Are you one of the people who tends to leave bowls of cat and dog food outdoors at all times? As strange as it sounds, this seemingly innocent act is one of the most harmful things that can happen to wild animals. Before leaving pet food outside, please consider this:
- Outdoor pet food spreads disease and parasites. Just as one of many examples: have you seen those warnings about opossums carrying typhus? Opossums don’t actually carry or spread it naturally. Typhus is spread by cat fleas, which didn’t exist on opossums until the last decade or two. They caught cat fleas— and the diseases they carry— because they shared food with feral cats at outdoor feeding stations. Other diseases and parasites spread between pets and wildlife include distemper, panleukopenia, parvovirus, leptospirosis, ticks, and more.
- Wild animals don’t get appropriate nutrition from pet food. It’s heartbreaking— not cute— when animals become morbidly obese or develop bone deformities because they have started eating pet food instead of their natural diets. Native animals evolved to eat specific wild foods in time with the seasons. When we create a uniform, artificial food source, they often gorge themselves on it and avoid the natural foods their bodies need.
- Animals kill, or get killed, for associating humans and pets with food. Animals get exterminated when they’re labeled as “nuisances” or “dangerous” because they look for human handouts. Wild animals also get attacked by cats and dogs when they start approaching them looking for the easy meal they expect to be nearby. Even worse, large predators like bears can actually attack and kill humans and pets, because pet owners have trained them to expect food from us.
- Pet food often attracts the wrong animals. Maybe you don’t mind feeding the cute, chubby raccoon in your neighborhood, but he’s not the only one who is going to accept the freebies. Less desirable animals like rats, mice, and cockroaches will also eat pet food. When they cause an infestation at your home or nearby, someone is very likely to use rodenticides to kill them. This creates a chain of poisoning that will harm other predators.
- Outdoor pet food can affect animal migration and dispersal. In some cases, having a lot of available food will mean that wild animals stick around in places where they shouldn’t be. This can mean that young adult animals stay in the area where they were raised and overpopulate the area, leading to disease. Animals can also become dependent on humans because there are an unnaturally large number of animals in a space too small to sustain them.
Please do what’s best for wildlife by always feeding your pets indoors!