Can Feral Cats Increase Rabies Risks?

American Bird Conservancy alleges that managed cat colonies create a “perfect storm” of rabies risk. Cat advocates respond.

American Bird Conservancy has issued a press release alleging that feral cat colonies increase rabies risk. ABC senior policy analyst Steve Holmer asserts that feral cat colonies bring together a series of high risk elements that result in a “perfect storm” of rabies exposure. The release proceeded his presentation “Managed Cat Colonies and Rabies” during the World Rabies Day International Webinar Sep. 21 and 22.

Holmer claims in the release: “When humans establish outdoor feeding stations for feral cats, they provide a catalyst for rabies transmission. Rabies is passed from the wildlife that is attracted to the food to the cats, and from the cats to people. According to the Center for Disease Control, cats are now the most common vector for the spread of rabies from a domestic species. In 2009 alone, there were seven accounts of rabid cats attacking people on the East Coast. As a rabies vector species, domestic cats pose a threat to human health that can be addressed by responsible pet ownership.”

Cat advocacy group Alley Cat Allies criticized ABC for issuing what they call a “wildly inaccurate press release that grossly mischaracterized the health of feral cats and the practice of Trap-Neuter-Return.”

“The American Bird Conservancy persists in spreading fiction about feral cats, and its efforts to promote terrible inaccuracies about feral cats and rabies is only the latest example,” said Alley Cat Allies president Becky Robinson. “Such a stunt could lead to panic and the needless deaths of cats, and should be condemned.”

Robinson noted that cats are not considered a rabies threat by public health officials.  The Centers for Disease Control rabies surveillance data reveals that there has not been a confirmed case of rabies transmission from cat to human in over 30 years, and vaccination and other public health efforts over the last half century have made any rabies cases in humans extremely rare.    

“Rabies vaccination and prevention efforts in America are a true public health victory, and Trap-Neuter-Return only helps to boost these successes, because vaccination is part of the standard protocol of TNR,” she said. “To unscientifically point a finger at feral cats is a huge distortion of the truth.”

Alley Cat Allies stated in its counter release that a number of scientific studies on feral cat colonies show these colonies overall to be healthy, and have found that TNR indeed stabilizes the population. Robinson said cities that have embraced TNR have attested to its numerous benefits.

“The American Bird Conservancy is ignoring the true intent of International Rabies Day to push a cynical agenda that is not supported by scientific fact,” said Robinson.  “But Americans do not support killing cats, and will not take the bait.”

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