Why aren’t cat owners responsible for all the wild birds their pets kill?

A newspaper journalist questioned why cat owners are not made responsible for the wild birds killed by their cat. There is a huge amount of discussion on the predation of birds by domestic cats and how to stop it. There is very little discussion on whether it is a good idea to make cat owners responsible under the law. This indicates to me that governments instinctively feel that it would be unworkable to try and do it.

If cat-lovers really care about animals they should face up to what their pets do (Telegraph Journalist)

Cat looking at bird outside
Cat looking at bird outside. Photo: Reddit.com
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

It is illegal to shoot the majority of wild birds in the UK but there are exceptions (source: RSPB). What I’m saying here is that it is illegal for people to kill birds and therefore why isn’t it illegal when their cats kill birds? Cats are owned by people and you could argue that they are acting on behalf of their owner. Or their owner negligently lets them kill birds and therefore the owner is vicariously responsible. This is a very good argument. There is a big difference between how the law treats dogs and cats.

Historical context

Historically, the voting public and their governments have allowed cats a lot of freedom. The default position is to allow cats to roam freely and do as they please. This is changing as we all know. There’s more cat confinement and a real concern about feline predation but the historical context is important. It still has a bearing on the law relating to domestic cat ownership. We are in a transition period. Things are changing but this historical freedom of movement affects current legislation.

Dogs versus cats

When a dog attacks a person the owner of that dog is responsible. And people accept it. If there are two people walking down a sidewalk, one with a cat on a lead and the other with a dog on a lead, and both animals jump up and attack a passerby, you could strongly argue that on both occasions the owner of the companion animal is responsible. But are they responsible under the law?

In the UK, and I suspect in most other countries, all owners are responsible for their dogs and under UK legislation it is illegal for a dog to the “out-of-control” which means when they bite or attack someone. The law is clear.

Cat watching birds on TV
Cat watching birds on TV. Photo in public domain.

With respect to cats, the law is far less clear. In the USA, for example, including California, they often have strict liability laws concerning dog attacks but cats are treated differently. Liability laws regarding cat attacks on people are not as strict. So, if in the example above, you are attacked by a cat, you might have to show that the owner knew that their cat was dangerous if you wanted to sue for compensation. There is no overarching law about “dangerous cats” as there is in the UK about “dangerous dogs”.

The point that I am making is that the law treats cats and dogs differently with respect to attacks on people. Cats are given more leeway. And in any case, they are less dangerous than dogs although cat bites can cause real harm if neglected. And also, there are far more dog bites on people than cat bites on people therefore a law is required. But this leniency towards cats seems to extend into their predatory behaviour.

Bird killed by my cat
Bird killed by cat. Pic in public domain.

Natural behavior

A root cause as to why cat owners are not responsible for their cats’ predation on birds is because it is considered by lawmakers to be natural behaviour. It is the natural world. We allow nature to take its course. We don’t want to interfere with it.

So, it is a different scenario when a cat attacks a bird and kills it compared to when a cat attacks a person and bites them. In the law treats these situations differently. Also, an underlying issue here is the fact that humans value human life as more important than animal life.

Valuing wildlife

If a dog attacked a bird the dog owner would not be vicariously liable. Perhaps this is the central issue. Humankind does not value wildlife highly enough to protect it from cat and dog attacks. Individuals may have a case for compensation but there’s no statutory law to protect wildlife from attacks by companion animals as I understand it in most countries.

Endangerment of bird species

And another issue with respect to cats attacking birds, is that there is no evidence, despite the huge number of studies, that such attacks threaten the survivability of anyone bird species. There is an impact on bird numbers clearly but these attacks don’t make bird species endangered. Therefore, there is a lack of urgency to deal with them under the law.

The point I’m making is that if domestic cat attacks on birds were so severe that bird species were endangered solely because of cat attacks then there is no doubt in my mind that laws would be created which made owners responsible. Or there would be some other way to protect birds by for example confining cats to the home. This is happening at the moment and is a better way of protecting birds rather than making a person personally liable.


There is another argument too. A lot of predations of birds by domestic cats occurs out of sight. We have no idea where is happening and when it’s happening. It’s impossible to enforce a law which makes a person responsible for their cat’s bird kills. Such a law would be unenforceable and unworkable. That alone is a very strong reason for not making people responsible.

Animal lovers

The same journalist says that a lot of cat owners are animal lovers. True. But he questions whether a person can be an animal lover and accept the killing of animals by their cat. I disagree because it is natural for predators to kill animals and we have to accept it. Although it can be difficult for some cat owners.

cat in backyard hunting

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

35 thoughts on “Why aren’t cat owners responsible for all the wild birds their pets kill?”

  1. And there’s me thinking it’s all about the eyes, forward facing predator, side facing prey. Of course we are not herbivores. You can choose what you eat but it doesn’t change the fact you have been designed to eat meat. He’s right about the teeth, we have them for a reason. It’s not fair on a cat to force it to be a vegetarian.

  2. here’s a bit of medical research that shows just how ingenious God really is.
    It was no problem for Him to design all creatures to be herbivores.

    From: Researchers at St. Louis’ Washington University School of Medicin:
    Antiviral Agent Shows Promise in a More Secure Blood-Brain Barrier
    Akin to the way chainmail’s tight weave repels an attacking sword blade, the blood-brain barrier keeps guard of our brain by involving the capillaries in a kind of biological weave that’s too restrictive to allow most pathogens to pass through. The system is ingeniously designed to prevent large molecules …

  3. You might want to get your nose out of your stinky hole and stop calling God a liar!

    God made all creatures to be herbivores – the few that eat meat today do so because they carry the Pre-Flood Nephilim DNA just as there are men and women who carry it.

  4. It’s so nice to know then, that if some free roaming dog tears one of your cats apart, that it’s not the fault of the dog’s owner either — by using the very same twisted logic that you all love to self-deceptively wallow in. (Then you wonder why people see you as crazy self-serving morons.)

  5. Humans are herbivores!
    God made all the creatures herbivores too!
    And that included the TRex and the lions and tigers!

      1. No, I’m perfectly serious!
        God did make all the creatures herbivores and there are herbivorous lions, bears, dogs and cats today.

        It is you who is taking the urine and calling God a liar.

        1. You might want to stick your nose into more than just that one book that you’ve tried to rely on all your life.

          Did you know that even deer, a TRUE herbivore, will occasionally kill and eat meat for required nutrients? So too will steer and a whole host of other animals that are biologically classified as “true herbivores”. Even some butterflies will feast on the blood from wounds on animals.

          http : / / io9 . com / field-cameras-catch-deer-eating-birds-wait-why-do-deer-1689440870

          Even real herbivores think that human “vegans” are mentally ill.

  6. In addition to using apple cider vinegar; I bathe my older female cat with it [ diluted in the tub; and she doesn’t get bladder infections anymore !
    The vinegar kills the yeast infections which cause bladder problems in humans and cats.

    ftnt: I normally do not recommend bathing a cat, but she is a rescue and has a hormone imbalance and cannot clean herself properly. Theo is 11 yrs.of age. and does not like the taste of pickles lol-

  7. Yes Michael, that is true.
    Another remedy is to drink 3-tablespoons of Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar twice per day.It is easier to drink if poured into a cup of celestial seasonings hot tea.Look up all of the uses for apple cider vinegar. Cleanses the inside and kills bacterial infections as well on the skin. Eva

  8. Michael, Hang in there-you’ll be O.K. I have done this fasting program two to three times per month, since I was sixteen years of age; to keep active and healthy.I would not assume to know why you are, but fasting helps cleanse the body and give your system a much needed rest. Good Luck and Happy meditations.

    1. Thanks for the support. I don’t know how you can do it three times per month. I am gagging for food permanently! I am doing it to see if it boosts my immune system to get rid of a low level chronic infection that antibiotics can’t shift. Apparently bone marrow produces stem cells when fasting. These help the body fight disease. That, I believe, is the theory.

  9. Thanks Michael_ and your right, we can buy our food at the grocers. Those of us in developed countries anyway. Have a good weekend.

  10. I have 4 cats and they all like to hunt as cats do.My big boy Foxy loves to catch rats and kill them which is good to keep the rodent population down.Mice are popular with the others and of course birds are too.I have taken a few of the injured birds straight to a vet because it does upset me to see a bird injured.On two occasions the birds were okay but because they were classed as a pest the vet said they will more than likely be put to sleep.So the cat has hunted a bird which is a pest anyway like a rat or a mouse.The cat isn’t the bad guy,they don’t know if the animal they are hunting are a pest or an endangered species.

  11. I will never forget my Maine Coon Samson [ orange and white} with his sweet paternal nature around small animals. He was so tender and protective whenever encountering a nest of baby rabbits, or other babies in my yard.Two days after this last nest was found-I picked up a baby and it screamed. His ears perked up this time.Later I discovered one dead baby rabbit [ without a head mind you; & I didn’t blame my cat because quite frankly_I thought the neighbor cat was the culprit !
    Samson goes out in our garden after dark sometimes, and I am never far away. The following evening I called-no kitty so I grabbed a flashlight to look for him. Imagine my dismay and horror when The light caught a large orange & white cat with a bloody face & a baby rabbit between his front paws and a look of pure ecstasy on my cat Samson’s guilty face !!! I teared up but was not about to take it away from him. This was his catch.

    1. Nice story. We have to accept nature. It is the way it is and predation is part of the cat no matter how much it might be suppressed by domestication. But humans only hunt for entertainment today. There is no hard-wired need for it.

      1. Cats are domesticated animals. They are not part of the natural predatory animals in an environment. Allowing domesticated Cats outdoors to kill anything is not the way nature was designed to work. If you let your Cats free range, please dont be one of those people who maintain a bird feeder to attract birds. Common sense goes a long way sometimes.

  12. Why do people continue to pick on cats for bird kill? Let’s look at bird kill from a different angle – why aren’t all the owners of windmills responsible for all the birds they kill? Why aren’t the manufacturers of Agent Orange and DDT responsible for all the bird species they wiped out years ago (read the book Silent Spring)? Why aren’t the manufacturers of the nicotine based pesticides responsible for all the birds they are killing? (in addition to the bees)…. Lots of things are killing large numbers of birds – not only cats.

    1. Yes, yes, yes! I have said this over and over again in many articles. Why are cats vilified like this? Perhaps it is the heavy negative publicity by ornithologists, government officials etc. on the internet, while the big companies who kill birds and wildlife in far greater numbers know how to mislead the public and to hide their misdeeds and how they damage the environment.

      Thanks for commenting, Kathryn.

      1. Cats make convenient scapegoats for many organisations. Their surveys and studies are skewed to make it look as though cats are the main cause of all bird deaths. I don’t know why they continue to lie about this because it’s doing the birds themselves no favours if we don’t tackle the real cause. We humans are destroying birds’ natural habitats and food sources.

        I find it curious that cat hating bird lovers never mention chickens who are killed in their millions every single day for us to eat. Pigeons are poisoned in cities worldwide because they are considered a nuisance. Why haven’t these lobby groups exerted sufficient pressure on the Cypriot and Maltese authorities to stop the illegal trapping of migrating birds?

      2. Thank you Michael! I think cats are more obvious, we see them more than the invisible yet documented effects of the pesticides, windmills, etc. I used to think windmills were a good alternative for power until I read about all the birds they kill, including our protected eagles!

  13. I love animals so it does upset me whenever any of my cats have caught a bird or a mouse. However I also respect the fact that they are predators and only fulfilling the role nature designed them for.

    I know that bird conservation organisations in America and elsewhere have demonised cats, but the R.S.P.B. do not. They state on their web site “It is likely that most of the birds killed by cats would have died anyway from other causes before the next breeding season, so cats are unlikely to have a major impact on populations.”

    I feed wild bird several times a day (at home and work) and hope that by providing food all year round, that I’ve helped some birds who might not have survived otherwise. At home I keep my cats indoors for an hour after I’ve put bird food out, to give the birds chance to eat in peace.

  14. Harvey Harrison

    “”When cats prey on animals it is nature’s way. To outlaw the predation of birds by cats would make an act of nature illegal”‘ You put your finger right on it Michael. All biologists agree that cats are a whisker away from the wild and retain all of their wild instincts. This would be another example of human arrogance and thinking they know better than nature.

  15. Sandra Murphey, No. CA, USA

    I agree with Michael’s points, and have recently said basically the same thing to a member of a local yahoo group called Stray Pet Network.

    A woman was promoting the “Bib” which hangs around the cat’s neck, and prevents them from getting birds. She also cited research about how cats are decimating the bird population. I said it must cause some stress to the cat to wear this thing, and that if there’s a concern about cats hunting birds, the cats should be kept indoors.

    As animal lovers, we’re aware that most animals are predators, and are also prey. Is it up to humans to stop this behavior wherever it exists? Notice how the wildlife photographers/videographers stay out of the behavior of animals in the wild, though they witness the killings? It’s true that these animals are usually killing for food, but many times it’s for territory.

    I know that when Mitzy catches a bird or mouse, it’s not for food, it’s hardwired in her to chase and catch small moving objects. I admit to rescuing a bird recently, but not a mouse….

    I am an animal lover, but I’m selective in my rescue efforts. There may be other animals I might not rescue from my cat, but these are what come to mind. She also catches moths and other flying insects. Honestly, I don’t try to rescue all life that she tries to kill.

    When I lived in Hawaii, it was birds, mice, and geckos.
    Since my cats were indoor/outdoor, I had very little control over what they hunted. Once in awhile I’d see evidence of what was left of a mouse on the floor when I got up in the morning. I was actually thankful that they killed it, since I didn’t want to raise a family of mice in my kitchen.

    1. I have been around cats for over 50 years. The number of birds that have suffered at their hands has been minimal compared to the number of outside cats. One bird was even brought to me as a “birthday” present the day before my birthday. It was late in the evening and time for the cat to come inside. When my husband opened the door, Arnold came running into the house with a live bird and let it loose to fly around. We had lots of fun trying to catch him and put him out. Arnold was not happy; he had to miss the fun when we closed him up in the bathroom. 😀

      As far as the “bib” idea: That is very dangerous for the cat. Cats like to be able to go through heavy brush and fences. Anything around their neck is a death sentence if they get hung up while trying to go these places. I hope no one uses them.

  16. To look at this another way, say for example you are out in the Garden and your cat is playing nearby, suddenly the cat leaps in the air and lands with a bird between it’s front paws, do you A. Dismiss it as an act of nature and let the cat get on with it? or B. Leap up and try to rescue the bird? If the answer is B and I suspect a lot of people would answer B, then you already feel responsible for your cat killing birds. Just my thoughts.

    1. Nice thought and a nice refinement on what I have said. I might add that to the article! I guess we do feel responsible and discharge that responsibility when we can.

  17. My opinion is that the journalist is either an idiot or enjoys starting arguments. Cats eat meat whether it is in the form of processed cat food or provided fresh by nature. End of story.

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