The Community Benefits of Feral Cats
Despite the attention given to zoonotic diseases and claims of cats being a public health risk, there are actually more community benefits resulting from the association with these animals. Cats have been shown to lower blood pressure, relieve stress, decrease depression and anxiety, extend life expectancies, and promote overall happiness. Studies have shown that individuals who care for cats have improved immune systems and children raised around animals develop less autoimmune diseases. More detailed information regarding the health benefits of cats can be found here: Zoonotic Diseases.Feral cats minimize rodent problems:
- While cats do not hunt rats and mice into extinction, they do keep their populations in check and discourage new rodents from moving into the area. Feral cats fill in a gap in the current ecosystem. For example, bobcats (Lynx rufus) used to live up and down the East Coast, but were hunted ruthlessly and driven away by development. Feral cats exhibit similar behaviors to these native feline predators, and they help to control the same species of small prey animals.
- Feral cats help reduce the spread of disease. During the Middle Ages cats were nearly hunted to extinction, as they were scapegoated for being associated with witches. With fewer cats in communities, this allowed an increase in flea-ridden rat populations and more carriers of the plague; this lead to an increase in the spread of the deadly disease (Zeugner, 2008). Millions of Europeans died from the bubonic plague during this time.
- An established, stable, sterilized, and vaccinated colony of feral cats will deter other stray and feral cats from moving into the area. This decreases the risk that residents will encounter an unvaccinated cat, and will virtually eliminate problem behaviors like fighting, spraying, and yowling. Cats vaccinated against rabies also create a buffer zone between wildlife and the public, which greatly reduces the risk of contracting the disease.
- Many people enjoy watching feral cats, and observing animals has been shown to lower blood pressure in medical studies (Sakagami and Ohta, 2010).
- People who help to care for feral cats by feeding them and taking them to the vet enjoy many benefits. Often cat caretakers are elderly men and women, a population at risk for depression, loneliness, and isolation. Cats relieve these conditions and often bring a sense of happiness and purpose to people who help them. Just as companion animals have been shown to extend life expectancies, lower blood pressure, and relieve stress (Qureshi et al., 2009; Levine et al., 2013), caring for feral cats can improve the health and happiness of the caretaker.
- Individuals who cannot take on the full-time commitment of adopting a companion animal can participate in programs to help feral cats. This provides a viable alternative to irresponsibly purchasing an animal one is not prepared to care for.
- Implementing local TNR programs helps drive community involvement and encourages compassionate action. TNR also creates opportunities for outreach, education, and cooperation. Today’s society has a heightened awareness of the staggering euthanasia rates occurring in animal shelters, and there is more determination than ever to reduce the killing of healthy animals.
Zeugner, Emily. “Feline Geneticist Traces Origin of the Cat.” Associated Press 9 June 2008. Web. 29 July 2014.
Sakagami, Taketo, and Mitsuaki Ohta. “The Effect of Visiting Zoos on Human Health and
Quality of Life.” Animal Science Journal. 81.1 (2010): 129–34. NCBI PubMed. Web. 29 Sept. 2014.
Qureshi, Adnan I. et al. “Cat Ownership and the Risk of Fatal Cardiovascular Diseases. Results
from the Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Study Mortality Follow-up Study.” Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology 2.1 (2009): 132–35. Print.
Levine, Glenn N. et al. “Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk: A Scientific Statement From
the American Heart Association.” Circulation (2013): CIR.0b013e31829201e1. Circ. Ahajournals.org. Web. 1 July 2014.