We don’t know how many feral cats there are in the USA. Also stray cats, wandering domestic cats and feral cats are all bundled together. We don’t know what is what. These are “community cats“. This must seriously hamper counting if anyone is actually counting.
The number of free-roaming cats depends on:
- the popularity of cats as pets,
- the attitude of cat owners regarding letting their cats out,
- the proportion of sterilised cats and at what stage in the life of a cat sterilisation takes place,
- the availability of food and shelter and,
- the presence of animal preying on cats.
Depending on the location, anecdotally, I am told that between 10 and 50% of the total cat population taken in by animal control facilities in the United States are feral. That is an interesting statistic albeit a very wide spread. But what it must mean is that between 50 and 90% of the cats taken in by animal control facilities are not feral. That means (1) stray domestic cats and (2) relinquished cats. That seems to be a fair supposition. So, at the top end we seem to have 90% of cats in shelters are domestic cats. I think that should make us think. Because in some shelters 75% of these cats are put down. It is all rather depressing and odd because it goes on year in and year out. In one study in one place in 1997, 63% of cats entering a shelter were “impounded strays”.
A number of reliable studies conducted in the west, south and northest United States have shown that between 9 and 22% of households feed free-roaming cats that they don’t own. So up to about a quarter of households feed feral and stray cats out of the kindness of their hearts. That indicates a sympathy for stray and feral cats from a good section of the population. I would think that any law makers that are considering laws concerning strays and ferals should keep this in mind.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph we don’t know the number of strays and ferals. Figures are estimates. Some experts suggest that the number of free-roaming cats equals the number of owned cats. There are an estimated 80 million domestic cats (owned cats). Other experts believe the figure to be between 25 and 60 million (at 1998 – Patronek). This figure seems to be badly out of date.
The climate has an impact on numbers because warmer weather allows females to produce two to three litters in the year added to which milder winters makes it easier for a full-time outdoor cat to survive (reduced mortality).
The primary factor dictating the dispersion of female free-roaming cats is the availability of food. Secondary factors are “our resources” such as availability of shelter, resting places and competition with other animals. For male cats the another limiting resource with respect to group living is the availability of female cats.