Feral Cats Are Healthier and Live Longer Than Thought

An extensive study published on September 13, 2013 on Plos One regarding the feral and stray cats of greater Chicago indicated to the researchers that feral cats are healthier and survive for longer than they had thought. The study came up with some interesting findings.

Coyote with cat in mouth
Coyote with cat in mouth
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Note: As you can see this was published getting on for 6 years ago but it is worth revisiting because the feral cat is much maligned. It might redress the balance somewhat. I may have written on this before.

One finding was that cats that live outdoors i.e. stray and feral cats, do a good job in steering clear of urban coyotes. It is perhaps goes without saying that outside cats avoid coyotes because they are preyed upon by this animal. As coyotes tend to treat urban green spaces such as city parks and nature reserves as their habitat in the urban landscape, this pushes out outdoor cats from those areas. Therefore, coyotes protect the wildlife of urban parks and nature reserves from predation by feral and stray cats.

In the urban landscape, coyotes and feral cats have found a way to share the environment (‘partitioning of the landscape by cats and coyotes’). Outside cats’ core areas in the urban environment are near homes and shops. Coyotes are found in these areas but they are passing through them to their designated core areas, the parks and nature reserves. The coyotes are trying to avoid people and do a good job in doing so.

The findings beg the question as to whether in avoiding coyotes feral cats are unable to prey on certain animals found in local nature reserves and parks. This is beneficial to these species and these species may be seen as being of greater value than wild species found near homes and shops. The study did not analyse feral cat predation on wild species living in the cats’ core areas.

Another important finding from a study commenced in 2000 is that free-roaming cats, whether stray or feral, are on the whole healthier and longer-lived than expected. They found that most of the cats that they trapped were in good condition, “with only a few minor health problems”. They found that blood tests indicated that they had little exposure to feline immunodeficiency virus or feline leukaemia virus. Cats which had been spayed and neutered were in even better shape.

They found that only 20% of cats died during the two-year study due to road traffic accidents and predation probably by coyotes which was better than expected. Outdoor cats lived about as long as coyotes in the area studied and longer than foxes and skunks and were only second to raccoons in longevity. People often say that feral cats have short lifespans of three years. This appears to be incorrect.

Alley Cat Allies have always said that feral cats are healthier and live better lives than portrayed by some people, usually advocates of feral cat elimination programs.

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