Cat (feral or wild)

Common name: cat (feral or wild)

Scientific name: Felis catus

Origin: Europe, Africa and Asia

Cats (feral or wild) are a declared established pest animal on specified Crown land in Victoria under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994. This declaration came into effect on 26 July 2018.

The declaration applies to areas of Crown land managed by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), Parks Victoria, Phillip Island Nature Park and the four Alpine Resort Management Boards.

Feral cat control will be implemented by department and agency staff, and their agents, ensuring efforts are targeted to protect the threatened wildlife most at risk of predation by feral cats.

Feral cats have not been declared an established pest on private land, meaning farmers and other private landholders will not be required to control feral cats. Permission to hunt on Crown land does not extend to feral cats, unless conducted by accredited volunteer shooters engaged to participate in control programs managed by Parks Victoria or DELWP.

Private landholders can manage cats roaming on their property in accordance with current laws.

Read more about the feral cat declaration.

Read more about the classification of invasive animals in Victoria.

Populations

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.

Animal biology

Appearance

Feral cats look like suburban domestic cats. They have agile bodies, acute senses and fine coordination that is well suited for 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 6.4kg (average weight 4.5kg) and adult females from 2.4 to 4.4kg (average weight 3.2kg).

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.

Behaviour

Feral cats are mostly solitary and their home range can be as large as 10 sq km with males typically having larger home ranges than females.

The size of their home range also depends upon the amount of food available within it. That is, a feral cats home range is generally smaller when food resources are abundant and it is larger when food resources are scarce. When prey is abundant, cat populations can also increase quite rapidly and decrease when food becomes scarce in times of drought. It is therefore difficult to accurately estimate density figures.

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. During the day, feral cats tend to lay up in sheltered areas, including 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 but in urban areas where food is more abundant their numbers tend to higher and they have smaller home ranges.

Diet

Feral cats are opportunistic predators that eat a wide range of foods including carrion. They do prefer to hunt and kill and they typically target the most available prey species, but it has been reported that some individuals can become specialist hunters. 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 common. When live prey is scarce, feral cats will also scavenge food scraps and carrion.

Preferred habitat

Feral cats live in a diverse range of habitats including deserts, forests, woodlands and grasslands.

Feral cats usually reach their highest densities on small islands or in human-modified habitats such as farms and rubbish tips.

Predators

Kittens and juvenile feral cats may be preyed upon by:

  • foxes
  • dingoes
  • reptiles
  • 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

Reproduction in feral cats is similar to that of domestic cats. On average, females have two litters per year with the first in spring and the second in late summer or early autumn. However, litters can be born in any month with litter sizes ranging from 2 to 7.

Under favourable conditions, feral cat offspring remain with the mother until approximately 7 months of age. After this time the family group gradually separate and the dispersing individuals tend to live a more solitary existence.

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 7 years.

Similar species

Feral cats should not be confused with 2 of our larger native marsupial predators:

  • eastern quolls
  • tiger quolls.

(Previously called 'native cats' and 'tiger cats'.)

Impact

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 (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 native animals.

Impact on social value and health

The diseases toxoplasmosis and sarcosporidiosis, 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. Feral cats may also spread a variety of exotic diseases including rabies that could seriously threaten livestock, wildlife and human health in the event of an outbreak.

Management

Recommended control measures include:

  • confinement trapping
  • habitat manipulation
  • exclusion fencing and shooting.

The department recommends integrated pest management using all available control measures implemented in a coordinated manner at a landscape scale.

Read more about the management and control of feral or wild cats.

References

  • The Bird Observer (1975). Feral cats: A danger to wildlife. Leading article The Bird Observer No. 521.
  • Brunner,H.,Stevens, P.L. and Backholer, J.R. (1980) Introduced mammals in Victoria. Part of the Proceedings of a Symposium held at Rusden C.A.E.,July 1980.
  • Coman, B. J. (1972). A survey of the gastrointestinal parasites of the feral cat in Victoria. Aust. Vet. J. 48 : 133136.
  • Coman, B. J. and Brunner, H. (1972). Food habits of the feral house cat in Victoria. J. Wildl. Manage. 36: 848-853.
  • Coman, B. J., Jones, E.H. and Driesen, M.A. (1981). Helminth parasites and arthropods of feral cats. Aust. Vet J. 57 :324 -7.
  • Coman, B. J., Jones, E.H. and Westbury, H.A. (1981). Protozoan and viral infections of feral cats. Aust. Vet. J. 57 :319-23.
  • Feral Cat Factsheet. 2011. PestSmart, Invasive Animal Cooperative Research Council. Accessed on 15th February 2012.
  • Forsyth, D., Duncan, R., Bomford, M. and Moore, G. (2004). Climatic Suitability, Life-Histroy Traits, Introduction Effort, and the Establishment and Spread of Introduced Mammals in Australia. Cons. Biol. Vol 11 No. 2 :557-569
  • Gregory, G. G. and Munday, B. L. (1976). Internal parasites of feral cats from the Tasmanian midlands and King Island. Aust. Vet J. 52: 317-320.
  • Jones, E. (1977). Ecology of the Feral Cat, Felis catus (L.), (Carnivora: Felidae) on Macquarie Island. Aust. Wildl. Res. 4: 249-262.
  • Jones, E. and Coman, B.J. (1981). Ecology of the feral cat, Felis catus (L.), in south-eastern Australia. I. Diet. Wildl. Res, 8: 537-47.
  • Jones, E. and Coman, B. J. (1982a). Ecology of the feral cat, (L.), in south-eastern Australia. II. Reproduction. Aust Wildl. Res. 9: 111-9.
  • Jones, E. and Coman, B. J. (1982b). Ecology of the feral cat, Felis catus (L.), in south-eastern Australia. III. Home ranges and population ecology in semi arid north-west Victoria. Aust. Wildl. Res. 9: 409-20.
  • Landcare Notes (1994): Pest Animal References - Feral Cats. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
  • Ryan, G. E. (1976). Gastrointestinal parasites of feral cats in New South Wales. Aust. Vet. J. 52: 224-227.
Page last updated: 10 Jul 2020