Feral Cat Overpopulation

Cat overpopulation is arguably one of the largest global problems facing animal advocates, as the figures increase annually. In 1996, Sarah Hartwell of the Feline Advisory Bureau wrote:

“Britain has an estimated 7 million pet cats and 1 million ferals. By comparison, the United States has approximately 60 million pet cats and 60 million ferals.”

Where do all these feral cats come from? Hartwell goes on to say, “Feral populations are swollen by the breeding and dumping of unwanted pets; 5 million cats and dogs are ‘dumped’ annually according to the US Department of Agriculture while American surveys suggest that between 36 percent and 60 percent of unneutered pet cats go feral within 3 years.”

That unexpected litter of kittens that your neighbor can’t get rid of? Your sister’s insistence on letting her cat have just one litter so the kids can see the miracle of birth? The man at the office who believes spaying is unnatural and would never do it to his cat? These are the people who are contributing to the feral cat overpopulation problem.

Alley Cat Allies estimates the current U.S. figure to be between 60 million and 100 million ferals, but the United States is not alone – Australia and Singapore also struggle with problems related to feral cats.

Traditional “solutions” in some areas have been trapping and destroying ferals, or even shooting them, which is currently still being practiced in Australia. The U.S. is not immune to this practice, either. Federal employees are still available to assist local agencies, by shooting “problem” feral cats. A previous article detailed one incidence of this “solution” in a city near my own hometown when Federal Wildlife Damage Control officers were hired to shoot feral cats in a park.

TNR is a Better Solution

For several years, an increasing number of animal advocates are utilizing Trap – Neuter – Release programs for management of feral cat colonies. The reasoning behind TNR as opposed to trapping/destroying is that when feral cats are trapped and destroyed, new cats simply move into the colonies, whereas, an established colony of neutered cats will defend their territory from outsiders. The figures show clearly that TNR is working.

An Even Better Solution may be in Sight

Animal advocates breathlessly await the announcement of a new sterilization drug, which could be administered by injection, pill, or even as a food additive. The latter, depending on cost, would be a boon to managers of feral cat colonies who struggle daily to trap wily ferals. Many feral colony managers include vaccinations in their trips to the vet, but spay/neuter procedures are the “biggie,” cost-wise, besides requiring invasive surgery in a controlled environment. Sterilization drugs are being developed on several frontiers.

Not a Substitute for Surgical Spaying in Owned Cats

None of these immunocontraceptive vaccines are expected to be a substitute for surgical spaying of owned female cats. Why? Because they do not stop ovulation, nor the attendant frustrated behavior of female cats in heat. Furthermore, surgical spaying helps prevent ovarian and mammary cancers.

But it may never be available

Barring an unexpected announcement, it seems apparent that it will be at least another couple of years before any of these “contraceptive” drugs will be available, if ever. If it were only two years before these drugs reach the hands of those who need them, another three to five million kittens will be born. However, because there is a chance that these drugs could be developed for human use, it may be extremely difficult for researchers to bring this type of drug to market at all.