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Domestic Cat

Domestic cat pictureThe domestic cat (Felis catus) is a beloved house pet, with over 66 million pet cats nationwide. Of these, about 43 million spend some time outside.  Additionally, there may be 60 to 100 million homeless stray and feral cats.  Domestic cats are becoming a common feature not only of our backyards and city streets but also of our parks and other wild lands.

Domestic cats are descended from the wild cat of Africa and southwestern Asia and were domesticated by the Egyptians about 4,000 years ago.  Animal behavior experts note that cats will hunt and kill even if well fed.  Domestic cats are very effective predators on rabbits, squirrels, mice, lizards, snakes, and many species of wild birds. 

Domestic cats can have impacts on native wildlife:

  • Domestic cats are not a part of natural ecosystem. A single individual free-ranging cat may kill 100 or more birds and mammals per year. Scientists in Wisconsin estimate that cats kill at least 7.8 million birds per year in that state alone. Even cats with bells on their collars kill birds and mammals. 
  • Cats compete with native predators and spread disease.
  • Domestic cats can be a nuisance and cause damage in many of the same ways that wild animals do, such as killing poultry and other small domestic stock. 
  • Homeless cats may compete with pets for food.
  • Free-ranging cats can kill birds at bird feeders. 
  • Cats can be a nuisance in gardens when they defecate and cover their feces by digging. 

Modify your actions to begin solving the cat problem. 

Do not feed cats other than your own. Do what you can to eliminate cat's artificial food sources. Bring in pet food at night and secure trash cans by fastening the lid tightly or enclosing in a bin with a locking lid. 

Keep bird feeders away from bushes and underbrush where cats can hide. If a free-roaming cat remains a problem at your feeder, you may need to stop feeding birds for while to allow the cat to move to other hunting areas.

 Try to work problems out with your neighbors by first determining if the cat is owned and asking the owners to control their cat.  The nuisance cat may be homeless or it could be your neighbor’s.

When all else fails you can trap the cat in a humane way and transport it to an animal shelter.   Make trapping a pet cat a last resort and check your local ordinances first!  In some communities, it is illegal to trap a neighbor’s cat even on your property.  Use a live trap baited with sardines or tuna spread on newspaper or a paper plate. Place the bait in the back of the trap so that the cat must enter the trap to get the bait. Check the trap regularly, preferably every hour. To keep from capturing animals such as raccoons and opossums, only trap during the day. Be very careful not to be bitten or scratched; stray or feral cats can carry rabies and other diseases. You can receive additional technical assistance on dealing with nuisance domestic cats through your local Humane society or animal shelter.

If you are a cat owner, be responsible:

Obey your local pet control ordinances, and do not allow your cat to become someone else’s nuisance.

Recognize the impact that your pet may have on native wildlife and consider making your cat an indoor cat.  Indoor cats live longer, stay healthier, and do not kill native animals.  Outdoor cats can be trained to be indoor cats and new pet cats should stay indoors right from the start. 

NEVER intentionally release cats into the wild. It is inhumane, harms our native wildlife, and is against state law.

More information

Cats Indoors! The Campaign for Safer Birds and Cats. A program of the American Bird Conservancy 

Native Animal Network Association

Impact of Feral and Free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife

University of Florida information on Impact of Free-ranging cats

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