Below is the abstract from the article ‘The Australian Excess Cat Population: An Exploration of Cat Admissions and Outcomes to RSPCA Shelters’ written by Corinne Louise Alberthsen. The full article can be found here https://goo.gl/bZzCja
It is estimated that more than 60% of cats admitted to animal shelters in Australia are euthanased. Euthanasia of healthy cats as an outcome to shelter entry is of concern for shelters, councils, and the community. Attempts made by government, welfare agencies, and community organisations to manage both cat entry to shelters and their subsequent euthanasia have achieved limited improvements. The percentage of cats euthanased has remained constant for the past decade, and a lack of fundamental statistical information about cat admission to shelters makes it difficult to understand the extent of the excess cat problem, to develop effective management strategies, and to evaluate the success of strategies employed.
The aim of this thesis was to rigorously examine cat admissions and outcomes at RSPCA shelters throughout Australia. With this information it was possible to begin to address the paucity of available data and establish a nuanced description of the cat population admitted to shelters and the risk of euthanasia. From this, evidence-based recommendations for policy development, preventative measures, and future interventions were developed.
Almost half of RSPCA cat admissions were stray (47%) and, when age, gender, breed, desexed status prior to admission, feral status, and year were accounted for, strays were just as likely as owner-surrendered cats to be rehomed (OR1.1; 95% CI 1.0-1.2: P<0.001). The percentage of cats categorised as desexed prior to admission was high (36%) in comparison to other studies, but low considering that only 47% of owner-surrendered cats were desexed and the reported desexing rate for owned cats is 90% or more. No differences in monthly adult cat admission patterns were observed when compared to December (the month with the highest overall cat intake). However, seasonal admission patterns differed significantly for kitten admissions (regardless of the kitten age definition for each state), with most kittens admitted in the summer months (November – February) (P<0.001). The most common reason for surrender of cats was for owner-related reasons (82%); the most frequent was due to accommodation issues (21% of all owner-related reasons for surrender). Overall, 58% of 195,387 cat admissions included in this research were euthanased as an outcome to admission. The most common reasons were medical (31%) and age (22%).
When shelter practices were scrutinised, it was found that the presence and enforcement of quarantine measures on admission of new cats, the provision of climbing enrichment, and shelter capacity were all significantly associated with the risk of euthanasia. Additionally, from the participants in our study, it was revealed that shelters generally operated on an all or nothing approach to policy and practices. Interestingly, the presence or absence of behavioural assessments for cats, age specific policy, and attitudes of decision makers were not significantly associated with the risk of euthanasia.
One of the important conclusions derived from these findings is that adult cats and kittens should be treated as separate populations, because different forces affect each population in both admission to a shelter and the outcomes of that admission. Concentrating on reducing kitten admissions could reduce numbers euthanased, as excess breeding is a serious problem contributing to the large numbers of cats admitted to shelters. Reducing delayed sterilisation of owned cats may be an important strategy to reduce unwanted kittens. The results of this study also indicate many cats admitted as ‘strays’ are rehomable, are not feral, and are accepting of some human interaction. Given the magnitude of the contribution of stray cats to the shelter population, further research is needed to better understand the stray cat population in the community. Management strategies that target the owned cat population will have limited impact on cat admissions to shelters if many cats admitted are truly stray and supported as ‘semi-owned’ cats in the community. Regardless of cat admission sources and rehomability, the number of reclaimed cats was very low. Accurate data on the presence or absence of a microchip on admission would allow for an assessment of the impact of mandatory microchipping.
While there is clearly a need for more detailed studies of shelter admissions to help further identify strategies that would be most effective in reducing numbers of cats entering shelters and risk of euthanasia in admitted cats, the recommendations developed in this thesis provide a strong starting point, unique in the degree to which it has been informed by rigorous research. Shelters could potentially reduce euthanasia substantially by developing strategies which address specific pathways identified in this thesis. This research has also identified that the establishment and implementation of standardised data collection definitions, categories, and methods would help facilitate meaningful comparisons between studies.