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New Zealand's Cat Population Needs 'Urgent Attention'

15 December 2014

NEW ZEALAND - New Zealand’s cat population is on the rise and requires an urgent, nationwide strategy to ensure the welfare of cats and the protection of New Zealand’s wildlife, says the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA).

“A strategy to address our growing stray cat population is long overdue, and must include a clear focus on responsible cat ownership,” says NZVA President Dr Steve Merchant.

He says the review looks at the impact of feral, stray and companion cats on New Zealand wildlife and local communities. It also considers the actions owners can take to be more responsible for their cats to prevent further growth of our stray cat population.

The completed review collates existing research from both New Zealand and overseas, and has led to a revised NZVA cat management policy which continues to stress responsible cat ownership.

Key findings from literature review

  • NZ’s pet cat populations prey upon between 19-44 million animals per year, while stray cat populations may prey upon 15-33 million animals. These include native and non-native species.
  • Animals killed by cats include non-native bird and rodent species, reptiles and invertebrates, as well as native birds.
  • Stray cats are compelled to hunt, whilst companion cat predation is reduced because of regular feeding.
  • There is no national strategy for cat management.
  • The economic burden of managing un-owned cats may outstrip the capacity of charitable organisations.
  • The stray cat population is growing in both New Zealand and many overseas countries.

“The NZVA believes that as a society the only way forward is to have an objective and informed dialogue based on sound scientific evidence. We need to collectively find acceptable and humane solutions to address our growing cat population, which is a significant animal welfare and wildlife conservation issue. The literature review will be a crucial source of information for this much needed discussion so we can explore credible solutions,” says Dr Merchant.

“We know that New Zealanders love cats and that for many they are like a member of the family but it’s important that our approach to responsible cat ownership and cat management is evidence-based and considered.”

Dr Merchant says that while current strategies to manage the cat population and to protect our wildlife are helpful, they fall short of what’s required to make a dramatic difference to the number of stray cats in New Zealand.

“One of the biggest hurdles is that there is no single organisation responsible for cats in New Zealand and there is little regulation to control the cat population. The NZVA strongly believes that we need multilevel engagement on a national, regional and local level. The first step must be an informed dialogue and willingness to explore solutions based on robust evidence.”

The review’s authors say that the economic burden of managing these cats is challenging, particularly for charitable organisations such as the SPCA. Dr Merchant says that many veterinary clinics are already playing their part, regularly providing veterinary care for these cats, and often with no recompense.

The review recommends that a range of options be explored including existing strategies such as adoption and where appropriate euthanasia (which will be controversial to some people). Other possible options include stricter regulation, better identification measures such as micro-chipping, collars and registration, the promotion of partial or complete indoor-cat lifestyles, and de-sexing. The fiscal costs of these options will need to be evaluated.

Dr Merchant says promoting responsible cat ownership must be the focus of any management strategy, and that progress will only be made if there is commitment and input from both central and local governments.

“Central and local governments, as well as organisations such as the NZVA, Companion Animal Council and SPCA, will need to carefully evaluate the recommendations in the article. A collaborative approach is essential if we are to make progress nationally.”

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