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Tolerant Guardian, Wildlife Hero

April 3, 2024
Emma Onyejekwe

Tolerant Guardian, Wildlife Hero

Being a Registered Veterinary Nurse who is passionate about animal welfare and wildlife, I always strive to do my best to help animals and spread awareness on topics that are important to me. I have a 15 year-old rescued cat called Pansy, who has access to the outdoors, and when I did the Song Bird Survival Trust cat owner quiz, the results showed I am a Tolerant Guardian.

In my career as a veterinary nurse, we often speak to new cat owners about indoor vs outdoor access, which includes the advantages and disadvantages of both. However, I have only recently started talking about the potential impact to wildlife and how we can reduce this. Hunting in cats is often considered a normal and a natural behaviour, however, not all cats are hunters and some may be more proficient than others. Often in the indoor vs outdoor access debate, physical risks are highlighted (eg. road traffic accidents) for outdoor access and it is often the risks to the emotional wellbeing of the cat that are highlighted with indoor-only. Problem behaviours, like scratching furniture can be caused by boredom or frustration and so it is encouraged for indoor-only cat owners to provide a rich and stimulating environment.

Pansy playing- photo by Emma Onyejekwe

When cats display hunting behaviour, they release endorphins. Playing with your cat to encourage them to stalk, pounce and chase can replicate this hunting behaviour and keep them mentally stimulated. Fishing rod toys with feathers can be a good way to mimic prey, but it is important to periodically allow your cat to ‘catch and kill’ the toy to avoid frustration. In the study by Cecchetti and others (2020), there was a 25% decrease in animals captured and brought home by cats when 5-10 minutes of daily play with a feathered toy was introduced. Bonds can be developed between you and your cat during play, and have good effects on both parties’ well-being. This means the welfare for both cats and wildlife can be increased by playing with your cat.

I restrict my cats access to the outdoors by using a lockable cat flap. Cats are most active between dusk and dawn, which is a prime time for most wildlife. Therefore, I set her cat flap to lock at dusk and dawn. Keeping your cat indoors at night can help to keep them safe from dangers like road traffic accidents. On a hot morning in May 2020, I noticed a Blue Tit fledgling on the ground in my garden. The fledgling was fluffed up and looked tired. There was no nest in my garden, so I decided to lock the cat flap and ensure my cat stayed inside. I contacted my local wildlife rescue for advice and placed the fledgling into a shallow tray on our garden table. As I have experience in giving animals rehydration solutions, I offered some to him.

I monitored the fledgling from inside my house for a couple hours. The fledgling started to look brighter and eventually flew off. By keeping my cat inside during this time, he was able to recover safely. In the spring and summer months, it is common to find fledglings hopping on the ground for a few days. Unfortunately, this makes them an easy target for cats, as they are unable to fly away. It is best to keep cats indoors until the fledgling is airborne.

If your cat does catch a small mammal or bird, please take the wildlife casualty to a veterinary practice or wildlife rescue for first aid and emergency treatment. Cats can cause penetrating wounds that are often more extensive than external examination may show and can be contaminated with Pasteurella multocida. Therefore, many cat attack victims are likely to suffer protracted deaths without veterinary care.

My favourite song bird has to be the Robin. Hearing a robin’s bird song when I wake up always brings me joy and seeing one in my garden always brings a smile to my face. I think my love for them may have stemmed from reading Little Robin Red Vest when I was younger.


Emma Onyejekwe

Emma is a registered veterinary nurse who is passionate about wildlife advocacy and animal welfare. She inspires and educates others through her social media channels on all things veterinary and environmental. Emma recently won the London Vet Show's 30 under 30 award of 2023, showing she is a leading force in the veterinary sphere.

Follow Emma on Instagram @thewildlifevetnurse

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