Friend, companion, lovable, affectionate, intelligent… These are terms used by those who hold a special place in their heart for this domestic pet. However, others describe the cat as being cunning, wild, untameable, calculating, skilled hunter that kills for fun, disease-carrier and environmental vandal.
It is known that cats have a mind of their own, and it is said that “the cat owns its owner”, rather than the owner owns his/her cat. It is the trait of independence that is valued by many, making the cat an ideal pet that can be left alone for long periods of time. Nonetheless, responsible cat owners know that the ownership of a pet cat brings with it great responsibility, because cats are natural hunters they should not be offered the freedom to roam unsupervised.History:
It is believed that the first cats were introduced to Australia in the 17th century as a result of European shipwrecks being washed ashore, while others arrived in 1788 with European settlement. (In those days cats where used on ships as vermin control for rats and mice, hence, the introduction of cats, rats and mice would have occurred simultaneously). In later years, a large number of cats were released into the wilderness in the attempt to control plagues of rabbits, rats and mice; this procedure had little to no effect in controlling the three targeted species; however, it did contribute in the increase of the feral cat population.
Nowadays, feral cats are found across the Australian continent and many offshore islands. To date there is no eradication method known apart from trapping and shooting.
In Queensland the feral cat was declared ‘pest’ under the New Land Protection (Pest and Stock Route Management) Act 2003. The Australian Government has catalogued the cat in three categories; ‘domestic, stray and feral’. Considering that the cat’s original status was ‘domestic’, its adaptability enabled it to readily progress from one category to another, such as, domestic to stray to feral.
Studies have shown that one night of freedom is all it takes for a cat to revert to its natural wild instinct of stalking, hunting and teasing its prey while slowly killing it. Not necessarily for food but just for the fun of it.EPA Qld states:
“With the cunning of a tiger and a distinctive green eyeshine that pierces the black of night, the feral cat is a predatory, carnivorous animal. Feral cats are pet cats that have gone wild. They are found all over Australia and are one of the most damaging feral animals in this country.
Queensland’s feral cat population stands at about 1.5 million, which is greater than the domestic cat population. But even apparently harmless domestic cats kill and injure wildlife in surprising numbers. It is estimated that cats kill 3.8 million native Australian animals each year.
Cats have been found to eat more than 186 species of native birds, 64 species of mammals, 87 species of reptiles and 10 species of frogs. Apart from preying directly on wildlife, feral cats compete with native animals for scarce food resources. While it’s difficult to measure, feral cats clearly are reducing the populations of many native animals. They might even threaten the survival of some rare and endangered species.
How can you help? Feral cat eradication programs won’t work if the feral cat population is restocked with stray and dumped domestic cats. Domestic cats can become wild if abandoned or allowed to stray. Even domestic cats hunt and kill animals instinctively.
Cat control should begin in the home: Label your cat with a collar, tag, microchip or tattoo. Desex your cat to avoid unwanted litters. Keep your cat indoors at night - ideally in an enclosure - to prevent it from preying on native animals. Provide your cat with enclosed areas for exercise. Support moves to introduce cat controls, such as identification, registration, and curfews. Don’t feed stray or feral cats! Remember, stray cats can become feral.” (EPA Qld)
What are Local Councils doing?
Some Local Councils have passed firm Laws for cat ownership, such as, mandatory registration with a maximum of two cats per household. Heavy fines to owners if registered cats are picked up straying and unregistered cats are treated as strays and euthanased.
Some other Councils have passed laws that require suitable enclosures to confine the registered cat on the registered property. One Qld Council states; “Owning a cat comes with community responsibilities; such responsibilities are ensuring not only the safety of your cat, but to enable people within the community to live without interference from your cat.”Dangers to straying cats:
Wandering cats may be killed by cars or be the cause of road accidents in which others can be injured; this could result in the cat owner being held responsible for damages. Cats can get caught up in fights with other cats or dogs; or be taken by snakes; or may be severely wounded and unable to return home. They may be victims of human cruelty; be badly hurt and even tortured. Cats have been known to be stolen and used in illegal sport. Many people don’t tolerate wandering cats; they can be trapped and killed when trespassing on someone else’s property; never to be seen again!Diseases and cats:
Cats are natural carriers of certain diseases, and others can be contracted when a straying cat comes into contact with other straying cats. Some of these diseases can be transmitted to humans, and although they may have no affect on a healthy adult, they can be potentially hazardous to children, the elderly and those with low immune systems. Transmission of diseases usually occurs when coming into contact with an infected cat’s saliva or faeces; or food and water contaminated by an infected cat.
Cat-scratch disease (Bartonellosis) can occur when one is bitten or scratched by an infected cat. In humans Bartonellosis can cause fever, fatigue, sore joints and muscles.
Salmonella (Salmonellosis) is a bacterium that can be carried by any cat; in particular those that feed on raw meat or wild prey; it is probable that salmonella does not affect the cat but the bacteria can be passed on to humans causing fever and diarrhea.
Fleas passed from animal to animal to human can play a role in the transmission of bacterial and fungal infections.
Intestinal parasites, such as, roundworm and hookworm can be transmitted to other animals and humans by direct contact with the infected animal or from contaminated soil. It can be potentially serious affecting the skin, eyes and other organs.
Ringworm is a skin infection/lesion caused by a group of fungi (not a worm); it is readily passed on from animal to animal to human and difficult to eradicate.
Cryptosporidium and Giardia are usually transmitted through contaminated water to animals and humans causing diarrhea.
Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic organism carried by many cats and excreted through their faeces. It can be contracted by other animals and humans. Toxoplasmosis is dangerous to animals and humans during pregnancy; it is known to cause miscarriage and birth defects.
Feline viruses, such as, immunodeficiency (cat AIDS), infectious peritonitis and leukemia are specific to cats and can be transmitted to other cats; while ‘rabies’ can be passed on to another animal or human when bitten by an infected cat.
There is only one place for a domestic cat that is safe from danger and disease, and that is at home.Cat diseases and wildlife:
Australian native animals cannot naturally combat bacterial infections transmitted by cats: – Bartonellosis and Toxoplasmosis are the most commonly encountered which usually lead to death for native wildlife!
Remains of feral cat attacks - macropod and possums. (Photos Aust Gov)
Although cats, foxes and other introduced species (due to no fault of their own) are destructive to our wildlife, the vandalism of land clearing and the introduction of feral species has been caused by the biggest predator of them all, and that is the human race.
Please remember that one bite or scratch from a cat, in most cases, means death for our wildlife, unless attended to immediately by a wildlife professional. To prevent the inevitable from occurring, it is wise to observe our wildlife, and monitor your cat.
Cats may threaten the survival
of some rare and endangered
species of wildlife.
(Photos Aust Gov)