Cats: Free Ranging and Feral

Domestic CatThe Florida Cats Indoors materials have been developed in partnership with the American Bird Conservancy

Helpful Definitions
For the purposes of this Web site, the term "free-ranging cats" applies to owned cats that spend all or a portion of their time outdoors where they may prey on wildlife.  "Feral cats" are those cats that are not owned and exist in the wild. Feral cats can be born in the wild or may have only recently entered into the wild, but we make no attempt here to distinguish between these two groups. Feral animals can exist in the wild completely unaided by humans or they may be members of so-called "cat colonies" that receive varying levels of care and food from human caretakers.

Background Information
The domestic cat (Felis catus) is a beloved house pet, with over 77 million pet cats nationwide. Of these, about 43 million spend some time outside.  Additionally, there may be 60 to 100 million homeless stray and feral cats.  Domestic cats are becoming a common feature not only of our backyards and city streets but also of our parks and other wild lands.

Domestic cats are descended from the wild cat of Africa and southwestern Asia and were domesticated by the Egyptians about 4,000 years ago.  Animal behavior experts note that cats will hunt and kill even if well fed.  Domestic cats are very effective predators on rabbits, squirrels, mice, lizards, snakes, and many species of wild birds.

Domestic cats can have impacts on native wildlife:

  • Domestic cats are not a part of natural ecosystem. A single individual free-ranging cat may kill 100 or more birds and mammals per year. Scientists in Wisconsin estimate that cats kill at least 7.8 million birds per year in that state alone. Even cats with bells on their collars kill birds and small mammals.

  • Cats compete with native predators and spread disease.

  • Domestic cats can be a nuisance and cause damage in many of the same ways that wild animals do, such as killing poultry and other small domestic stock.

  • Homeless cats may compete with pets for food.

  • Free-ranging cats can kill birds at bird feeders.

  • Cats can be a nuisance in gardens when they defecate and cover their feces by digging.

Modify your actions to begin solving the cat problem.

Do not feed cats other than your own. Do what you can to eliminate cat's artificial food sources. Bring in pet food at night and secure trash cans by fastening the lid tightly or enclosing in a bin with a locking lid.

Keep bird feeders away from bushes and underbrush where cats can hide. If a free-ranging cat remains a problem at your feeder, you may need to stop feeding birds for while to allow the cat to move to other hunting areas.

Try to work problems out with your neighbors by first determining if the cat is owned and asking the owners to control their cat. The nuisance cat may be homeless or it could be your neighbor's.

When all else fails you can trap the cat in a humane way and transport it to an animal shelter. Make trapping a pet cat a last resort and check your local ordinances first!  In some communities, it is illegal to trap a neighbor's cat even on your property.  Use a live trap baited with sardines or tuna spread on newspaper or a paper plate. Place the bait in the back of the trap so that the cat must enter the trap to get the bait. Check the trap regularly, preferably every hour. To keep from capturing animals such as raccoons and opossums, only trap during the day. Be very careful not to be
bitten or scratched; stray or feral cats can carry rabies and other diseases. You can receive additional technical assistance on dealing with nuisance domestic cats through your local Humane Society or animal shelter.

If you are a cat owner, be responsible:

Obey your local pet control ordinances, and do not allow your cat to become someone else's nuisance.

Recognize the impact that your pet may have on native wildlife and consider making your cat an indoor cat. Indoor cats live longer, stay healthier, and do not kill native animals. Outdoor cats can be trained to be indoor cats and new pet cats should stay indoors right from the start.

The FWC and Feral Cats

At its May 30, 2003 meeting at Kissimmee, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission passed a policy regarding feral and free-ranging cats.

It is apparent from recent articles and letters in the media, as well as from feedback directly to the Commission from the public, that some people have a serious misunderstanding
about that policy.

What the Commission approved May 30 was just that - a policy - "to protect native wildlife from predation, disease and other impacts presented by feral and free-ranging cats."

This policy does not call for the FWC to kill cats, nor does it outlaw the practice of Trap-Neuter-Release. It is the foundation for FWC staff to interact with affected parties and develop science-based, humane solutions when cats impact rare wildlife - particularly on lands the Commission owns or manages.  It calls for us to work cooperatively with other land-management agencies to prevent the release or feeding of cats on public lands supporting wildlife habitat.  Among our strategies is the development of a public-awareness campaign focusing on responsible cat ownership and the impact on native wildlife posed by feral and free-ranging cats.

For more detailed information about what the policy does and does not mean, please see: Review of Feral and Free-ranging Cats Policy.

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