. And when you multiply that by the estimated 154 million cats in the U.S., the death toll adds up.

According to a Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute study, roaming cats are responsible for the deaths of an estimated average of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals every year in the U.S. alone.

Yes. That’s BILLION with a B.

Cats Kill Squirrels and Other Small Mammals

That massive death toll makes cats a bigger threat to wildlife than nearly any other human-linked cause.

Rabbit Maimed by Cat

Another study found that cats kill far more animals than their guardians realize. In that study, cats wore tiny video cameras around their necks, which documented that they killed an average of 2.1 animals every week, but brought home less than one out of every four.

Rabbit Maimed by Cat

Cats often “play” with their victims, prolonging the animals’ terror and suffering. Moreover, cats don’t always kill animals outright, sometimes leaving them maimed and suffering from horrific injuries.

Squirrel Euthanized After Cat Injuries

Feral cat colonies are especially deadly. Native birds and small animals aren’t equipped to deal with the large concentration of non-native predators that comes with such a colony.

Cats Kill Billions of Birds

Cats will kill whatever they can get their paws on, including endangered birds like piping plovers Florida scrub-jays, California least terns, and many species of hummingbirds, who are already facing an uphill battle for survival.

Migratory birds are especially vulnerable when they’re trying to rest during exhausting journeys of hundreds or even thousands of miles.

Fledglings may spend days on the ground before they’re able to fly, making them easy victims for free-roaming cats.

Injured Young Fledgling

Cats Don’t Belong Outdoors

In order to be responsible, conscientious neighbors to birds, squirrels, and other wildlife (who were here long before most of us and our cats), we need to get serious about the following:

  • Spaying and neutering cats (and not just our own—help friends and neighbors get their cats sterilized, too)
  • Cracking down on people who abandon cats, which contributes to feral cat colonies
  • Supporting animal shelters that maintain an open-door policy (i.e., accepting all cats, including litters of kittens found outdoors, stray cats, and feral cats)
  • Encouraging public officials to pass laws requiring that all cats be spayed or neutered
  • Keeping cats safe indoors

Check out our tips on keeping cats enriched inside and allowing them to explore the outdoors with your supervision in a secure enclosure or with a leash and harness.

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