Study Finds Free-Roaming Cats Pose Threat from “Serious Public Health Diseases”

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(Washington, D.C., September 18, 2012) A study published in the peer-reviewed public health journal, Zoonoses and Public Health, has found that free-roaming cats pose a threat from “serious public health diseases” to humans, domestic animals, and wildlife.

The paper was authored by R.W. Gerhold of the ’s Center for Wildlife Health, Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, and by D.A. Jessup, retired from the .

Among the key findings of the paper are:

Free roaming cats are an important source of animal-transmitted, serious diseases such as rabies, , and plague. Free roaming cats account for the most cases of human rabies exposure among domestic animals, and are the source for one-third of rabies post-exposure treatments in the United States. Because of inconsistent incident reporting, that number is likely an underestimate of the actual cases of rabies exposure. Trap, neuter, and release (TNR) programs may lead to increased, un-inoculated populations of cats that can serve as a source of transmittable serious diseases.

Cat with by Debbie Shearwater

The study found that since 1988, rabies has been detected more frequently in cats than in dogs; in 2008, the number of cats detected with rabies was four times higher than dogs. In 2010, rabies cases declined for all domestic animals except cats, which comprised 62 percent of all rabies cases for domestic animals.

“This is a significant study that documents serious wildlife and public health issues associated with 125 million outdoor cats in the United States. Decision-making officials need to start looking at the unintended impacts these animals have on both the environment and human health when they consider arguments to sanction Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR) cat colonies. These colonies are highly detrimental to cats, wildlife, and people, and only serve to exacerbate the cat overpopulation problem,” said Darin Schroeder, Vice President for Conservation Advocacy at American Bird Conservancy.

According to the study, which cites numerous specific examples of rabies exposures from cats, “…….human exposure to rabies is largely associated with free-roaming cats because of people being more likely to come into contact with cats, [the existence of] large free-roaming cat populations and lack of stringent rabies vaccination programs.”

Importantly, the study also seems to directly contradict notions that TNR programs lead to smaller sizes of cat colonies and that they pose no health risk. Those programs purport to capture all the cats in a colony, neuter and vaccinate them, and return them to a colony that is fed and by volunteers.

“….neutered groups (colonies) increased significantly compared to [sexually] intact groups because of higher immigration and lower emigration. ………sexually intact adult cats immigrated into the neutered groups at a significantly higher rate than [they did to the] sexually intact group. ………immigrating sexually intact females had increased fertility along with increased survivorship of kittens as a population compensation response to neutered individuals.”

The authors report that the data suggest that neutered cat groups act as an attractant of sexually intact free-roaming cats, thus negating the belief that TNR programs lead to decreases in free-roaming cat populations. This attraction and subsequent movement of unneutered and un-inoculated cats into cat colonies “…may severely limit the protection offered by vaccination of TNR processed cats and would not abate the [transmittable disease] threat of rabies in these groups.”

The report also cited the dangers associated with TNR feeding stations in attracting raccoons, skunks, foxes, and other wild animals associated with rabies. The feeding stations not only increase the likelihood of contact between humans and rabies-exposed animals, they also increase the human and wildlife exposure to a potentially fatal parasite, roundworm, harbored by raccoons that is being seen in ever-increasing parts of the country. The danger to wildlife was illustrated in a 2008 study that found that five Florida panthers were killed as a result of a single such infected cat.

Another significant disease threat cited by the study concerns is a parasite frequently found in water or soil contaminated by cat feces. This parasite is responsible for causing the disease toxoplasmosis. Consequences of contracting this parasitic infection are most serious if you are either pregnant, HIV positive, or are undergoing chemo-therapy treatment, and range from significant to severe to fatal. The report cited a 2011 study that found that 63 percent of the patients with acute toxoplasmosis had become infected through cat feces.

The authors conclude by saying that their study “…highlights the serious public health diseases associated with free-roaming cats and underscores the need for increased public health attention directed towards free-roaming cats.” The fact that rabies exposure in humans is disproportionately associated with free-roaming cats “…should be of paramount concern to health officials because of the high mortality rate of clinical rabies…”

This article was written and published by American Bird Conservancy (ABC), a 501(c) not-for-profit membership organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. ABC acts by safeguarding the rarest species, conserving and restoring habitats, and reducing threats, while building capacity in the bird conservation movement.

Supertrooper

Supertrooper

Founder and Executive Editor

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Mikal Deese

No one is suggesting the elimination of cats. If you enjoy pet cats, fine. Simply keep your cats contained so they don’t wander around delivering havoc to the health of other species, including humans. I am a wild bird rehabilitator. There have been times when a half-dozen cat injured birds in a row have been brought to me for care. And these victims are the minority who lived through the feline attack. Most will die of infections from the cats anyway. Cats simply do not belong in the wild in North America, any more than pythons or elephants belong in… Read more »

vonnie
vonnie

what most cat owns don’t realise is that like dogs, cats need lots of exercise. MostCats
are let outside to exercise themselves. Is it any wonder that they immediately become
wild again. Having two indoor cats means that they play together to work off excess energy.

CRISTIAN BONACIC

Feral cats and dogs are spreading in many countries, particularly in Chile. The feral dogs are even killing people. Rabies and many other diseases are there and free living domestic cats and dogs are a problem from the point of view of health, conservation and even animal welfare.

SickofMalarkey
SickofMalarkey

The Journal is peer-reviewed, the study apparently is not. There are no citations listed, merely claims. And you glossed right over all other concerns. These “studies” are designed to support desired outcomes. They are funded by groups with money and an agenda. You can give your dollars to these unilateral “studies” if you wish. Arbitrarily destroying animals based on a poorly designed study is unethical and irresponsible. Horses arent native here, either. Nor are chickens. Dogs, well, coyotes and wolves in some areas, but your barky little Fifi isn’t. YOU are not a rescuer, but I am. You assume TNR… Read more »

Jim
Jim

Wow, Sicko didn’t even register the first line of the article. Perhaps she just looked at the picture. To repeat, ” A study published in the peer-reviewed public health journal, Zoonoses and Public Health, ” I know you LOVE cats and that blinds you to all else, but the reality is that cats did not evolve with North American wildlife and as such, North American wildlife has particular trouble with adapting to their presence. We could pretend that the magic of TNR would reduce numbers, but peer-reviewed studies show it doesn’t reduce overall populations. It does reduce intake to shelters,… Read more »

SickofMalarkey
SickofMalarkey

And you might want to look into your shelters. They do not screen applicants, so large numbers of animals are sent home with irresponsible fools. You fill out a big application, yes, but it is not reviewed. They are so desperate to push animals through that that is all they do. The coyote populations are a problem brought on by human arrogance. Stop destroying land to build your Mcmansions. You don’t need more shopping malls either. Then you decide to “compost”, because you heard about it once. But you make no effort to do the job properly, resulting in high… Read more »

Nina Stavlund

I have to agree with SickofMalarkey under and his/her comment. But, I also want to mention that TNR programs work very well, if you can get dedicated people to do it. And, it’s not an easy job, it’s very emotionally difficult. First, the cats are there because we humans didn’t take care of them, or we didn’t take responsibility when we decided to get a pet cat. This is how all those cats ends up out there. Unfortunately, when humans get tired of something, or we move houses for that matter, and kitty cat can not come with us, it’s… Read more »

SickofMalarkey
SickofMalarkey

Another alarmist opinion backed by unsupported and poorly documented claims, or “research” lacking peer review. Once these alarmists have managed to cruelly dispose of their feline enemies, they will move on to dogs, horses, chickens, cows, and anything else that spends at least part of its life outdoors. They will not stop until they have eradicated all animals who are suspected carriers of all diseases, including the wildlife that they claim to protect. To save wildlife, especially the birds, we need to eradicate humans, who are the actual threat. Overblown hype using big words won’t save anything. Diseases among wildlife… Read more »