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 University of Tennessee’s Center for Wildlife Health, Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, and by D.A. Jessup, retired from the California Department of Fish and Game.
Among the key findings of the paper:
- Free roaming cats are an important source of animal-transmitted, serious diseases such as rabies, toxoplasmosis, 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.
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.”