Feral Cats: Disease, Dangers and Wild Birds

Wild bird advocates have again placed blame on free-roaming cats for spreading disease and killing birds, among other things. Feral cat advocates point to other, more significant, factors than cats.

A new press release from the American Bird Conservancy claims cats carry rabies, are dangerous to humans and kill birds. The release states that Trap Neuter Return (TNR) may lead to un-inoculated cats spreading disease, and that TNR cats don’t die off because of attrition. A little fact-checking and discussion with people involved in TNR paints a different picture.

Animals That Spread Disease
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes and some bats carry strains of rabies. Wild animals accounted for 92% of reported cases of rabies in animals in the United States in 2010. Feral cats fear people and tend to avoid them; the odds of these cats encountering a person close enough to spread disease is low.

The press release talks about Toxoplasmosis, a rare disease in the United States. The highest risk of human infection comes from eating raw or undercooked meat and unwashed fruits and vegetables. The release also mentions plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which is usually caused by rodent or flea bites.

Dwindling Wild Bird Numbers
The numbers of birds dying from habitat loss to development, collisions with plate glass windows, hunting and cat predation are an educated guess, as is the effect on the survival of individual populations and species of birds. Trapping and killing feral cats is inhumane, ineffective and outdated, and does not address the sources of the problem.

Feral Cat Colony Populations
“Many of the feral colonies Catalyst worked with back in 1990 [have] completely disappeared through natural attrition,” says Marci Kladnik, board member of Catalyst for Cats, a Santa Barbara County, Calif., nonprofit organization dedicated to feral cat welfare.

“All of our current managed groups are either stable or dwindling in size. Locally thousands of feral cats have been TNR’d (including vaccination and flea treatment) over the years, and not one of them has come up with rabies or plague. Even in the private sector, if either of these viruses was found by a veterinarian, it would be all over the news.”

Responsible owners, continued TNR, education and meetings between the bird and cat people to discuss the issues would go a long way towards easing the situation, not the knee-jerk reaction of killing cats.

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