Responsible cat ownership resources for veterinarians

11 Feb 2022

The Threatened Species Recovery Hub, in collaboration with the Australian Veterinary Conservation Biology special interest group of the AVA, has developed a range of resources about the impact of cats in Australia to assist veterinarians in educating pet owners about responsible cat ownership.

Professor Sarah Legge from the Threatened Species Recovery Hub led a recent study focused on the impacts of pet cats on native wildlife, which found that 71% of pet cats in Australia are allowed to roam – with each roaming pet cat killing an estimated 115 native animals per year.

“Free-roaming cats have been described as one of the ‘blind spots’ of society; the ‘not my cat’ and ‘it’s just a cat’ attitudes are strong and deep-rooted worldwide. However, Australia pays a heavier price for the presence of cats than other countries - because as highly efficient predators, cats have already contributed to most of our native mammal extinctions, and our extinction list continues to grow,” said Professor Legge.

Earlier this year, the Australian Government released a parliamentary report titled ‘Tackling the Feral Cat Pandemic: A Plan to Save Australian Wildlife,’ which contained recommendations to counter the effect of cats, both feral and domestic, on Australia’s unique wildlife.

Veterinarians are trusted advocates

As trusted advocates for animal health and welfare, veterinarians can help reduce the impact that pet cats have on urban native wildlife, by encouraging pet owners to confine their cat to their property at all times.

“On average, pet cats only bring back about 15 per cent of what they kill. So, for every bird that a cat deposits on your doormat, you need to imagine that there's five or six more birds lying somewhere under the bushes in your garden or in your neighbour's garden,” explained Professor Legge.

“Keeping cats confined helps protect cats from road accident trauma, poisoning, fighting and injury, secondly, it will reduce the level of predation to our unique native urban wildlife and will help reduce the level of transmission of cat-dependent diseases that can affect people, wildlife and livestock, particularly toxoplasmosis,” said Professor Legge.

Keeping cats contained

The requirement to contain cats is becoming more common in Australia, particularly in the ACT, Victoria and South Australia, with regulations set at the local government level. Veterinarians have an important role to play in encouraging the community to minimise the impacts of pet cats in Australia.

“Veterinarians can provide advice to cat owners about ways of enriching the lives of their securely contained pet cats, and providing clear information on responsible pet ownership practices. Vets can also share information about local wildlife in their veterinary practices, and highlight the role pet owners can play in conservation,” said Professor Legge. 

The educational resources about responsible cat ownership can be found on the Threatened Species Recovery Hub website, and include posters to print out and display in veterinary clinics, fact-sheets and videos.