Overpopulation might just be the #1 cause of death in cats in the United States. It isn’t an illness or a disease like the other causes of death that will be listed in this series, but it is every bit as devastating to cats. Overpopulation is causing a large number of cats to die simply because they exist.
Cat Overpopulation Statistics
The numbers regarding cat overpopulation are a bit staggering. According to statistics from the ASPCA, only about half of the cats in the United States have a home (74-96 million have homes, 70 million are homeless). Of the 3.4 million cats entering the shelters every year 37% are adopted, 5% are returned to their owners, and 41% are euthanized (about 1.4 million cats per year). That’s enough cats being euthanized to fill all the seats in Yankee Stadium almost 28 times!
To put all of this in perspective, let’s compare this to what the CDC considers to be the #1 cause of death in humans – heart disease. According to the CDC, 600,000 Americans (humans) die each year from heart disease. Considering that the population of the US is 316.1 million, that would mean that heart disease kills about 0.2% of the US population every year. By contrast, if there are 116 million cats in the US (96 million in homes + 70 million homeless) and 1.4 million of them are euthanized in shelters every year, then 0.8% of the US cat population is euthanized every year in shelters.
These numbers don’t account for all of the cats that die as a result of homelessness either. Cats in homes do very well, but out on the streets, things are different. It is impossible to get accurate statistics on the numbers of cats who die from starvation, extreme temperatures, being hit by cars, or killed by other animals.
How did this happen?
House cats are not indigenous to the United States. They first arrived here with European explorers and settlers who used them to control the rodent populations on their ships and in their new settlements. In those times cats were pretty much like other work-class farm animals. Cats didn’t become the pets they are today until about the mid-1800’s when the pet cat craze made it’s way “across the pond” from England.
As cats became popular pets, it also became popular to breed them. This extra breeding coupled with the fact that people were moving away from farms and into large cities (due to the industrial revolution) is what I believe started the ball rolling toward cat overpopulation. There were lots of cats being crowded into smaller and smaller areas with people who were less and less familiar with raising animals. Cats multiply really fast. One unaltered female is able to produce 420,000 kittens in just 7 years!
Efforts to End Cat Overpopulation
There are 3 main efforts that exist with the goal of ending cat overpopulation; Spay & Neuter Programs, Cat Adoption, and Trap-Neuter-Return Programs.
Spay & Neuter Programs
Spay & Neuter Programs fight cat overpopulation by sterilizing cats. These are surgical procedures that completely remove a female cat’s uterus or a male cat’s testicles as to make it impossible for them to reproduce. Both procedures have little effect on any other part of the cat’s life and have little to no healing time. By having as many cats spayed or neutered as possible, the population growth can be slowed. There are many free or low cost spay and neuter clinics available.
Cat adoption reduces over population by reducing the need to breed more cats to be pets. Local rescues and shelters have beautiful, healthy cats of every breed, color, and size you can imagine. Some of the cats are purebred and relinquished by owners who got them from breeders. Despite some of the rumors, cats in reputable rescues and shelters are not more likely to carry a disease than cats from breeders. Rescues and shelters are required by law to make sure that every cat in their care is seen regularly by a veterinarian, treated for all injuries and ailments that exist, and kept up-to-date on vaccinations.
The homeless population of cats are at the biggest risk of death when it comes to the overpopulation problem. Some homeless cats can be trapped and then adopted out to loving homes. Other homeless cats have become feral, which means that they are no longer suited to life indoors.
Originally it was thought that the best thing that could be done to reduce the overpopulation of cats was to euthanize all feral cats. However, according to Dr. Kate Hurley this method wasn’t making a dent in the overpopulation. A new strategy was needed.
Trap-Neuter-Return is a method in which feral cats are trapped, spayed or neutered, and then returned to the place they were found. These programs also mark each feral cat in their care with an ear tip so that they can continue to check in and care for them. This reduces the overpopulation by reducing the number of homeless cats that can breed and produce homeless offspring. There are efforts underway to make this method even simpler by finding a non-surgical method of birth control for these cats. Groups like Alley Cat Allies can help you find out what trap-neuter-return programs exist in your area.
How do you feel about the efforts to control the overpopulation of cats in your area?
Hope; Defeating the Common Causes of Death in Cats Series
This is the first of a series of 4 posts addressing a few of the most common causes of death in cats. The intent of the series is to educate cat owners and lovers about each cause of death and discuss the solutions that exist (or lack thereof). As each post goes live, I will make sure to have links for all of the at the bottom of each post.