Pet Vet: Readers fear feral cats threaten health of companion cats

November 7, 2015

I have received two letters recently that deal with the same subject. Both Carol and Stacey are cat lovers and each has two cats that live predominately indoors.

Stacey has a well-enclosed back yard that she allows her two felines to visit, but otherwise they spend their time inside. All four cats are fully vaccinated, according to their caretakers, and are in excellent health. The problem Carol and Stacey are concerned about is not with their cats. Instead it involves the problem of stray cats in their neighborhoods. Stacey describes a mushrooming population of cats existing by eating whatever they might find including food provided for companion cats. She also says many of the strays appear ill, although it is hard for her to get a close look. Both writers express deep concern about these stray, or feral, cats as well as concern for the welfare of their own cats.

There is no question that Modesto has a significant problem with feral cats in many of its neighborhoods. These cats scratch out an existence and continue to reproduce relatively unchecked other than by death caused from disease or trauma. The beginnings of these populations were most probably companion cats that were not spayed or neutered who began producing offspring. Cats can be prolific breeders and quickly overwhelm a neighborhood.

There are several problems associated with feral cats. One is the spread of disease. These "wild" felines can harbor several communicable diseases, many of which are fatal. Even casual contact between a feral cat and a beloved companion cat can spread some of these diseases, putting our companions at obvious risk. There is also the risk of injury as cats can be territorial. Encounters can lead to injuries.

Another problem is the effect on bird populations. Cats are predators and can cause a high mortality among various species of birds. This is one good reason why cats are best kept indoors. Another is that they are less likely to become feral if not allowed outside.

What is the solution to the feral cat (over) population? Without question a key component is responsible companion care, which should always include spaying and neutering. The veterinary community in this area along with generous funding from many organizations has made spaying and neutering affordable.

We also need to deal with the cats that are already out there. This is a complex problem that does not appear to have a single solution. One solution put forth and tried on and off for many years is the trapping of feral cats and then having them neutered and vaccinated. These cats are then released back to the areas where they were captured. While this does little to immediately address the feral populations, it does allow for decline in these populations.

There are communities that have dealt quite successfully with feral cat problems. Obviously there is no simple single solution to this problem but through a coordinated effort involving the entire community, including veterinarians as well as appropriate government entities to help with the funding needed to address and ultimately eliminate this problem.




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