Cats are charismatic and enigmatic creatures, beloved by many as a family pet. They are the second most common pet in Australian homes (after dogs) with 29% of households owning one or more cats (Animal Health Alliance 2013). There is also a large feral cat population in Australia, with an estimated 2.1 and 6.3 million feral cats across the country, the population size varying with rainfall (Legge et al. 2017).

Mia, a pet cat, enjoying zen time in the backyard

While cats can make wonderful, affectionate pets, they also have a devastating impact on Australia’s native wildlife, both as feral animals and as pets. Cat predation is a major cause of the extinction and decline of native Australian fauna (Woinarski et al. 2015). As an example of their devastating impact on native wildlife, a recent study found that cats (feral and pet) kill approximately 1 million birds per day (Woinarski et al. 2017).

With increasing knowledge of the impact of cats on Australia’s wildlife, there has been a greater push for pet owners to keep their cats indoors, to prevent them from hunting (and injuring or killing) native animals. Many owners of outdoor cats are unaware of how far their cats travel (and what they get up to) when they’re outdoors. The Cat Tracker project by the Discovery Circle (Roetman et al. 2017) recently tracked 428 pet cats in Adelaide and found that the typical home-range (the area the cat regularly travelled) was 1.04 hectares (which is approximately eight Olympic sized pools!)

Example of some pet cat home ranges in Adelaide determined as part of the Cat Tracker project. Image from https://www.discoverycircle.org.au/projects/cat-tracker/results/

Keeping your cat indoors will protect it from:

  • Being injured in fights with other cats
  • Being injured by cars/traffic
  • Contracting diseases such as Feline Immune Deficiency Syndrome
  • Getting lost

There are several ways to contain your cat indoors and still provide access to the outdoors:

  • Keep it inside the house and consider walking it on a leash to provide outdoor time
  • Consider an outdoor enclosure

Most cats adapt well to confinement. For more information or advice check out this factsheet from the Cat Protection Society of NSW on how to keep happy, healthy indoor cats.

If you can’t keep your cat indoors, consider using these products to reduce the number of native animals they injure or kill:

  • Cat-proof fencing e.g. Oscillot which allows cats to be outside but prevents them from going beyond your backyard.
  • The CatBib which has been shown to prevent 81% of cats from catching birds, 45% from catching mammals and 33% from catching frogs and reptiles (Calver et al. 2007).

Further information on cat-proof fencing and enclosures has been compiled by the Cat Protection Society of NSW here.

With this information, we hope that cat owners can make pawsitive choices for their cats, for themselves, and for Australia’s native wildlife.

Mia wearing a CatBib

References

  • Animal Health Alliance 2013, ‘Pet ownership in Australia Summary 2013’, Australian Health Alliance [Australia] Ltd, Canberra, available from http://animalmedicinesaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Pet-Ownership-in-Australia-2013-Summary-ONLINE-VER.pdf
  • Calver, M, Thomas, S, Bradley, S & McCutcheon, H 2007, ‘Reducing the rate of predation on wildlife by pet cats: the efficacy and practicability of collar-mounted pounce protectors’, Biological Conservation, vol. 137, pp. 341-348.
  • Legge, S, Murphy, BP, McGregor, H, Woinarski, JCZ, Augusteyn, J, Ballard, G, Baseler, M, Buckmaster, T et al. 2017, ‘Enumerating a continental-scale threat: How many feral cats are in Australia?’, Biological Conservation, vol. 206, pp. 293-303.
  • Roetman, P, Tindle, H, Litchfield, C, Chiera, B, Quinton, G, Kikillus, H, Bruce, D & Kays, R 2017, ‘Cat Tracker South Australia: understanding pet cats through citizen science’, Discovery Circle initiative, University of South Australia, Adelaide; DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4226/78/5892ce70b245a Available from https://www.discoverycircle.org.au/projects/cat-tracker/results/
  • Woinarski, JCZ, Burbidge, AA & Harrison, PL 2015, ‘Ongoing unraveling of a continental fauna: Decline and extinction of Australian mammals since European settlement’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 112, no. 15, pp. 4531-4540.
  • Woinarski, JCZ, Murphy, BP, Legge, SM, Garnett, ST, Lawes, MJ, Comer, S, Dickman, CR, Doherty, TS et al. 2017, ‘How many birds are killed by cats in Australia?’, Biological Conservation, vol. 214, pp. 76-87.