British Columbia

TRU researcher to study consequences of keeping cats outside

A Thompson Rivers University master's student is surveying people in Kamloops to find out what they think the impacts are of having an outdoor cat.

Survey attempts to gauge how well Kamloops, B.C., cat owners know the impacts of letting their pets outside

Denise King allows her cat outside on a harness. (Denise King)

Denise King knows first-hand that cats and the outdoors don't always mix. 

She says she's owned a lot of cats over the years, and that many of them were hit by cars or killed by predators.

"It just didn't sort of click until a couple of years ago … this is really a people problem, not a cat problem," she said.

Her experiences made her realize that people were letting the cats outside into an uncontrolled environment where they would struggle to survive.

"The risks go both ways, both for the cats and for the wildlife and I thought maybe other people aren't making the connection either," King said.

"It's just not fair, because cats are considered an invasive species, and so, it's up to us as people who have domesticated the cats to make sure the cats are kept safe as well as our wildlife."

Denise King in her office at Thompson Rivers University. (Lorrie Arnott)

That's what led her to her master's degree research project. The Thompson Rivers University environmental science student is surveying people in Kamloops, B.C., to find out how they feel about pet cats roaming outdoors in their neighbourhood and how well known the risks to the cats are known when they are let outside.

'One of the most significant predators that we've got'

In 2016, Margaret Atwood and Nature Canada launched a campaign aimed at keeping all cats indoors. 

Stewardship Centre of B.C. co-chair Sean Sharpe said people often don't realize the full impact of letting their animals outside.

"They are one of the most significant predators that we've got and they can have a very big impact on nesting birds in and around communities," he said.

He thinks regardless of King's findings, more research looking at outdoor cats is positive, because it will help raise awareness about the issue.

"Every little bit we can do to sort of keep wild birds around is really important and everybody wants a healthy cat too."

Denise King's current cat, Purrlene, was adopted at the age of two years. (Denise King)

Denise King is pleased with how much interest her research has already received.

"It's so exciting," she said.

"The more data I have, the more impact I can bring to ... suggestions to campaigns or education initiatives that could be implemented in town."