If the Internet has proven anything, it's that people love adorable cats.

If the Internet has proven anything, it's that people love adorable cats. From captioned photos to miscalculated leaps, felines have found a way to raise people's spirits Though pet owners like letting their feline friends enjoy a life outside, the added population can compound the effect cats have on the local food chain and neighborhoods with their charm and antics.

However, this perception can cause people to forget that cats are predators, and can be a deadly force of nature when left outdoors. This includes domestic cats whose owners allow them to roam outdoors.

In fact, letting a cat roam free could be detrimental to the cat's health, and even shorten its life.

"Scientists concur that pet cats should not be allowed to prowl around the neighborhood at will, any more than should a pet dog, horse or potbellied pig," said Daniel Spencer, who works at the McPherson Humane Society. "Cat owners who insist their cats deserve their freedom are not realizing the consequences of such action."

Allowing cats to roam outside may seem like a way to let them express their wilder sides, but it also exposes them to all the dangers present in the environment. This includes fast-moving vehicles and wild animals that may perceive a pet as a threat.

"Cats that are allowed to roam freely are subject to being hit by cars, pick up diseases, get into fights with other cats and larger dogs, and unfortunately there are the animal abusers," Spencer said. "Also, cats can accidentally get into toxic substances like antifreeze or poison a neighbor put out in an attempt to get rid of some other pest. It is important to understand these threats to pet safety at all times, as this is part of being a pet guardian."

Roaming pets can also be detrimental to local prey populations. Cats are responsible for killing more birds and mammals than any other source. Scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that domestic and stray or feral cats kill an average of 2.4 billion birds — mainly song birds people love to hear, and the ones that flutter around bird feeders people put near a picture window. They also kill 12.3 billion mammals a year, including squirrels and rabbits, with a lot of these being babies who are not yet grown enough to be able to escape.

"Cats are finely tuned to hunt; when they see something flutter or scurry through the grass or under a bush, they can’t help but move in for the kill," Spencer said.

The estimated kill rates are so high that the domestic cat is seen as one of the single greatest human-linked threats to wildlife in the nation.

"They simply are not part of the natural food chain," Spencer said. "Cats are actually more of an invasive species, as they were initially introduced into society to control the rodent population."

As devastating as the numbers are of how many animals are killed by domestic cats, stray and feral cats have an even greater impact on neighborhood life. More cats means more competition for territory, and if a domestic cat is not neutered or spayed, it can contribute to a growing wild cat population.

"Communities need to be invested in managing the ever-growing feral cat population resulting from cats breeding with one another, whether the cats are domestic, feral or abandoned pets," Spencer said.

For house cats that wish to spend time outdoors, there are safe alternatives, such as cattios, which are screened in patios for cats and cat terrace window cages. Another alternative is to simply accompany your pet cat outdoors for a supervised outdoor visit.