Cat (feral or wild)
|Common name:||cat (feral or wild)|
|Scientific name:||Felis catus|
This species is not a declared pest animal in the state of Victoria.
Europe, Africa and Asia
History of spread
Feral cat populations began to establish in Australia soon after European arrivals, as early as the 17th century. The major spread of feral cats throughout inland Australia took place last century as the continent was opened up by European explorers and pastoralists. Today, feral cats exist over much of Australia and have successfully colonised most habitats.
Distribution in Victoria
Feral cats are widely distributed throughout Victoria.
Feral cats look like suburban domestic cats. They have agile bodies, acute senses and fine coordination adapted to hunting.
It is common for feral cats to grow to larger sizes than their domestic relatives. Feral cat adult males normally weigh from 3.4 to 6.4 kg (average weight 4.5 kg) and adult females from 2.4 to 4.4 kg (average weight 3.2 kg).
The most common coat colour of feral cats is striped tabby, but blotched tabby and black are also common. Other colour variants are also seen in the wild.
Long hair is uncommon in feral cats and exotic breeds of cat such as Persian or Siamese are not found in feral populations.
Feral cats are mostly solitary animals and usually maintain a home range which may be up to 10 sq km for males and less for females.
The size of feral cat home ranges will depend upon available food supplies. When prey is abundant, cat population densities increase. When prey is scarce, cat population densities decrease. It is therefore difficult to accurately estimate density figures. At one study site in the Mallee, the mean winter density was 0.7 cats per sq km.
Although feral cats may be active at any time, they are usually more active at night, with the two periods of greatest activity centred near the times of sunrise and sunset. Often during the day, feral cats will lay up in sheltered areas, usually in rabbit burrows, hollow logs or dense thickets of scrub.
In rural and bushland environments feral cats are generally found in low numbers with relatively large home ranges. In urban areas and where food resources are abundant. Feral cat densities are generally greater with smaller home ranges.
Feral cats prefer live prey. They are opportunistic predators and will eat a wide range of foods, usually the most available prey species. Individual cats become specialists at hunting particular prey species.
Dietary studies have shown that the European rabbit is the major food item of feral cats in Victoria, however, mice, smaller native mammals, reptiles, birds and invertebrates are also commonly preyed upon. When live prey is scarce, feral cats will also scavenge food scraps.
Feral cats live in a diverse range of habitats including deserts, forests, woodlands and grasslands.
Kittens and juvenile feral cats may be preyed upon by foxes, dingoes, reptiles and wedge-tailed eagles.
Diseases and parasites
Feral cats collected in past surveys were found to be healthy and well fed. However, the normal range of parasites found in domestic cats such as tapeworms and roundworms, and diseases such as feline panleukopaenia, sarcosporidiosis and toxoplasmosis also exist in feral cat populations.
Reproduction in feral cats is similar to that of domestic cats. On average, females have two litters per year, the first in spring and the second in late summer or early autumn. However, litters can be dropped in any month with litter sizes ranging from 2 to 7 with a mean litter size of 4.4.
Under favourable conditions, feral cat offspring remain with the mother until approximately seven months of age. After this time this family group gradually separate and the individuals change to a solitary existence.
The distance travelled by ranging feral cats depends
Female feral cats can reproduce at 10–12 months of age, with males reaching sexual maturity at about one year.
Cats generally do not breed during winter. Longer breeding intervals have been noted in drier, warmer areas compared to cooler wetter climates.
Feral cats produce up to three litters a year but usually produce only two litters. Each litter produces an average of four kittens. The gestation period for feral cats is approximately 65 days.
Feral cat kittens are inexperienced hunters and can take up to six months to become independent.
A high reproductive ability in feral cats maintains population growth despite a high natural mortality rate within kittens. Feral cat populations are self-sustaining.
Feral cats may live for up to seven years.
Feral cats should not be confused with two of our larger native marsupial predators, Eastern Quolls and Tiger Quolls (previously called "native cats" and "tiger cats").
Impact on ecosystems and waterways
Feral cats are skilled hunters and are a threat to the survival of many native species including small mammals, birds and reptiles.
Feral cats are thought to be involved with the extinction of Australian native animals and have been implicated in the failure of endangered species reintroduction programs (eg. numbat, bilby, bandicoot).
Approximately 80 endangered and threatened species are at risk from feral cat predation in Australia.
Agricultural and economic impacts
Feral cats have no economic value. The cost of feral cat management and research has been estimated at $2 million per year nationally. The economic loss inflicted by feral and domestic cats, based on bird predation alone, has been estimated at $144 million annually.
Feral cats are also potential carriers of disease which may be harmful to stock and/or native animals.
Impact on social value and health
The disease, toxoplasmosis, can be transmitted by cats to humans, domestic stock and some native animals.
Toxoplasmosis can cause foetal disease and miscarriage but the role that feral cats play in the transmission of this disease is thought to be small.
Recommended control measures
The Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR) recommends integrated pest management using all available control measures implemented in a coordinated manner at a landscape scale.
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