The inherent bias and unhelpfulness in the book ‘Cat Wars’ by Peter Marra and Chris Santella

You can buy the book Cat Wars by Peter Marra and Chris Santella on Amazon. They describe cats as “environmental contaminants like DDT”. They claim that they spread disease and disrupt the ecological balance of the environment. They have a chapter lewdly entitled “Zombie Makers”. They describe how domestic, stray and feral cats spread rabies, the protozoan parasite toxoplasma gondii (toxoplasmosis) and the pathogen responsible for the black death. They say that infections coming from cats can cause schizophrenia in people. They describe it as a severe brain disorder. They are referring to toxoplasmosis. This claim has been proved to be unfounded and promulgated by fanatics who hate cats. A lot was written about that some time ago.

Cat Wars
Cat Wars
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

This is an attack on the domestic cat and it is completely unsurprising to me. They’ve ensured that the reviews on Amazon present them as scientific and precise. There are gushing reviews by ornithologists and bird lovers who state that both these authors have taken a balanced and authoritative approach to reviewing the damage that cats do to the environment and to people.

For example, Joel Greenberg of BirdWatching Magazine states that the book covers the “data corroborating the problems posed by loose cats [and] also the people involved in the story”. They say that the authors interviewed researchers. And, Jack Dumbacher of the Journal of Field Ornithology states that “It took courage, good scholarship and clearly a passion for wildlife for Marra and Santella to draft this thorough review of the cat problem. The authors do a great job of gathering evidence and presenting it thoroughly and authoritatively, yet the book is entertaining and easy to read”.

Both the reviewers are ornithologists, please note, with agendas. And the research that they refer to is invariably based on estimates of the predation of birds by cats. Nobody knows how many birds are killed by cats in America or anywhere else. It is all guesstimates and estimates. This is because the overall figures are based upon local studies. The figures are extrapolated (expanded) up to include the entirety of a country. This is very dangerous and can lead to inaccuracies.


So, if you lean on this data, you are inherently incorporating potential bias. Indeed, some researchers and scientists are themselves bird lovers or ornithologists. In one instance a woman scientist was exposed for writing a biased report about cat predation. Click on this link if you want to read that.

Another reason why the book is liable to be biased is because Marra is the director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Centre. We don’t need a clearer message to understand that there is an agenda behind this book which is to attack the domestic cat. That is why it is called Cat Wars. And the title is a reference to people like me who push back against ornithologists like Marra.


It seems, too, that Marra and Santella, as expected, don’t have a great knowledge about domestic cats. They suggest that if cat owners want to give their animal companions experience of the outdoors “they can get a leash and walk their cats as tens of millions walk their dogs”. That is implying that cats will follow their human caregiver’s on a lead like dogs. They must realise that cats can’t do that. Cats are inherently solitary, independent creatures. Dogs are pack animals. They follow a leader. They must have read stories about people taking cats outside on leads. It can be done with great difficulty but it rarely works well if at all. This is not a practical solution. It is disdainful and offhand as a suggestion.

ASSOCIATED: 44 percent of domestic cats hunt wildlife which includes insects. Birds are not top of the menu. Not all domestic cats hunt. Bird lovers should realise this.

Keeping cats indoors

I am totally in favour of keeping domestic cats indoors full-time. But there has to be a proviso namely that cat owners must ensure that their environment is suitable. This is the problem. People don’t step up their responsibilities and enrich the indoor environment. The result is that cats become bored and sometimes obese. There is a feline obesity epidemic. We know that. Perhaps a better solution is that there should be less cat owners. Quite a significant proportion of cat owners shouldn’t really be cat owners because they can’t act responsibly enough which is why we have feral cats and unregulated informal breeding because some cat owners do not spay and neuter their cats.

I’m all for protecting birds and other wildlife. I don’t like predation by cats more than anybody else. But if you’re going to write a book about domestic cat predation on birds and other wildlife you’ve got to make it honest and genuinely factual. I have not read this book because I don’t need to. I know all the research on predation by cats. I know that it is based upon small-scale studies and extrapolated as mentioned.

If we going to keep cats indoors full-time let’s do it properly. Let’s ensure that all new houses have an option for a built-in catio or a garden enclosure. You could almost say that governments should make it a condition of new build homes that the constructor offers catios to purchasers. There needs to be a serious approach to keeping cats indoors full-time.

It could be argued that the pressure applied by ornithologists in books and articles like the one referred to is changing attitudes towards cat ownership, but is it? I have read that on a worldwide basis 41% of cats are now full-time indoor cats. I’m not sure if this is a true and accurate figure but the percentages are growing. However, it should be made clear that the reason why cat owners keep their cats indoors is not to protect wildlife but to protect their cats. They want peace of mind which comes from keeping their cats safe. The world has a long way to go before they are genuinely involved and interested in wildlife conservation. It is too distant for them. They can’t connect with nature.

This, by the way, is one reason why there is a great reluctance to take positive practical steps to reduce global warming. It is too distant. People don’t believe in it enough. Arnold Schwarzenegger said that climate change activists should focus more on the pollution aspect of the problem rather than bombarding the sceptics with masses of complicated data. If you say that we need to reduce pollution, the consequence of successfully doing that is to reduce global warming.

Of course, I respect the right of ornithologists to fight their corner and try and reduce predation on birds. However, I don’t like inherent bias and I don’t like it when they present the argument as a war. It is unhelpful. It would be far more helpful if bird lovers worked with cat lovers on a common goal to (1) ensure that cat caregiving is carried out responsibly and to the best possible standard in the interest of cat welfare and (2) birds are protected as best as possible.

Also, cat predation should always be viewed in the context of the destruction of the environment and nature by humankind. If you want to protect birds the best way to go about doing it is to tackle the biggest killer of birds first. You prioritise. And the biggest killer of bird life on the planet is humans. I would much prefer if there was greater honesty on that topic. The sort of picture that Marra and Santella paint is that cats are the biggest enemy of birds; that cats are the biggest killers of birds. They are not. It’s people. There needs to be context. This is another example of bias and distortion.

The book Cat Wars is inherently biased as stated in my opinion. But it is time for a rapprochement between ornithologists and cat lovers to work together rather than to foster and promote a war between the two parties.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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