Veterinarians are trusted advocates who are well placed to encourage responsible cat ownership practices, and researchers are developing a suite of resources to enable this process.

Researchers from several institutions across Australia have been studying the interactions between cats and wildlife whilst also looking at the different ways information about the impacts of cats on wildlife can be disseminated to different audiences including veterinarians and the general public.

A team at the Threatened Species Recovery Hub, are taking research that has been undertaken in recent years about the impacts of cats on native wildlife and our capacity to manage these impacts, and looking at ways to tailor and communicate this information amongst different stakeholders.

“A key part of the project has been to develop a better understanding of how local governments in Australia manage cats. Our project team recently undertook a national survey of local governments to learn more about their cat management practices, and the issues and challenges they face”, said Project Officer Tida Nou.

The research has highlighted the need for a consistent understanding and increased uptake of responsible cat ownership practices in Australia to ensure that pet cats do not roam and that they are neutered prior to reproductive age, together with the importance of providing information on cat impacts and responsible cat management to the public. The team is producing a series of fact-sheets and considering the development of other multimedia resources, which would be useful to veterinarians when educating cat owners about the potential impacts of their pets on Australia’s wildlife. 

“Veterinarians are extremely well placed to support and encourage responsible cat ownership practices, as they hold a strong position of trust and authority amongst pet owners. Social research focused on pet cat owners indicates that they are much more receptive and are more likely to modify behaviours if messaging is delivered by their veterinarian”, said Ms Nou.  

At Murdoch University, Professor of Animal Ecology Michael Calver, is one of several researchers looking at interactions between pet cats and wildlife. They aim to provide a solid scientific basis for cat management policy; allowing people the pleasures of pet ownership whilst minimising potential problems. 

The research has already shown that cat owners are unaware of the serious hazards to free-roaming pet cats, and that cat owners are more likely to take actions convenient for them or that improve their pet’s welfare.

“Awareness of environmental impacts is already high for predation, but it’s likely less for disease transmission. There is less awareness of welfare hazards to roaming cats, and the evidence is strong that the welfare of the cat, not other issues, is strong in owners’ husbandry practices. 

“Vets can educate responsible cat owners, who then set an example. Veterinary practice websites can also provide basic information. Recent studies confirm that cats can have significant, rapid impacts on urban wildlife. At Mandurah, south of Perth, predation by a single stray, neutered cat and one pet cat caused the total breeding failure of a colony of endangered Fairy Terns”, said Professor Calver.

There are several resources which have so far been developed by the research team: