While the impact of feral cats on Australian native wildlife populations in natural environments is well-documented, there is no scientific evidence that domestic cats (cats that live in the vicinity of people), have any viability or conservation impacts at a population level on native wildlife. In fact, Australian population studies have not found a measurable effect of domestic cats on native wildlife (Barratt 1998, Grayson 2007, Lilith 2010, Maclagan 2018). An ongoing issue is that feral cat impacts are often wrongly attributed to domestic cats, even though these are two distinct and geographically separate populations of cats with different behaviour and ecology.
Feral cats live and reproduce in the wild and are never found where people live or work. Feral cats are not the subject of nuisance complaints and they do not enter shelters or pounds. In contrast, Domestic cats live among people and are either owned, semi-owned (receive food from people intentionally) or unowned (receive food unintentionally from people such as from food waste bins). Domestic cats are sometimes called stray cats if they don’t have an identified owner or microchip.
False blame is harmful and prevents a resolution to the free-roaming cat issue
Despite the lack of scientific evidence, domestic cats in Australia still receive significant blame for negative impacts on native wildlife populations. False blame for wildlife impacts directed at domestic cats is harmful because it contributes to the implementation of ineffective domestic cat management strategies and can be used as a justification for lethal approaches to domestic cats. This perpetuates the unnecessary and pointless killing of many healthy cats and kittens which causes devastating psychological damage to staff and community residents involving depression, traumatic stress and increased risk of suicide. In addition, this lethal approach does not reduce the overall number of free-roaming cats overtime as the population quickly replenishes to original levels (Baran 2009, Reeve 2005, Rohlf 2005, Rollin 2011, Tiesman 2015, Whiting 2011, Lazenby 2015, Miller 2014, NSW Animal Seizures – Pound Data Reports).
False blame can also promote the use of inhumane killing methods; be used as a justification for cruelty towards cats, increasing pain and suffering; and be used as an argument for mandatory cat containment which is not an effective strategy for reducing free-roaming cats or associated issues such as potential wildlife predation.
What is the main threat
Habitat loss is recognised as the main threat to Australian native wildlife populations (Australia State of the Environment Report 2021). In contrast to domestic cats, population studies have found that habitat loss does have a measurable effect on Australian native wildlife populations.
What is Effective
Habitat preservation and prevention of land clearing for human use such as urban development and agriculture is likely to be the most effective strategy to protect Australian native wildlife. Habitat preservation should be combined with Community Cat Programs, i.e., high-intensity free desexing of owned and semi-owned stary cats targeted to areas of high cat intake or complaints. These programs significantly reduce the number of unwanted kittens born, free-roaming cats and associated issues such as nuisance or potential wildlife predation.
Additional effective strategies include: Bed-time feeding – feeding pet cats their evening meal inside after securing them inside for the night, wildlife road safety measures, and targeted protection of threatened and endangered species (e.g., exclusion fencing).
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Bedtime feeding of cats is recommended as a highly effective way to assist cat owners at minimal to no additional cost to keep owned pet cats safely inside at night and prevent potential wildlife predation. This feeding involves feeding cats inside at bedtime and ensuring all doors and windows are shut for the night, providing owners with a way to safely confine their cat in the house/dwelling overnight. Read more about this by clicking this button.