Cat (feral) (Felis catus)

  • Close up photograph of the snarling face of a black-coloured feral cat
    Feral cats can inflict dangerous bites
  • Photograph of a feral cat in the distance behind a wire fence
    Feral cat (Felis catus)

General information

A descendant of the African wild cat, the common ´house´ cat has now been domesticated for about 4000 years. Although the domestic cat has a long history of association with humans, it retains a strong hunting instinct and can easily revert to a wild (feral) state when abandoned or having strayed from a domestic situation.

The true feral cat does not rely on humans, obtaining its food and shelter from the natural environment. This is unlike semi-feral cats, which live around dump sites, alleys or abandoned buildings, relying on humans by scavenging rubbish scraps.

The feral cat is a Class 2 declared pest animal under Queensland legislation. Landholders are responsible for controlling feral cats on their land. The Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities has developed a threat abatement plan for feral cats.

Scientific name

Felis catus

Description
  • Similar appearance to a domestic cat; however, under ideal conditions will have increased muscle development, particularly around the head, neck and shoulders.
  • Males can weigh between 3-6kg, females 2-4kg.
  • Predominantly short-haired.
  • Coat colours range from ginger, tabby, tortoiseshell to grey and black.
  • Most active at night, with peak hunting activity soon after sunset and just before sunrise.
  • Distinctive green eyesheen under spotlight.
Habitat
  • Thrives under all climatic extremes and in vastly different types of terrain.
Distribution
  • Present Australia-wide.
Life cycle
  • Male cats attain sexual maturity at about 12 months, whereas females are capable of reproduction at about 7 months.
  • Can produce up to 3 litters a year, each of usually 4 kittens but varying from 2 to 7.
  • Most reproduction occurs between spring and summer.
  • Birth follows a gestation period of 65 days.
Impacts

Economic

  • Minor costs associated with condemnation of sheep and lamb carcasses due to sarcosporidiosis which is carried by feral cats.

Environmental

  • Opportunistic predator of small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and even fish.
  • Particularly harmful in island situations, having caused the extinction of a number of species.
  • Competes for prey with native predatory species such as quolls, eagles, hawks and reptiles.
  • Contains a parasite that is particularly harmful to marsupials, causing blindness, respiratory disorders, paralysis, and loss of offspring.

Social

  • Injury and disease transmission to domestic cats.
  • Carry parasites that can affect humans.
  • High numbers in urban areas cause hygiene problems.
Control
  • Successful control programs have required the use of multiple methods including night shooting, poisoning, trapping and fencing with land management practices. There are circumstances where shooting in the day can be productive, e.g. - in arid or semi-arid areas where cats take refuge in the canopies of scattered low trees that may be present along drainage courses.
  • Studies have shown that unfenced rubbish dumps and similar habitats with abundant food contribute significantly to increasing feral cat populations.
  • Fencing potential food sources such as rubbish dumps and responsible cat ownership to decrease new sources of feral cats are two methods of control that can assist limit feral cat impacts.
  • Feral cats are usually easily trapped in wire ´treadle-type´ box traps. This method is most practical for semi-feral urban cats. Attractants/lures may be of meat or fish and should be placed so that they cannot be reached through the wire and be retrieved by clawing.
  • Rubber-jawed, leg-hold traps can be laid in the same manner as they are laid for dingoes and foxes. Leg-hold traps can work well with true feral cats, which would normally avoid the live-capture box traps.
  • Ideal sites are those where territorial markers, such as faecal deposits and pole-clawing, are noticed. Tuna fish oil has shown some success as an attractant; however, feral cats seem more readily attracted to a site by some visual stimulus such as a bunch of bird feathers hung from a bush or stick.
  • A number of local governments lend cat traps for the purpose of removing stray and feral cats in urban situation
Declaration details
  • A declared Class 2 species under the Land Protection (Pest and Stock Route Management) Act 2002.
  • Introduction, feeding, keeping, releasing and supplying is prohibited without a permit issued by Biosecurity Queensland.
  • Landholders are required to control declared pests on their properties.

Last updated 23 November 2012