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Outdoor fecal deposition by free-roaming cats and attitudes of cat owners and nonowners toward stray pets, wildlife, and water pollution

Haydee A. Dabritz BSc1, E. Robert Atwill DVM, PhD2, Ian A. Gardner BVSc, MPVM, PhD3, Melissa A. Miller DVM, PhD4, and Patricia A. Conrad DVM, PhD5
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  • 1 Wildlife Health Center, University of California, Davis, CA 95616.
  • | 2 Veterinary Medicine and Teaching Research Center, 18830 Rd 112, Tulare, CA 93274.
  • | 3 Department of Medicine and Epidemiology, University of California, Davis, CA 95616.
  • | 4 California Department of Fish and Game, Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center, 1451 Shaffer Rd, Santa Cruz, CA 95060.
  • | 5 Wildlife Health Center, University of California, Davis, CA 95616.

Abstract

Objective—To estimate cat population size, management, and outside fecal deposition and evaluate attitudes of cat owners and nonowners to stray animal control, water pollution, and wildlife protection.

Design—Cross-sectional survey.

Sample Population—294 adult residents of Cayucos, Los Osos, and Morro Bay, Calif.

Procedures—Telephone survey.

Results—The region's cat population was estimated at 7,284 owned and 2,046 feral cats, and 38% of surveyed households owned a mean of 1.9 cats/household. Forty-four percent of cats defecated outside >75% of the time. Annual fecal deposition (wet weight) by owned cats in the 3 communities was estimated to be 77.6 tonnes (76.4 tons). Cat owners were more likely to oppose cat licensing and impounding stray cats and support trap-neuter-return for stray cats and less likely to be concerned about water pollution, than were noncat owners.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Feral cats represented a sizeable proportion (22%) of the free roaming cats in this area and could be contributing 30.0 tonnes (29.5 tons) of feces to the environment per year. However, feral cats are not the principal source of fecal loading because owned cats defecating outdoors contribute an estimated 77.6 tonnes (76.4 tons) or 72% of the annual outdoor fecal deposition.

Abstract

Objective—To estimate cat population size, management, and outside fecal deposition and evaluate attitudes of cat owners and nonowners to stray animal control, water pollution, and wildlife protection.

Design—Cross-sectional survey.

Sample Population—294 adult residents of Cayucos, Los Osos, and Morro Bay, Calif.

Procedures—Telephone survey.

Results—The region's cat population was estimated at 7,284 owned and 2,046 feral cats, and 38% of surveyed households owned a mean of 1.9 cats/household. Forty-four percent of cats defecated outside >75% of the time. Annual fecal deposition (wet weight) by owned cats in the 3 communities was estimated to be 77.6 tonnes (76.4 tons). Cat owners were more likely to oppose cat licensing and impounding stray cats and support trap-neuter-return for stray cats and less likely to be concerned about water pollution, than were noncat owners.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Feral cats represented a sizeable proportion (22%) of the free roaming cats in this area and could be contributing 30.0 tonnes (29.5 tons) of feces to the environment per year. However, feral cats are not the principal source of fecal loading because owned cats defecating outdoors contribute an estimated 77.6 tonnes (76.4 tons) or 72% of the annual outdoor fecal deposition.

Contributor Notes

Supported by the Wildlife Health Center at the University of California-Davis, the Schwall Medical Fellowship, National Science Foundation grant No. 0525765, and Morris Animal Foundation grant No. D03ZO-25.

The authors thank Jane Stevens, David Hird, Laurel Beckett, Janet Foley, and Debbie Bee for technical assistance.

Address correspondence to Dr. Conrad.