Conclusion: There are around 90 million free-roaming and feral cats in the USA as at 2022 broken down to 30 million free-roaming domestic cats and 60 million feral cats. This number can’t be set in concrete as the raw information is not very accurate as it is very hard to count cats both domestic and wild! Interestingly Washington DC did it as accurately as possible not long ago (click to read about that if you wish). Now the discussion…
Also stray cats, wandering domestic cats and feral cats are all bundled together. We don’t really know what is what. These are “community cats“. This must hamper counting if anyone is actually counting. I am being a bit negative. However, “free-roaming” cats is normally a reference to domestic cats that are owned and living in homes but who are allowed outside.
A study published in February 2021 “Indoors or Outdoors? An International Exploration of Owner Demographics and Decision Making Associated with Lifestyle of Pet Cats” stated that “In United States of America [USA], 63% of domestic cats are kept entirely indoors” and the reference to that is Bayer Healthcare LLC. It follows, therefore, that 37% of domestic cats in the USA might be described as “free-roaming”. However, this terminology is quite loosely applied as it may also apply to stray cats.
The statistics on the number of domestic cats in the US vary quite widely but I’m going to rely upon Alley Cat Allies to state that there are roughly 82 million pet cats living in people’s homes throughout the USA in 2022. This means that there are about 30 million free-roaming domestic cats in the USA to which we have to add feral cats. We don’t, as mentioned, have an accurate figure on the number of feral cats in the USA at 2022 but it looks like it’s about 60 million. Therefore, there are around 90 million free-roaming and feral cats in the USA as at 2022.
The number of free-roaming and feral cats depends on:
- the popularity of cats as pets,
- the attitude of cat owners regarding letting their cats go outside – this is changing all the time and trending towards full-time indoor cats in the USA and in the UK,
- 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 which dictates the presence of feral and stray cats
- the presence of animals preying on free-roaming and feral 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 northeast 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) as at 2010. Other experts believe the figure to be between 25 and 60 million (at 1998 – Patronek). This figure seems to be badly out of date. Note: this page was first published in 2010.
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). We see far more community cats in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea than say in Iceland!
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.
Below are some more pages on statistics.