Free-roaming Abandoned and Feral Cats

Comment on this policy

The AVMA recognizes a mutual goal of veterinarians, humane groups and wildlife conservation entities is to reduce the number of free‐roaming abandoned and feral cats in a humane and ethical manner. It therefore actively encourages collaborative efforts to identify humane and effective alternatives to the destruction of healthy cats for animal control purposes, while minimizing their negative impact on native wildlife and public health. 

Millions of these free‐roaming abandoned and feral cats exist in the United States. Most of these cats will suffer premature mortality from disease, starvation, weather extremes, or trauma, or euthanasia. Negative impacts are not limited to the cats themselves. Free‐roaming abandoned and feral cats are non‐native predators and cause considerable wildlife destruction and ecosystem disruption, including the deaths of hundreds of millions of birds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. They also pose a threat to public health. Zoonotic concerns include viral (e.g. rabies), bacterial (e.g. Yersinia pestis, Francisella tularensis, Campylobacter spp., Bartonella spp.), fungal (e.g. Microsporum canis), and parasitic (e.g. Cryptosporidium spp., Toxacara cati, Toxoplasma gondii, Cheyletiella spp.) diseases. 

The AVMA recognizes that multiple approaches have been suggested to reduce the population of free‐roaming abandoned and feral cats. Currently there is no single solution that effectively addresses all aspects of the problem in every situation. Any interventions to manage the problem of free‐roaming abandoned and feral cats should be well thought out, with consideration given to the welfare of the cats and wildlife themselves, the ecosystem in which the intervention will be conducted, the expertise and abilities of those implementing the intervention, societal and cultural attitudes, and public health.


Public education about the risks posed by free‐roaming abandoned and feral cats, prevention through the responsible care of privately owned cats, and various management approaches directed toward existing abandoned and feral cat populations is critical. Specific educational elements include:

• The welfare of these cats may be significantly diminished. Their life expectancy is radically reduced due to death from trauma, disease, starvation, and weather extremes. These same factors may also contribute to an overall poor quality of life.

• Feline abandonment and feral cat populations adversely affect wildlife, ecosystems, and public health.

• Responsible care of privately owned cats is an effective preventative. This includes appropriate identification, vaccination, sterilization, and confinement.

Encouragement of State and Local Ordinances

The AVMA strongly supports reducing and controlling the number of free‐ roaming abandoned and feral cats through humane capture by local health departments, humane societies, and animal control agencies. Free‐roaming abandoned and feral cats that are not in properly managed colonies should be removed from their environment and treated in the same manner as other abandoned and stray animals in accordance with local and state ordinances. State and local agencies should adopt and enforce ordinances that:

• Prohibit the abandonment of owned cats.

• Require sterilization of all cats adopted from humane organizations and animal control agencies.

• Require rabies vaccination.

• Require microchip identification of all owned cats and cats in managed colonies.

• Require cats in managed colonies be ear tipped when spayed or neutered.

• Encourage owners to keep owned cats indoors, in an outdoor enclosure, or on an attended leash.

• Prohibit public feeding of intact free‐roaming abandoned and feral cats.

• Prevent establishment of managed cat colonies in wildlife‐sensitive ecosystems.

Non‐lethal Strategies

AVMA encourages the use of non‐lethal strategies as the initial focus for control of free‐roaming abandoned and feral cat populations. Public, private, and not‐for‐profit humane organizations and individuals must make every effort to promote adoption of acceptable unowned cats and implement sterilization programs. Control of free‐ roaming abandoned and feral cats may be improved when:

• State and local agencies provide significantly more funding for animal control agencies.

• Concerted and sustained public educational campaigns highlight the problems associated with free‐roaming abandoned and feral cats, as well as effective efforts toward their control.

• An environmentally safe, easily administered, and effective nonsurgical contraceptive is developed.

The AVMA recognizes that managed colonies are controversial. However, properly managed programs can improve quality of life for these cats through better nutrition, vaccination to prevent disease, spaying and neutering to reduce unwanted litters, euthanasia of sick and debilitated cats, and adoption of healthy kittens. The goal of colony management should be continual reduction and eventual elimination of the colony through attrition. Appropriately managed colonies also have the potential to significantly decrease risk to public health, wildlife, and ecosystems. For colonies not achieving attrition and posing active threats to the area in which they are residing, the AVMA does not oppose the consideration of euthanasia when conducted by qualified personnel, using appropriate humane methods as described in the AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals.


The AVMA encourages research:

• To develop an environmentally safe and effective oral or parenteral contraceptive vaccine.

• To determine efficacy of current models and development of new methods for management of free‐roaming abandoned and feral cats.

• To learn more about the health of free‐roaming abandoned and feral cats.

• Into the origin of free‐roaming abandoned and feral cats such as animal abandonment by the public.

• That better defines the impact of free‐roaming cats on native wildlife populations.