Feral Cats and their Management

Feral Cat - New Jerusalem Monastery Istra, Moscow Oblast, Russia - Photo carlfbagge (Flickr)

Feral Cat - New Jerusalem Monastery Istra, Moscow Oblast, Russia - Photo carlfbagge (Flickr)

These are my critical observations on the document, "Feral Cats and their Management" written by Aaron M. Hildreth, Project Technician—School of Natural Resources Stephen M. Vantassel, Wildlife Damage Project Coordinator Scott E. Hygnstrom, Vertebrate Pest Specialist.

The underlying tenor or feel of this document is that it is anti-feral cat and that it is slightly biased against the cat. On one or two occasions it is downright hostile towards the feral cat and worse, completely incorrect and misleading. The section about the economic damage done by the feral cat is badly thought out and, in my opinion, flawed and misleading.

The opening sentence gives and indication as to the flawed thinking in this document that, incidentally can be readily found on the internet using Google. This is frightening because a lot of people are essentially ignorant of what feral cats are all about in the same way that many cat owners are ignorant of the true meaning and effect of declawing. Spreading misinformation is highly irresponsible.

The opening sentence states that, "feral cats are domestic cats that have gone wild.." This is not entirely correct as many, perhaps most feral cats are "born" wild and have not therefore "gone" wild.

The authors say in respect of the history of the domestic cat, "cats were used to reduce the number of rats and mice that resided around settlements." True, but the cat was domesticated for the purpose of companionship as well. The mutually beneficial process of domestication was more than merely functional.

I would like as well to challenge the author's definition of a "stray cat". They say, "stray cats always applies to feral cats…" I think this is incorrect. Although there is no fixed definition of the term "stray cats" it more accurately applies to domestic cats that have strayed - a logical definition. These cats are not feral but may be in the process of becoming feral.

The next statement made by the authors is wholly misleading. They say that, HSUS estimates that a pair of breeding cats produce over 400,000 cats in seven years assuming none die. This may be true theoretically using a mathematical model but can never be the case in reality and if it can never happen the statement should not be made as it misleads and creates a false impression. Realistically, a decent authority on cats (Franny Syufy - About.com) says that about 400 offpring over this period is a more accurate assessment - see How Fast Do Cats Breed?. And lets be clear, these are estimates. The world of quasi-scientific literature such as this document, Feral Cats and their Management is littered with inaccurate estimates upon which so called "facts" are disseminated.

I would like now to come to one of the central planks of the authors' arguments as to why feral cats are a nuisance and should be shot (amongst other control measures).

The authors try and quantify in financial terms the cost to the nation (USA) of the maligned feral cat. They make the stark and startling statement that, "predation by cats on birds has an economic impact of more that $17 billion dollars per year in the US." How did they work that out!? The firstly say that cats kill an estimated 480 million birds per year (assuming 8 per cat per year). "Assuming"? How can you base a firm and very large monetary cost on an assumption and an estimate? The answer is that you cannot and this is very misleading.

An important factor too, is that the authors of "Feral Cats and their Management" do not at any point in their document provide references to sources. Yes, they provide source material in general but not specific to certain important statements. This is a major weakness of this report because the source material cannot be checked. And believe me it needs checking. So called scientists providing scientific studies that form the basis of reports such as this one can often be biased and simply incorrect. There are a lot of scientific "estimates" about the number of birds killed by cats but they are only that - estimates and they are questionable. See Domestic Cats Do Not Decimate Bird Populations for example.

Back to their assessment of the financial cost of the cat on the US economy. Their $17 billion cost is based, the authors say, on an estimated cost of each bird of $30! This figure is, "based on literature citing that bird watchers spend $.40 per bird observed, hunters spend $216 per bird shot and bird rearers spend $800 per bird released."

The trouble with this tenuous and in my view flawed argument is that if there are significantly more birds in the USA than are watched then if a cat kills one that would not have been watched in the first place there can no financial loss. The same principle applies to hunting and rearing.

Another flaw is the concept of a person spending money in relation to birds and equating that to the value of birds. If a person spends money on petrol (gas) to get to a place where he can shoot a bird does that make the bird worth the cost of the gas? That seems to be what the authors are saying and if I am correct it seems bizarre.

Also what, "literature" are the authors referring to? Can we check it please? How are these figures calculated. You simply cannot make grand statements about large financial cost without tight supporting evidence.

The authors also say that, "Feral cats can transmit several diseases to humans and other cats, including cat scratch fever, plague, rabies, ringworm, salmonellosis, and toxoplasmosis." People spread disease too! The point is that they don't own up to the fact that the risk to people is incredibly small. Toxoplasmosis is far more commonly spread by poor handling of raw meat. The feral cat is hardly responsible as cleaning out litter boxes is the other main source of infection and feral cats don't use litter boxes.

I'll stop there. I could go on.

Conclusion: This report, Feral Cats and their Management, is flawed and therefore misleading. It should not be used as a basis for decision making in respect of how to manage feral cats.

Michael Avatar

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Feral Cats and their Management

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Jul 19, 2011 My feral cat
by: Judy

I am caring for a feral cat I've named Sami. I made him a warm, dry shelter out of a large Rubbermaid container (he loves it) and I have a shelter for his food. Sometimes he wants to come in the house (especially if it is cold or raining). I have 2 indoor cats and I am able to keep them separated from Sami by doors. He has a few wild quirks like grabbing my ankle and biting me but that is on a rare occasion. It has come to the point where he allows me to clean out his ears and I regularly apply flea medication. I will always care for him. He now depends on me and that's how it should be. How hard is it to give a destitute animal food, water and shelter. I will do whatever I can for my Sami.


Jun 17, 2011 I agree with you but have some concerns...
by: virginiaroark2@yahoo.com

Cats wander into my backyard (suburban Missouri USA)with collars on, some neutered, so they obviously have been pets which were abandoned.

About disease, though--I used to let my cats outside --I have a large backyard safe from the street--but two later died of cancerous-like growths, probably feline leukemia. I'm sure they got it from a feral cat they used to fight with--our neighbor fed her. I don't know if this is a problem in the UK, but feline leukemia is rampant here. The yearly innoculations are very expensive, and I have dealt with the problem by keeping my cats inside. Because of coyotes, it is now not safe to let cats out.

I later caught the feral cat, which appeared to be sick, and she was immediately euthanized at the local shelter.


Dec 15, 2010 You are right
by: Rose

You are right Micheal,it's people to blame for their being so many feral cats but they conveniently forget that.
They begrudge hungry cats fighting to survive by catching the weakest birds yet how many of those people go out enjoying shooting healthy birds. How many eat birds slaughtered horribly.
It's a different story that birds die for their sport and greed.
It will soon be Christmas and specially fattened turkey will be shoved down those selfish cat haters throats until they're sick of it.
Will they spare any for poor homeless cats,will they heck as like!
Well I hope it chokes them,so there.


Dec 14, 2010 Thanks Ruth
by: Michael

Thanks for the support, Ruth. There are many people, some of whom are well respected in the community, who dislike cats and feral cats in particular.

They just want rid of them and find false arguments to support their desires.

These people should be placing all the emphasis on people and how to make them behave in a more responsible manner in relation to keeping cats.

The feral cat is incorrectly blamed. It is people who are to blame.

Michael Avatar


Dec 14, 2010 I agree with you
by: Ruth

You are right in all you say Michael.
In my opinion what a biased against feral cats document that was !
I was quite shocked at the 'about money' part of it. It's always about money these days, no compassion for animals that are living that way because uncaring people turned them out and they have to survive somehow.
What is wrong with some people that they think it's fine to shoot and maim or kill birds themselves, yet if a starving feral cat kills one in order to survive it's a terrible crime ?
As for saying they spread diseases, what a load of rubbish, some of the human race are the ones who do that with their disgusting habits which will one day wipe us all out !
This earth can then return to how it began with Mother Nature taking care of all animal, bird and fish species.
Yes Mother Nature can be cruel too but not an iota of how cruel some of the human race can be and it makes me ashamed to be part of it.

Kattaddorra signature Ruth


Dec 14, 2010 Original Text
by: Michael

I forgot to add a link to the original document that I am criticising:

Feral Cats and their Management



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