The environmental, financial and public health impact of community cat colonies



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The issue of feral, free-roaming, abandoned and stray cats can lead to volatile discussions on how to manage their populations that would in turn reduce their impact on the environment and lessen risks to public health. The domesticated cat began its association with humans as a hunter of the vermin that threatened our food stores, and has evolved into one of the world’s most popular pets. With that popularity has come a host of problems involving cat over populations namely involving free-roaming cats, owned and unowned. Animal-based organizations are at odds with one another on how to handle these cats that form loose colonies. The cats pose issues to the environment by hunting small animals and birds, sometimes to the point of extinction. Their waste is a source of zoonotic parasites and the colonies can become reservoirs of diseases that can affect human health and the health of other cats. There are organizations that promote programs such as Trap-Neuter-and Return (TNR) as a way to control the numbers of cats but this control measure does not help protect the environment or eliminate the risk of disease. These programs are mostly dependent on volunteers and donations and have not always demonstrated that they are an effective way to control community cat populations. Those that oppose TNR would like to see community cats either euthanized or re-homed. Part of the problem may lie in lack of knowledge on the issues surrounding community cats. In order to measure the awareness of community cat issues, a survey was prepared and sent out to veterinarians in the mid-west and to other animal welfare and public health officials located nationwide. The survey results showed that many respondents were not aware of their own organization’s policies or statements pertaining to community cats or that they were overly concerned with the risks associated with community cats. Those individuals involved with animal care, welfare and regulation need to be aware of all the issues surrounding community cats so that in turn, they can enlighten their clients and the public as to the risks they are exposed to with a community cat colony in their neighborhood and also to risks community cats face everyday living outside of a loving home.



Feral cats, Community cat colonies, Free-roaming cats, Abandoned cats, Trap-neuter-and return, Zoonotic parasites

Graduation Month



Master of Public Health


Public Health Interdepartmental Program

Major Professor

Michael B. Cates; Michael B. Cates