Responding to misinformation and criticisms regarding United States cat predation estimates

  • Scott R. Loss
  • Tom Will
  • Travis Longcore
  • Peter P. Marra
Perspectives and paradigms


Misinformation (or denialism), the disingenuous assertion of information contradicting overwhelming scientific consensus, increasingly poses a challenge for invasion biology. The issue of free-ranging domestic cats (Felis catus) provides an example of this misinformation: overwhelming consensus shows that cats are invasive species that impact wildlife and human health yet free-ranging cat advocates propagate misinformation about such impacts to support policies keeping cats on the landscape. These advocates also attempt to discredit peer-reviewed scientific research on cat impacts, as exemplified by the response to a high-profile paper estimating cats annually kill billions of U.S. birds and mammals (Loss et al. in Nat Commun 4:1396, 2013). Although favorably received by scientific and invasive species management communities, an effort was launched to discredit this paper by criticizing its methods, including a report commissioned by a feral cat advocacy group and a post by a feral cat blogger. These same organizations and individuals have made similar criticisms at scientific conferences and policy roundtables. Given the realized effects of this campaign in influencing invasive species policy, we here respond to these criticisms and show they are characterized by numerous errors and misrepresentations. We conclude that the criticisms are part of the broader campaign to fabricate doubt about outdoor cat impacts and stymie policies favoring removal of cats from the landscape. Because misinformation surrounding cats is emblematic of the broader issue of misinformation and denialism, this response will not only facilitate evidence-based policy for managing cats but also stimulate research and discussion into causes and impacts of misinformation in invasion biology.


Denialism Disinformation Domestic cat Feral cat Misinformation Science-based policy 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10530_2018_1796_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (117 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 118 kb)
10530_2018_1796_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (153 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 154 kb)
10530_2018_1796_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (120 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (PDF 121 kb)
10530_2018_1796_MOESM4_ESM.jpg (44 kb)
Supplementary material 4 (JPEG 44 kb)


  1. Alley Cat Allies (ACA) (2013) A review of the statistical methods employed in the article “The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States.” Accessed 11 June 2018
  2. Alley Cat Allies (ACA) (2017a) Cats and wildlife. Accessed 11 June 2018
  3. Alley Cat Allies (ACA) (2017b) Elected official. Accessed 11 June 2018
  4. Alley Cat Allies (ACA) (2017c) Share the truth about cats. Accessed 11 June 2018
  5. American Bird Conservancy (ABC) (2012) Domestic cat predation on birds and other wildlife. Accessed 11 June 2018
  6. American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, Inc. (APPMA) (1997) American Pet Products Manufacturers Association national pet owners survey 1996–1997. American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, Inc, GreenwichGoogle Scholar
  7. Angier N (2013) That cuddly kitty is deadlier than you think. New York Times. Accessed 11 June 2018
  8. Arnold TW, Zink RM (2011) Collision mortality has no discernible effect on population trends of North American birds. PLoS ONE 6:e24708CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  9. Baker PJ, Molony SE, Stone E, Cuthill IC, Harris S (2008) Cats about town: is predation by free-ranging pet cats Felis catus likely to affect urban bird populations? Ibis 150(S1):86–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Balogh AL, Ryder TB, Marra PP (2011) Population demography of Gray Catbirds in the suburban matrix: sources, sinks and domestic cats. J Ornithol 152:717–726CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Barratt DG (1998) Predation by house cats, Felis catus (L.), in Canberra, Australia. II. Factors affecting the amount of prey caught and estimates of the impact on wildlife. Wildl Res 25:475–487CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Barrows PL (2004) Professional, ethical, and legal dilemmas of trap-neuter-release. J Am Vet Med Assoc 225:1365–1369CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Best Friends Animal Society (BFAS) (2013) Acclaimed author and TNR expert Peter J. Wolf joins Best Friends. Accessed 11 June 2018
  14. Blancher P (2013) Estimated number of birds killed by house cats (Felis catus) in Canada. Avian Conserv Ecol 8:3Google Scholar
  15. Blancher PJ, Rosenberg KV, Panjabi AO et al (2007) Guide to the partners in flight population estimates database. Version: North American Landbird Conservation Plan 2004. Partners in flight technical series no. 5Google Scholar
  16. Calhoon RE, Haspel C (1989) Urban cat populations compared by season, subhabitat and supplemental feeding. J Anim Ecol 58:321–328CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Calvert AM, Bishop CA, Elliot RD, Krebs EA, Kydd TM, Machtans CS, Robertson GJ (2013) A synthesis of human-related avian mortality in Canada. Avian Conserv Ecol 8:11Google Scholar
  18. Carey J (2012) Cat fight. Conservation magazine. Accessed 11 June 2018
  19. Castillo D, Clarke AL (2003) Trap/neuter/release methods ineffective in controlling domestic cat “colonies” on public lands. Nat Areas J 23:247–253Google Scholar
  20. Council of the District of Columbia (CODC) (2015) Council hearings archive, committee on transportation & the environment public roundtable, Mary Cheh Chairperson, 9-18-15. Accessed 11 June 2018
  21. Council of the District of Columbia (CODC) (2016) B21-0386—Fisheries and Wildlife Omnibus Amendment Act of 2016, Amendment #1. Accessed 11 June 2018
  22. Courchamp F, Fournier A, Bellard C, Bertelsmeier C, Bonnaud E, Jeschke JM, Russell JC (2017) Invasion biology: specific problems and possible solutions. Trends Ecol Evol 32:13–22CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Crooks KR, Soulé ME (1999) Mesopredator release and avifaunal extinctions in a fragmented system. Nature 400:563–566CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Crowley SL, Hinchliffe S, McDonald RA (2017a) Conflict in invasive species management. Front Ecol Environ 15:133–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Crowley SL, Hinchliffe S, Redpath SM, McDonald RA (2017b) Disagreement about invasive species does not equate to denialism: a response to Russell and Blackburn. Trends Ecol Evol 32:228–229CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. District Department of the Environment (DDOE) (2015) District of Columbia Wildlife Action Plan, 2015 Update. District Department of the Environment, Washington, DC. Accessed 11 June 2018
  27. Doherty TS, Glen AS, Nimmo DG, Ritchie EG, Dickman CR (2016) Invasive predators and global biodiversity loss. Proc Nat Acad Sci 113:11261–11265CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Estévez RA, Anderson CB, Pizarro JC, Burgman MA (2015) Clarifying values, risk perceptions, and attitudes to resolve or avoid social conflicts in invasive species management. Conserv Biol 29:19–30CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Farnworth MJ, Watson H, Adams NJ (2014) Understanding attitudes toward the control of nonnative wild and feral mammals: similarities and differences in the opinions of the general public, animal protectionists, and conservationists in New Zealand (Aotearoa). J Appl Anim Welf Sci 17:1–17CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Fitzgerald BM, Turner DC (2000) Hunting behaviour of domestic cats and their impact on prey populations. In: Turner DC, Bateson PPG (eds) The domestic cat: the biology of its behaviour. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 151–175Google Scholar
  31. George WG (1974) Domestic cats as predators and factors in winter shortages of raptor prey. Wilson Bull 86:384–396Google Scholar
  32. Gerhold RW, Jessup DA (2013) Zoonotic diseases associated with free-roaming cats. Zoonoses Pub Health 60:189–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gurevitch J, Curtis PS, Jones MH (2001) Meta-analysis in ecology. Adv Ecol Res 32:199–247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hubbs EL (1951) Food habits of feral house cats in the Sacramento Valley. Calif Fish Game 37:177–190Google Scholar
  35. Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) (2018) Pets by the numbers: U.S. pet ownership, community cat and shelter population estimates. Accessed 11 June 2018
  36. Jackson WB (1951) Food habits of Baltimore, Maryland, cats in relation to rat populations. J Mammal 32:458–461CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kays RW, DeWan AA (2004) Ecological impact of inside/outside house cats around a suburban nature preserve. Anim Conserv 7:273–283CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. King BJ (2013) Do we really know that cats kill by the billions? Not so fast. National Public Radio. Accessed 11 June 2018
  39. Liberg O (1984) Food habits and prey impact by feral and house-based domestic cats in a rural area in southern Sweden. J Mammal 65:424–432CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Longcore T, Rich C, Sullivan LM (2009) Critical assessment of claims regarding management of feral cats by trap-neuter-return. Conserv Biol 23:887–894CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Longcore T, Rich C, Mineau P et al (2012) An estimate of avian mortality at communication towers in the United States and Canada. PLoS ONE 7:e34025CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  42. Loss SR, Marra PP (2017) Population impacts of free-ranging domestic cats on mainland vertebrates. Front Ecol Environ 15:502–509CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Loss SR, Marra PP (2018) Merchants of doubt in the free-ranging cat conflict. Conserv Biol 32:265–266CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Loss SR, Will T, Marra PP (2012) Direct human-caused mortality of birds: improving quantification of magnitude and assessment of population impact. Front Ecol Environ 10:357–364CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Loss SR, Will T, Marra PP (2013) The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States. Nat Commun 4:1396CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Loss SR, Will T, Marra PP (2015) Direct mortality of birds from anthropogenic causes. Ann Rev Ecol Evol Syst 46:99–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Loyd KAT, Hernandez SM, Carroll JP, Abernathy KJ, Marshall GJ (2013) Quantifying free-roaming domestic cat predation using animal-borne video cameras. Biol Conserv 160:183–189CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Marketing and Research Services, Inc. (MRS) (1997) Saving birds from cats. Marketing and Research Services, Inc, FrederickGoogle Scholar
  49. Marra PP, Santella C (2016) Cat wars: the devastating consequences of a cuddly killer. Princeton University Press, PrincetonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. McRuer DL, Gray LC, Horne L-A, Clark EE Jr (2017) Free-roaming cat interactions with wildlife admitted to a wildlife hospital. J Wildl Manag 81:163–173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Møller AP, Erritzøe J (2000) Predation against birds with low immunocompetence. Oecologia 122:500–504CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Morelle RM (2013). Cats killing billions of animals in the US. BBC. Accessed 11 June 2018
  53. Oreskes N, Conway EM (2010) Merchants of doubt: how a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming. Bloomsbury Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  54. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) (2018) What is PETA’s stance on programs that advocate trapping, spaying and neutering, and releasing feral cats? Accessed 11 June 2018
  55. Power J (2017) War on feral cats: Australia aims to cull 2 million. Accessed 11 June 2018
  56. Ricciardi A, Ryan R (2018) The exponential growth of invasive species denialism. Biol Invasions 20:549–553CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Ricciardi A, Blackburn TM, Carlton JT et al (2017) Invasion science: a horizon scan of emerging challenges and opportunities. Trends Ecol Evol 32:464–474CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. Rosenberg KV, Blancher PJ (2005) Setting numerical population objectives for priority landbird species. In Ralph CJ, Rich TD (eds) Bird conservation implementation and integration in the Americas: proceedings of the third international partners in flight conference, vol 1. United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, general technical report PSW-GTR-191. Albany, California, USA, pp 57–67Google Scholar
  59. Russell JC, Blackburn TM (2017) The rise of invasive species denialism. Trends Ecol Evol 32:3–6CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Silva-Rodríguez EA, Sieving KE (2011) Influence of care of domestic carnivores on their predation on vertebrates. Conserv Biol 25:808–815CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Stanley M (2018) Calls for better cat controls. Accessed 11 June 2018
  62. Stracey CM (2011) Resolving the urban nest predator paradox: the role of alternative foods for nest predators. Biol Conserv 144:1545–1552CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) 2018. Fighting misinformation. UCS, Cambridge Massachusetts. Accessed 11 June 2018
  64. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) (2002) Migratory bird mortality fact sheet. Accessed 11 June 2018
  65. van Heezik Y, Smyth A, Adams A, Gordon J (2010) Do domestic cats impose an unsustainable harvest on urban bird populations? Biol Conserv 143:121–130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Woinarski JCZ, Murphy BP, Legge SM et al (2017) How many birds are killed by cats in Australia? Biol Conserv 214:76–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Wolf PJ (2013). Garbage in, garbage out. Accessed 11 June 2018
  68. Wolf PJ (2017) What if everything you thought you knew about “feral” cats was wrong. In: The Wildlife Society 24th annual conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico, September 23–27, 2017. Accessed 11 June 2018

Copyright information

© This is a U.S. government work and its text is not subject to copyright protection in the United States; however, its text may be subject to foreign copyright protection 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Scott R. Loss
    • 1
  • Tom Will
    • 2
  • Travis Longcore
    • 3
  • Peter P. Marra
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Natural Resource Ecology and ManagementOklahoma State UniversityStillwaterUSA
  2. 2.Division of Migratory Birds, Midwest Regional OfficeUS Fish and Wildlife ServiceBloomingtonUSA
  3. 3.Spatial Sciences InstituteUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  4. 4.Migratory Bird Center, Smithsonian Conservation Biology InstituteNational Zoological ParkWashingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations