Unrestrained Domestic and Feral Cats


  • Increase communication, education and outreach with cat owners and cat advocates.

Jim Williams
Feral cat
Conservation Concern: Following habitat loss and strike hazards, unrestrained cats--including stray, feral, free roaming domestic and outdoor--are the biggest source of human caused mortality for birds and other small wildlife. Cats are recognized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as one of the worst invasive species, with documented impacts on 254 threatened, near threatened and extinct bird species worldwide. Estimates vary on how many birds are killed annually, with fatalities based primarily on cat prey returns by owners. Species most vulnerable to cat predation include: ground-nesting birds, tree nesting species during the fledging period, and birds en-route during migration when they are exhausted and unfamiliar with an area. The standard methods of declawing, placing a bell on a cat, or ensuring the cat is well fed do not deter predation.

Cat depredation on wild birds is a growing problem. Over the last 40 years, the number of pet cats in the United States has increased threefold to a current total of approximately 90 million. Approximately 65% of pet cats are allowed outdoors for at least part of the day, resulting in approximately 60 million outdoor cats. It is estimated that there are an equal number of feral cats, resulting in between 120-160 million free-roaming cats in the United States alonexlix. Cat populations are increasing while nearly one-third of the more than 800 species of birds in the U.S. are endangered, threatened, or in significant decline.

Conservation Strategy: Finding solutions to controlling unrestrained cats must involve dialogue among all stakeholders and especially effective communication with cat advocates. The Wildlife Society recently initiated efforts to develop a coalition of federal and state partners and non-governmental organizations to share information and develop a consensus position on feral-cat policy. This effort is a very important step toward combating the problem of cat predation.

Trap-Neuter-Release is an Unworkable Solution

Growing numbers of cities, towns, and animal shelters, including the Animal Control Center in District 7 of Saint Paul, are adopting trap-neuter-release (TNR) programs to manage overabundant populations of stray, feral, and abandoned cats. Cat advocacy groups present TNR as a humane solution, because cats receive food, water, and shelter. Because the cats are meant to be trapped, sterilized, vaccinated, and returned to the colony, proponents of TNR claim this approach will eventually reduce overall numbers; however, research shows otherwise. In order to stop population growth, between 70 and 80% of the cats in any given colony need to be neutered and the population needs to be closed. Unfortunately, TNR colonies often become dumping grounds for unwanted pets, and because it's impossible to sterilize and vaccinate all feral cats in an area, populations most often remain stable or increase over time.

Voluntary Incentives and Regulatory Requirements

Because cat depredation pressure on birds is not just a feral cat issue, programs like Cats Indoorsl, developed by the American Bird Conservancy, can be an effective means of reducing the impact of "owned" cats to wildlife. Likewise, ordinances that set cat containment restrictions, require up-to-date vaccinations, and establish responsible spaying and neutering guidance for domestic cats, have also been successfully developed and implementedli. Advocating keeping cats indoors and investigating the practicality of creating a cat ordinance within the metro area would not only benefit birds, it would be good for the health and safety of cats as well.

Conservation Actions: Free Roaming and Feral Cats

  • Municipal governments should not support or encourage or permit Trap, Neuter and Release programs
  • Promote the American Bird Conservancy's Cats Indoors Program
  • Promote pet ownership responsibility through work with the humane society and local and national pet stores
  • Investigate the feasibility of cat ordinances at a local level
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