This page describes the relationship between wild birds and domestic cats in Ottawa. Please click the buttons below to learn more and access resources for cat owners.

It’s not cats’ fault that they are natural predators. As owners of pet cats and the original source of introduced feral cats, humans have a responsibility to keep domesticated felines safe and out of trouble.

Cats are a major threat to birds

Predation by domestic cats, including pet cats and feral (street) cats represents the single greatest direct threat to wild birds in North America. This conclusion is supported by numerous peer-reviewed, scientific publications that have examined large data-sets from reputable sources. As an introduced predator, cats do not belong in nature in North America. Where cats are allowed to roam outside, they cause immense damage to ecosystems. This is because native species including birds have not evolved defences to avoid predation by cats, which have only recently appeared on the landscape and have multiplied into large, invasive populations.

Did you know?

Free-roaming domestic cats have caused the extinction of at least 36 species of birds, mammals and lizards to date (PNAS, 2016).

Feral domestic cats are recognized as one of the 100 worst invasive species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

It is estimated that between 100 million and 350 million birds per year in Canada are killed by cats. 38% of bird kills are caused by pet cats, and 62% are caused by feral cats (Avian Conservation & Ecology, 2013).

Of 461 bird species that regularly occur in Canada, 115 (25%) are identified as potentially vulnerable to cat predation, including 23 Species at Risk (Avian Conservation & Ecology, 2013).

A recent analysis from Australia found that on average, each roaming pet cat killed 186 reptiles, birds and mammals per year (Wildlife Research, 2020).

Most cat owners are not aware of how many wild animals their pet kills, because only a fraction of kills are brought home.

There are currently no data on how many birds are killed by cats in Ottawa. There are also no estimates of the total number of feral cats living in Ottawa, but the locations of several feral cat colonies have been identified. Cats are occasionally observed roaming inside and near Environmentally Significant Areas.

The Ottawa Humane Society aims to manage the city’s feral cat population through a Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) program: OHS Trap Neuter Release program

Keep cats safe

Allowing your cat to run at large might seem like a good thing to do. Many cats express a desire to be outside and seem to enjoy hunting and experiencing nature. Indeed, taking your cat outside can be great for their well-being. However, allowing your pet to roam outside by itself is extremely dangerous!

The average life expectancy for indoor cats is 10-15 years, while outdoor cats live on average for only 2-5 years (UC Davis Veterinary Medicine).

 In Ottawa, cats roaming at large are put at risk of being harmed or killed by:

Collisions with vehicles

Being attacked and eaten by wild coyotes

Being attacked and eaten by wild hawks, owls and other raptors

Being attacked by domestic dogs, other roaming cats and raccoons

Contracting pests such as fleas, ticks, lice or internal parasites

Contracting infectious diseases such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)

Contact with environmental hazards such as poison ivy

Extreme weather such as severe cold, heavy rainfall, heat waves

Drowning in bodies of water or floods

Stepping on broken glass or other sharps

Secondary rodenticide poisoning

Starvation or dehydration, especially if accidentally trapped in confined spaces such as dumpsters

Theft, injury or death by people with cruel intentions

Ottawa does not have a No Roam Cat bylaw. But By-law No. 2003-077 says cat owners are expected to control their cat’s outdoor activities:

Animal Care and Control By-law.

The following authorities recommend that pet cats not be allowed to roam at large outside:

American Association of Feline Practitioners

Nature Canada (Cats and Birds)

Ontario SPCA and Humane Society

Canadian Veterinary Medical Association

Canadian Federation of Humane Societies

Solutions for taking pet cats outdoors

There are multiple ways that pet cats can enjoy being outside in London without posing a safety risk to themselves or to wildlife. In general, it is recommended that you should introduce cats to these options early in life to socialize them. Adult cats may take longer to train, especially if they are already accustomed to roaming outside.

Option 1: Your cat can wear a harness/leash

Training your cat to wear a harness and leash can enable you to walk your cat just like a dog. We recommend starting to get your cat used to wearing a harness and leash when it is still young and easier to train. Adult cats that have never worn a leash or harness may take awhile to get used to the idea. 

​There are three main styles of cat harness to choose from. Please review this guide from Adventure Cats for recommendations on training your cat to wear a harness and leash outside. Here are instructions for putting a harness on your cat.

It is worth keeping in mind that pet cats that become accustomed to wearing a leash may expect their owners to accompany them outside more regularly. Just like pet dog owners regularly make time in their day for walks, before bringing home a pet cat please consider whether you will be able to meet its needs to be supervised or walked outside. ​

Option 2: Create an outdoor enclosure for your cat

If you have space, cats can be safely contained outdoors using an enclosure. Sometimes called “catios”, enclosures for cats can take many forms and can be designed to suit your space and your cat’s preferences.

When designing your enclosure, make sure it does not leave gaps wide enough for your cat to escape or stick its arms through to catch birds or other wildlife that may approach from outside.

For inspiration on how to build an outdoor enclosure for your cat, check out the following resources:

DIY Catio Plans

Cat Enclosures and Catio Resources from Cats and Birds

Get inspiration from the photo examples below of a deluxe catio in London, Ontario constructed by Mhairi McFarlane and Brent Sinclair:

Option 3: Use a backpack carrier for your cat

Many cats can be easily trained to accept being carried outside by their owner in a backpack carrier. Here are instructions for getting your pet cat accustomed to using a backpack carrier. If carrying a backpack with your cat inside isn’t ideal, try using a baby stroller or wagon with a cat carrier.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I heard that putting a brightly coloured collar or bells on my cat will prevent it from killing wildlife. Is that true?

A: In short, no. There are coloured collars and collar bell products that claim to help alert wild animals to the presence of a nearby cat. However, there is limited evidence for the effectiveness of these methods, and cats fitted with collars or bells will continue to hunt. Some cats fitted with bells have been known to hold the bells still to silence them while hunting. Nesting, fledgling or otherwise immobilized birds will not be able to escape your cat even if they can see the collar from a distance. Therefore, these methods are not recommended for preventing your cat from successfully hunting wildlife.​

Q: I see roaming cats in my yard or neighbourhood, and I am concerned about their welfare and risk to wildlife. What can I do?

A: Ottawa does not have a No Roam Cat bylaw but you contact Ottawa By-law services if a cat is disturbing your property. By-law services may contact the cat owner to request they maintain control of their cat as per the Animal Care and Control By-law.

Q: My neighbour is letting their pet cat roam outside. What can I do to convince them to stop?

A: Pet cat owners’ attitudes about allowing their pet to roam are extremely polarizing. This is an issue that cat and bird lovers alike have strong opinions about, even if not every position is supported by evidence or is in the best interests of cats. If possible, we recommend attempting to initiate a calm, friendly discussion with your neighbour about the issue. Research suggests that emphasizing risks that roaming poses to cats’ safety is more likely to lead to changes in their owners’ behaviour versus emphasizing impacts to wildlife. If you cannot have a conversation, you may wish to send them a letter. Here is a letter template about cats roaming in London that you may use.

Q: Cats are visiting my bird feeders. What should I do?

A: If possible, elevate your feeders high off the ground so that cats cannot reach them. If the same cat is returning persistently, we recommend taking down feeders temporarily until the cat stops returning. Cats may learn to avoid the spot if sprayed with water or persistently chased.