AVMA Collections - Feral cats summary

AVMA Collections

Single-topic compilations of the information shaping our profession

Collection summary: Feral cats

August 2010

Populations of unowned free-roaming cats exist throughout the world. The number of unowned free-roaming cats in the United States is unknown, but is suspected to rival that of pet cats (73 million in 2000) and to contribute substantially to cat overpopulation.

Considerable controversy surrounds methods for controlling free-roaming cats, particularly identification of the option that is most practical, effective, and humane.

As issues involving feral cats become more commonly encountered in practice, veterinarians are increasingly challenged to provide appropriate solutions. Articles in this collection reflect the current views and study findings related to feral cat concerns.

In the first section, Management Strategies, the findings of a number of experts are presented pertaining to the pros and cons of trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs and alternative strategies.

  • Authors of the first article examined a program combining TNR with adoption where feasible, and found the feral cat population reduced by 66% over 11 years.

  • In the study presented in the second article, the authors developed models for measuring outcomes of TNR programs. They found that 71-94% of cats in a population must be neutered to stop population growth, and that TNR efforts must be focused on well-defined populations to be effective.

  • Authors of the third article used a matrix model to analyze literature data pertaining to the biology of feral cat populations, and they found euthanasia more effective than return in reducing populations.

  • The fourth article contains findings of a study of time and costs involved in live trapping of feral cats. The authors found that live trapping protocols used were effective in removal of cats, and that a period of acclimation to the traps prior to trapping was relatively expensive and unnecessary.

In the second section, Characteristics of feral cat populations, findings are presented from researchers who analyzed feral cat populations and the people who care for them.

  • The researchers who conducted the study presented in the first article found that cat pregnancies occurred throughout the year, with the highest incidence in spring. They concluded that the reproductive capacity of feral cats is high.

  • Authors of the second article also found cat pregnancies occurred throughout the year, with 47% of cats pregnant in spring and 4% or fewer in winter. Authors concluded that neutering a large numbers of cats is feasible and can be done safely.

  • By means of a survey of over 100 cat caretakers, authors of the third article found 84% of feral cat caretakers were female, and that the primary reasons cited for providing care were sympathy and love of animals. The authors concluded that the human-animal bond between feral cats and their caretakers must be taken into consideration in developing a management program.

  • In a survey of households in a college community, the authors of the fourth article found that 12% of households fed feral cats and of those, 43% did not own pets. The authors concluded that control efforts must include the general public to be effective, not just pet owners.

  • A survey conducted in Ohio revealed that 78.7% of households in Ohio reported seeing free-roaming cats, as reported by the author of the fifth article. The author further reported that attitudes toward free-roaming cats varied widely depending on residential area and whether or not the respondent owned cats. She concluded that statewide approaches to regulation may not work.

  • Authors of the sixth article sought to quantify the volume of outdoor fecal deposition attributable to feral cats, and found that owned cats were responsible for the majority of outdoor fecal deposition that could be attributed to cats as a whole.

The third section, Disease prevalence, contains findings of researchers who investigated key indicators of feral cat health.

  • Authors of the first article found that overall prevalence of FeLV and FIV in feral cats in North Carolina and Florida was similar to prevalence rates reported for the United States. They also found that FIV seroprevalence was significantly higher in males, and that seropositivity for FeLV and FIV were not associated.

  • The second article presents findings that the baseline health status of feral cats was similar to that of pet cats. The authors also discovered that feral cats had lower PCV values, higher neutrophil counts, and higher seroprevalence of antibodies against Bartonella henselae and Toxoplasma gondii, as compared with pet cats.

In the fourth section, Clinical considerations, the results of studies related to clinical management of feral cats are presented.

  • Authors of the first article assessed the responses of feral cats to vaccination at the time of neutering and found that overall antibody titers were higher 10 weeks after vaccination. They also found that some cats had protective titers before vaccination, indicating that the health status of feral cats may be better than generally believed.

  • The second article presents findings of a study of the use of the anesthetic combination of tiletamine, zolazepam, ketamine, and xylazine for neutering feral cats. The authors found that anesthetic protocol for feral cats to be both safe and practical.

The fifth section, Viewpoints, contains the text of presentations delivered at the AVMA Animal Welfare Forum, "Management of Abandoned and Feral Cats," in 2004.

  • The author of the first article presented the American Bird Conservancy point of view of the management of feral cats. She stated that free-roaming cats probably kill hundreds of millions of birds each year, and concluded that TNR is not the best solution for wildlife.

  • The author of the second article stated that returning cats after trapping and neutering is effectively reabandonment, and suggested that euthanasia may be more humane.

  • In the third article, the author argued that TNR results in reabandonment of cats and is not morally justifiable. He concluded that enclosed cat sanctuaries may be the best solution.

  • The authors of the fourth article concluded that TNR may be the most practical option, given that adoption is not a feasible solution on a large scale and that cat sanctuaries are filled to capacity.

  • Finally, the author of the fifth article concluded that TNR can work in intensively managed programs, but that no single solution will solve all feral cat challenges.

The following materials are provided for your reference in the sixth section, Guidelines:

  • "The Association of Shelter Veterinarians veterinary medical care guidelines for spay-neuter programs"

  • "The 2006 American Association of Feline Practitioners Feline Vaccine Advisory Panel Report"

  • "AVMA Euthanasia Guidelines"

These are just some of the highlights of the information to be found in the "Feral cats" collection. We hope you will find this resource useful as you address feral cat management in your practice.