The issues around stray cats
Cats don't belong on the streets. Stop the cycle.
What is a stray cat?
Sometimes known as semi-owned or unowned cats, stray cats are found around cities, towns and rural properties. While they may depend on food, water and shelter provided by humans, they have no identifiable owner and may visit several households. Stray cats can vary widely in their level of sociability; they could be a cat born as a stray or they could be a lost or abandoned pet.
Stray cats are not to be confused with feral cats which live and reproduce in the wild and do not rely on humans for their survival.
The problems created by stray cats
Stray cats can endanger the health of your cat
Having a stray cat on your property is likely to increase the chances of your cat being involved in a cat fight, especially if the stray is an un-desexed male. The most common injury from cat fights is an abscess beneath the skin, that can be very painful, make your cat extremely unwell, and will require quite costly veterinary treatment.
Many stray cats are not vaccinated and can carry diseases such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), which can be transmitted during cat fights. FIV could lead to serious illness and regular health checks will be required.
Stray cats can endanger the health of your family
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite which is capable of infecting virtually all warm-blooded animals. Cats are the primary host and carrier of the disease and an infected cat can shed millions of eggs in the first 2-3 weeks after infection. The cat then develops an immune response and is no longer infectious. The eggs can survive in soil for up to 18 months in the Tasmanian climate.
The parasite is transmitted when people come into direct contact with the cat faeces, when they accidentally ingest contaminated soil (e.g. not washing hands after gardening or eating unwashed vegetables from your garden), or when they are playing in an infected sand pit. Most people who become infected will experience minor or no symptoms at all, but toxoplasmosis can be dangerous for pregnant women and people with a lowered immune response. Toxoplasmosis can result in miscarriage for pregnant women. For those with low immunity there is also a risk of severe illness, including brain inflammation and blindness.
A recent study found that 84% of feral and stray cats tested in Tasmania had been infected with toxoplasmosis during their lifetime. This is among the highest rates recorded in Australia.
Stray cats can be a nuisance
Having stray cats on your property can be a source of frustration. You may experience cats fighting, digging, spraying and defecating in the garden and even wandering into your house.
Stray cats are a threat to wildlife
Cats are very intelligent and skilled hunters and will prey on a variety of wildlife including mammals, reptiles, frogs and birds. On average, a single stray cat kills 449 animals per year, 257 of which are native animals. Even if an animal might escape the initial attack with only a few scratches, they will most likely later die from shock or infection. Feeding a stray cat will not stop it from killing or hunting wildlife because of the strong hunting instinct of cats.
Many birds and mammals are also susceptible to toxoplasmosis and the disease can be fatal for infected wildlife, especially for marsupials such as the Eastern Barred Bandicoot or Pademelons.
Find out more about the impacts of toxoplasmosis in our brochures Cat-borne disease: The impacts of toxoplasmosis on wildlife and human health and Cat-borne diseases and agriculture.
How can we reduce the number of stray cats?
Stray cat populations are created when feral cats move into suburban areas or when pet cats are lost or abandoned. The stray cat population is maintained through breeding within the population and by people abandoning their unwanted cats. Female cats can reach sexual maturity as young as four months and can have two or more litters a year with an average of four kittens per litter. This can lead to a rapid growth in the population.
Here is how you can help
Keep your cat safe at home
Cats that are safely kept at home are less likely to get lost and end up as part of the stray cat population than cats that are allowed to roam the neighbourhood.
Desex your cat
Desexing your cat prevents accidental or unwanted litters of kittens that may contribute to the stray cat population.
Identify your cat
You should microchip your cat and provide them with a quick release collar and identification tag with owner contact details. The collar will tell people that your cat is a beloved pet and if your cat becomes lost the ID tag will provide the finder with contact details.
If for some reason your cat loses its collar and ID tag, the cat can be taken to a vet or a cat management facility, where the microchip will identify them as a pet cat, and they can be returned to you. Identification will reduce the chances that your cat might end up as a stray cat.
Do not abandon an unwanted cat
Abandoning a cat or kittens is illegal and irresponsible. If you can no longer keep your cat you should try to find them a new home. The best solution would be to rehome your cat with friends or family, but if this is not possible you should contact a cat management facility. If they have the capacity, they will provide your cat with the best possible care and try to find them another loving home. See our brochure Surrendering a pet cat for more information.
Do not feed a stray cat
Although your intention may be to help, feeding a stray cat will only worsen the problem. Most stray cats are not desexed and will be able to reproduce prolifically if they are being fed. If you are concerned about the welfare of a stray cat contact your nearest cat management facility for advice on how you might be able to help.