DEAR READERS: Polish biologist Wojciech Solarz recently classified the domestic cat as an invasive species responsible for the death of an estimated 140 million birds in his country every year. The disapproving public response (see the July 27 article by Vanessa Gera in the Associated Press and the Star Tribune) is a sentiment echoing here in the U.S. by cat owners who let their cats roam free.
In the U.S., free-ranging domestic cats annually kill an estimated 1.3 billion to 4 billion birds, and 6.3 billion to 22.3 billion mammals. Cats compete with indigenous wild carnivores, including raptors, for prey. They can spread diseases to these competitors, as well as bring home diseases from their prey.
As a veterinarian, I am concerned about the health and welfare of cats who are not kept exclusively in-home, about their impact on declining wildlife populations, and about the many diseases cats can transmit to humans. (For details, visit drfoxonehealth.com/post/cats-why-they-should-be-enclosed-and-not-roam-free.)
I am also concerned about the evident lack of civic responsibility and municipal legislation, which should apply the same principles of containment for cats as for dogs. Adding to this problem in many communities are TNVR organizations (trap, neuter, vaccinate and release), which release cats they consider "unadoptable" to fend for themselves. Releasing these animals under the pro-life banner of a “no-kill” animal rescue organization or humane society is no humane solution.
There are better alternatives to both TNVR and euthanasia. For details, see drfoxonehealth.com/post/outdoor-cats-wildlife-and-human-health.
DEAR DR. FOX: What is your opinion about feeding raw food to dogs? My brother suggests I do this for my dog, a 6-year-old collie mix. -- J.G., West Palm Beach, Florida
DEAR J.G.: I am all for feeding some raw fruits and vegetables to dogs, such as crushed blueberries and grated carrots. But because most beef and poultry comes from factory farms and feedlots, where bacterial contamination is common, I advise lightly cooking all animal products before feeding them to your dog.
Antibiotic-resistant E. coli was found more frequently in the feces of dogs that were fed raw meat, regardless of how long they consumed a raw diet, than in that of dogs that did not eat raw meat, according to studies in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy and One Health. People and pets can and do spread bacteria to one another, and avoiding raw diets should be considered a good hygiene practice, says veterinary epidemiology professor Kristen Reyher, co-author of the One Health study. (Full story: HealthDay News, July 21)
RABIES, CATS AND COYOTES
While nonprofit organizations like projectcoyote.org are helping communities live in greater harmony with coyotes who are moving into many previously coyote-free places across the U.S., many wish for their extermination, fearing rabies.
Rabies is transmitted by the bites and saliva of infected animals. Each year, this disease causes approximately 59,000 deaths worldwide. In the CDC’s 2020 rabies surveillance report, only 11 coyotes tested positive, compared with a total of 288 cats -- a number that has increased from 245 in 2019. Only 57 dogs tested positive in 2020 -- a drop from 66 in 2019.
Municipalities need to consider these findings and take every measure to improve public health standards by mandating rabies vaccinations for all owned cats, as is done with dogs, and not allowing cats to roam free. Many communities without these protections in place have skunks, raccoons, foxes and bats, which, as the CDC report documents, serve as reservoirs for rabies infection. Rabies could be quickly passed to outdoor cats, and then from the cats to people when they return home (or when they bite people who come into contact with them outdoors).
The virus affects animals’ brains; infected animals are hyper-aggressive and bite at whatever they can, as I have witnessed.
All engaged in TNVR and “community cat” programs should cease and desist because these cats can rarely be trapped again for needed revaccination if they survive such inhumane abandonment. While it is true that cases of cat-to-human rabies infection are rare in the U.S., the incidence of rabies in wildlife is on the upswing, increasing the risk of cats becoming infected. The CDC notes that “each year, hundreds of thousands of animals need to be placed under observation or be tested for rabies, and between 30,000 to 60,000 people need to receive rabies postexposure prophylaxis.”
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)