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GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. -- A new study that suggests cats kill billions of birds and small mammals every year has pitted two familiar foes against each other: cat lovers and bird lovers.

The study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, found cats kill between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion birds and between 6.9 billion and 20.7 billion small mammals every year.

"I was shocked. I knew it would be high, but I had no idea it would be as high as it was," said Paula Zukoff with the Golden Valley Animal Humane Society.

Zukoff said the study only underscores what the humane society believes, cat owners should do their best to keep their pets indoors.

"It's better for the cat. They'll live longer," she said, adding that the average life span for an outdoor cat is roughly 5 years, as compared to 12 years for an indoor cat.

Jerry Bahls agrees with Zukoff's position. As a member of the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis and the National Audubon Society, Bahls respects and admires birds and does what he can to protect them. It's why he's jumping on this latest study to drive home a familiar point.

"Keep the cats indoors. And if we can get that message across, people can have their cats and enjoy them. And we can have our birds and enjoy them also," Bahls said.

Cat lovers have argued online that the study authors were inherently biased toward the birds and set out to make conclusions that were not favorable to felines. The study does point out that most of the hunting is done by feral cats.

As for how much "billions" really amounts to, the study authors suggest the numberaccounts for 15 percent of the total bird population.

Zukoff recommends pet owners consider several tricks to keeping their cats indoors, including using interactive or food-dispensing toys.

"This lets the cat look for its food and hunt around for it, like they would if they were hunting outside," she said.

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