Can You Shoot Feral Cats in the UK?

This is a complicated area. It is hard to arrive at a clear cut conclusion. The major reason for this is because it is difficult to describe with complete certainty a cat as a “feral cat”. An outside cat may be someone’s domestic cat. He may be a stray cat, betwixt-and-between domestic and feral. This is a grey area.

The law concerning domestic cats (someone’s pet) is obviously different to the law concerning true feral cats, which are wild animals. Once again the trouble here is that there are different degrees of wildness in feral cats. This, alone, is almost enough to state with some certainty that you cannot or should not attempt shoot feral cats in the UK.

UK feral cats

UK feral cats

Looking at the law, the overarching law regarding animal welfare in the UK is the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (the Act). In the introduction to the Act there is a description of the phrase “protected animal”. The act protects certain animals.

The act does not protect an animal living in a wild state. However, the Act does protect animals under the control of man even when that control is temporary. People engaged in trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs of feral cats have to be regarded as being in temporary control, in my opinion, of the feral cats under their care. These cats should have an ear tipped to identify them. At a distance you would not see this.

Once again you can see the complications. However, for a true feral cat there is no protection under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 in the UK. No other act regarding animal welfare protects true, 100% feral cats living in the wild.

The question then is whether anyone can shoot a true feral cat. For the relevant information you have to look under “hunting and shooting wildlife” on government websites. At regular intervals on these websites you will see warnings that “you can be fined or jailed for hunting illegally or causing unnecessary suffering to an animal”. This is an important caveat.

You will also need a certificate to use a shotgun, rifle or other firearm. You don’t need a certificate for air rifles up to a certain strength and the same goes for air pistols. You can’t use crossbows or explosives.

True feral cats are not listed under “quarry species and shooting seasons” on the British Association for Shooting and Conservation website. I presume therefore you cannot treat true feral cats as game in the shooting season.

Can you therefore treat feral cats as pests and nuisances and justify shooting them under this criteria?

.22 hunting rifle

.22 hunting rifle

The government states that you can control pests yourself using a licensed firearm but once again they warn that you can be fined or imprisoned if you cause unnecessary harm to any animal. The government recommends that you get professional advice if you don’t know which animals you are permitted to trap or kill. They recommend the British Pest Control Association which lists cats as potential pests. They also include feral cats. They make a very important point about pest control of feral cats and it is this:

They say that if you experience problems with any feral cats or you are unsure, you are advised to contact your local RSPCA shelter. This is because most pest controllers will not deal with cats. This, in effect, is strongly advising that the RSPCA should trap these cats and treat them humanely.

That last sentence once again strongly infers that even pest controllers will not deal with feral cats because of the reasons mentioned earlier on in this article namely that you don’t know if a cat is feral, stray or domestic. And if a pest control business inadvertently kills someone’s domestic cat thinking that they are killing a feral cat than that operator would be exposed to a criminal charge under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Criminal Damage Act 1971.

I believe that I’ve drilled down by a process of elimination, to the conclusion that although a person can, with the proper licenses, shoot a feral cat under certain strict conditions concerning pest control, it would be unwise to do so because that person would be taking the risk, the very real risk, of committing a serious criminal offence for which they could be imprisoned for up to 51 weeks and/or fined up to £20,000.

Sarah Hartwell says that “landowners” (most commonly farmers I’ll presume) can shoot feral cats when on their land. I’d suggest that this falls under pest control but this does not absolve farmers from mistakingly killing someone’s pet cat which could lead to a criminal prosecution.

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Can You Shoot Feral Cats in the UK? — 10 Comments

  1. It’s maddening to me why laws pertaining to ferals in any country can’t be clear and concise. The waters are muddied and subject to individual interpretation.

  2. You would do well to educate yourself on the legal definition of “domestic cat”. It is any cat that was bred by humans to be a different species than their wild native-cat source species. Your domestic, stray, and feral cats are all the same species, and by law are all considered “domestic cats”. This must be what is confusing you so. If you want to insist that feral cats are not stray cats nor domestic cats, then you’ll be forever wondering why people can legally kill all 3 types of them for you being in violation of the law.

    • You comment is welcome but is incorrect in my view. Domestic cats are quite different vis-a-vis the law in the UK to feral cats. They are someone’s property.

      • Your view isn’t what counts. It is how they are defined by law in all countries. They use the scientific definition of “domestic animal” when making laws, not the layman’s muddled interpretation of what is or is not a domesticated animal. The legal and scientific definition is the only opinion that matters here. But you are correct that they are considered “property”. This is why nobody can sue another for more than the market-value of their cat for the death of their cat. (On today’s market a cat’s value is often less than $5.) And in turn, the person being sued can sue the cat-owner for $thousands in damages caused by a person’s cat.

  3. People have a huge misconception about laws concerning killing animals. You aren’t given the right to kill animals with laws, you can only be denied the right to kill certain animals with laws. You were born a hunter/gatherer species. You were born with the RIGHT to kill animals due to your genetics alone. Laws are only written to help preserve endangered species, or to prevent over-hunting of animals with our regulated-game-animal laws and hunting laws. (And, of course, to respect the land-rights of others.) If an animal is not listed under game-animal laws, endangered-species protection laws, or that new one called “The Migratory Bird Treaty Act”, then you have every right to kill that animal — you were born with the right to kill that animal if you feel that it is in your best interest for the survival of you as a human hunter/gatherer species. You can’t be an omnivore unless you were born with the god/nature-given RIGHT to kill animals. This is why so many states have clarified that with their small-game-hunting laws on the books — allowed year-round without even any license to hunt or a license to own any gun — as long as you are doing it on your own land (so as not to infringe on the desires of the next land-owner’s use for their land). Even urban hunters are surprised to hear about this, having grown-up in urban rental units all their lives. They don’t know you can hunt year-round (unregulated small-game species) if you do it on your own land — no license even required, even for a gun.

    • Two points (a) America is not the UK. We have a different mentality and (b) you are living in the 18th century. Nowadays hunting is so carefully controlled in the UK that the so called right that you refer to is wrong.

      • Then you simply don’t understand nature or even your own identity of being a part of nature. There’s nothing I can do about that. You have to know why you evolved into the species that has the genetics you do, and why you were born to eat both meat and plants. That is not something that you can define with your beliefs or laws, it just “is”. This is why so many “animal loving” people hate themselves and all other humans, they just can’t accept who they really are.

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