By Stewart Abrams, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries

Have you noticed a decline in wildlife species on your property? Are there stray cats or dogs wandering the area? Could your own dog or cat be to blame? Many pet owners don’t realize the impact their outside pet may be having on local wildlife.

Although many dog and cat owners keep their pets confined, others allow their animals to roam freely. This results in larger feral populations, which can have detrimental effects on wildlife populations. This is especially true in suburban and rural areas where animal control is rare or nonexistent.

According to the Animal Pet Products Association, more than half of U.S. households own a pet. There are approximately 164 million cats and dogs belonging to these households. The actual number of cats and dogs in the United States is much larger because the statistics do not include feral populations which are impossible to determine.

Domestic and feral cats kill large numbers of birds and small animals annually. Although feral cats kill more animals per year than domestic cats, on average they do not survive as long as domestic cats. The low survival rate of feral cats is due to the lack of protection from disease, predation and starvation. Feral cats may not live long, but few are spayed or neutered, which results in a high reproductive rate. Female cats can have three litters of four to six kittens per year. In addition to killing wildlife, cats also transmit rabies and feline diseases to native animals. Whether feral or domestic, cats can have a large negative impact on local wildlife and ecosystems.

Domestic and feral dogs do not kill as many animals as cats, but they can pose a serious problem in some areas. In order to hunt in the wild, feral dogs may form packs so they can successfully hunt and survive in the wild. Similar to packs of wolves or coyotes, dog packs will stake out a territory and hunt wildlife and livestock. Coyotes are often blamed for damage inflicted by domestic and feral dog packs. Not only do these packs pose a threat to native wildlife, but they are also a danger to humans. People have been attacked and some even killed by packs of wild dogs. Feral dogs may also introduce diseases such as distemper, parvo and rabies, which create serious health related issues for wildlife, domestic animals and humans.

Negative effects on the natural environment can be reduced by following some simple suggestions. One of the best solutions is to keep your pets inside the house or confine them to a yard or pen. Keep a watchful eye on your pets when you let them outside. To avoid disease transmission, renew vaccinations annually. Adequate feeding will provide full stomachs, therefore decreasing temptations to hunt for food. Attach some type of bell or noise maker to their collars so that they can’t easily stalk prey. Above all, have your pet spayed or neutered. It is through responsible pet ownership that domestic dog and cat impacts on local ecosystems can be reduced to a minimum.

For more information, contact Stewart Abrams, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, P.O. Box 27, Hollins, AL 35082.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Logo courtesy Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

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