Felis catus (cat)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Distribution Table
- Habitat List
- Species Vectored
- Biology and Ecology
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Causes
- Impact Summary
- Threatened Species
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Prevention and Control
- Links to Websites
- Principal Source
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Felis catus Linnaeus, 1758
Preferred Common Name
International Common Names
- English: cat; domestic cat; feral cat; house cat
- Spanish: gato
- French: chat
Local Common Names
- Fiji: pusiniveikau
- Germany: Hauskatze; Katze
- Italy: gatto
- New Zealand: poti
- Portugal: gato
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
The domestic cat, F. catus, was probably domesticated c. 9000 years ago from the Near Eastern wildcat (F. silvestris lybica). Considering the extent to which cats are valued as pets, it is not surprising that they have since been translocated by humans to almost all parts of the world. Domestic cats that live without close contact with humans are called feral cats. Notable predators, F. catus threatens native birdlife and other fauna, especially on islands where native species have evolved in relative isolation from mammalian predators. Cats can also transmit diseases and threaten native wildcats through hybridization. Different management options are adopted for feral domestic cats compared with domestic cats living as pets; for example, lethal control can be used in the case of feral cats.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Metazoa
- Phylum: Chordata
- Subphylum: Vertebrata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Carnivora
- Suborder: Fissipeda
- Family: Felidae
- Genus: Felis
- Species: Felis catus
DescriptionTop of page
F. catus are agile predators with retractable claws, sharp teeth, long whiskers and keen hearing and vision including acute night vision. Feral cats differ little in appearance from domestic (pet) cats and display a full range of coat patterns; coat patterns are very variable in pet cats. When in good condition, the feral cat has a more robust appearance than its domestic counterpart, being more muscular around the head and neck region. After many generations in a free-roaming state, feral cats tend to revert to the wild-type tabby colour pattern, with varying degrees of white on belly and chest. The average body weight of male feral cats is 3–6 kg; females weigh 2–4 kg. When living domestically, cats may be considerably heavier. (Queensland Government, 2012; Woodward and Quinn, 2011)
DistributionTop of page
Feral cats are not to be confused with the three species of wild cats found throughout continental Europe, south-western Asia, and the savannah regions of Africa. These are the African wild cats (Felis silvestris lybica), European wild cats (F. silvestris silvestris) and Asiatic wild cats (F. silvestris ornata). African wild cats are found in appropriate habitat throughout Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. European wild cats are found throughout Europe and western Russia and Scandinavian countries. Asiatic wildcats are found in the Middle East, southern Russia, western China and western India. Domestic cats (F. catus) are thought to be descended from African wild cats and are found virtually worldwide in association with humans (IUCN Cat Specialist Group 1996a, IUCN Cat Specialist Group 1996b, IUCN Cat Specialist Group 1996c, in University of Michigan 2006).
The distribution table is concerned with records of feral cats and not domestic pets.
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 10 Feb 2022
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|Saint Helena||Present||Introduced||Invasive||First reported: 16th century|
|-Ascension||Absent, Eradicated||1815||Successful 2-yera campaign to eradicate feral cats|
|-Tristan da Cunha||Present||Introduced||1810|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||Present||Introduced|
|French Southern Territories||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|British Indian Ocean Territory||Present, Localized||Introduced||Invasive|
|Cocos Islands||Present, Localized||Introduced||Invasive|
|Japan||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|United Arab Emirates||Present, Localized||Introduced||Invasive|
|Spain||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|Anguilla||Present||Introduced||Invasive||First reported: Probably 16th or 17th century|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|British Virgin Islands||Present, Localized||Introduced||1884||Invasive|
|Canada||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Prince Edward Island||Present, Localized||Introduced||Invasive|
|Cayman Islands||Present||Introduced||Invasive||First reported: 16th or 17th century|
|Saint Lucia||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Invasive||Severely impacting biodiversity|
|Saint Pierre and Miquelon||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|Turks and Caicos Islands||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|U.S. Virgin Islands||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|United States||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-California||Present, Localized||Introduced||Invasive||First reported: c. 1900|
|Australia||Present||Introduced||Invasive||First reported: 1824 - 1886|
|-Lord Howe Island||Absent, Eradicated||1788|
|-New South Wales||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|Federated States of Micronesia||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|Northern Mariana Islands||Present||Introduced|
|Papua New Guinea||Present||Introduced|
|U.S. Minor Outlying Islands||Absent, Eradicated||1964|
|Chile||Present||Introduced||First reported: 1500s|
|Colombia||Present||Introduced||First reported: 1500 - 1508|
|Ecuador||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|Falkland Islands||Present||Introduced||Invasive||First reported: 1830 or earlier|
HabitatTop of page
Feral cats adapt to a variety of habitat types and circumstances. On the Australian continent they inhabit forests and woodland habitats in eastern, western and northern parts of the country (Dickman 1996). On Hahajima Island, Japan, feral cats have been observed widely in various kinds of habitats, including primary forests (Kawakami and Higuchi 2002). On Macquarie Island, (a sub-Antarctic Australian island) most cats live in herb-field or tussock grassland (Brothers Skira and Copson 1985), showing an ability to adapt to difficult terrain. A study of the habitat use and diet of feral cats in a Mediterranean habitat in a riparian reserve in central California (Hall et al. 2000, in Brickner 2003) can probably reflect on the situation in other areas with similar climatic areas. Cats in the reserve seemed to strongly prefer staying in riparian habitat. Hall and colleagues (2000) suggest that this habitat provides ample cover and perhaps a variety of prey, especially birds. Cats in the study foraged mostly in the adjacent fields and annual grasslands and, to a lesser extent, in the riparian habitat (in Brickner 2003).
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial||Managed||Cultivated / agricultural land||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed forests, plantations and orchards||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Urban / peri-urban areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural forests||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural grasslands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Riverbanks||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Wetlands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Cold lands / tundra||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Scrub / shrublands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Littoral||Coastal areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
The diet of feral cats on islands may vary significantly to that of feral cats on the mainland, with cats often taking advantage of alternative food sources. On the tiny 28 hectare Herekopare Island, New Zealand, for example, there are no introduced or native species of mammals. Prior to elimination of feral cats there in 1970, a seabird called the fairy prion (see Pachyptila turtur in IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) comprised the bulk of the diet with other sea birds and occasional land birds making up most of the remainder (Fitzgerald and Veitch 1985, in Dickman 1996). The weta (a native insect in the order Orthoptera) also appeared to be important to individual cats; two cats' stomachs were found to contain over 100 insects each. Similarly, in the Galapagos Islands, birds are an important component of the feral cat's diet, with cats sometimes taking birds of similar mass to themselves, such as frigate birds (Fregata spp.), pelicans (Pelecanus spp.) and flightless cormorants (Phalacrocorax spp.) (Konecny 1987, in Dickman 1996). On Aldabra Atoll, Seychelles, hatchlings of the green turtle (see Chelonia mydas in IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) are seasonally predominant in the diet of feral cats (Seabrook, 1989). On Christmas Island, the introduced black rat (Rattus rattus) comprises almost one third of the diet of feral cats by weight, however, 21% of the diet is comprised of the large flying-fox (see Pteropus melanotus in IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) and 28% of the imperial pigeon (see Ducula whartoni in IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) (Tidemann et al. 1994, in Dickman 1996).
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
Introduction pathways to new locations
Ship: Many ships of the 18th and 19th centuries were infested with rats and so carried cats to control them.
Transportation of domesticated animals: Taken by humans as pets then left behind or the young dispersed.
Local dispersal methods
Natural dispersal (local)
Escape/release from domestic situations: Cats were once commonly used to control rodent pests in barns and fields and were often only loosely managed in this context, so escapes into the environment were possible. Pet cats may escape, but unwanted cats or their litters are also abandoned (Woodward and Quinn, 2011).
Pathway CausesTop of page
Impact SummaryTop of page
ImpactTop of page
Cats can also act as vectors of diseases which can spread to humans and livestock. For example, feline leukaemia and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) threatens other felines such as native bobcats and mountain lions as well as domestic house cats. Feral cats can also transmit rabies, roundworm, hookworm and the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii (Woodward and Quinn, 2011).
Feral cats threaten populations of native wildcats (Felis sylvestris) through hybridization (see Felis sylvestris in IUCN Red List of Threatened Species). For example, the population of wildcats in Scotland shows a history of interbreeding with domestic cats and the two cats are difficult to distinguish (Beaumont et al., 2001).
Threatened SpeciesTop of page
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page
- Threat to/ loss of native species
- Competition (unspecified)
- Pest and disease transmission
- Interaction with other invasive species
UsesTop of page
F. catus is valued as a pet. It can also be used to control pests e.g. mice and rats.
Uses ListTop of page
- Biological control
- Pet/aquarium trade
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.
Cats were brought to Britain around 300AD by the Romans; European colonists later introduced them around the globe (Coleman et al. 1997, in Brickner 2003). As cats are often revered as pets, this raises the moral dilemma of how to handle them when they have become a threat to native wildlife. Brickner (2003) suggests that animal rights organisations that condemn cat control via killing are over-looking the at least 52–63 million mammals, 25–29 million birds, and 4–6 million reptiles killed each summer in Britain by around 9 million cats (Woods et al., 2003). Obviously there are two quite different situations for management of the species, depending on the status of the cat in relation to humans. This ranges from truly feral animals, such as on islands, that are totally non-reliant on people for food and shelter, to semi-feral individuals that are fed to some degree by humans, through to pet cats living with and being fed by their owners.
In the case of pet cats, solutions that would not be feasible for feral cats can be implemented. For example, the fitting of anti-predation devices, the use of chemical and ultrasonic deterrents, curfews and the banning of ownership of cats within sensitive areas (Hansen, 2010). Similarly, Brickner (2003) suggests keeping a pet cat in at night, fitting it with a bell, neutering the animal when it is young and giving it toys. However, Barrette (1998) found that fitting cats with bells has no significant effect on the amount of prey caught, whereas Ruxton et al. (2002) found that equipping cats with bells reduced prey delivery rates by about 50% (in Brickner 2003). In a study in Britain, Woods et al. (2003) found that the number of birds and herpetofauna brought home by cats was significantly lower in households that feed birds (but the number of actual different types of bird species killed was greater in households that feed birds). The number of mammals brought home per cat was lower when cats were equipped with bells or kept indoors at night, however, the number of herpetofauna brought home was greater when cats were kept in at night. It may be that a choice must be made between focusing on mammal protection or protection of herpetofauna. In addition, if the mammals being caught are introduced species this raises another dilemma, since there may then be a conflict of interest between non-native pest control and native species conservation.
In the second situation, when a cat is feral and threatening wildlife, a more severe means of controlling cats may be justified. This can involve trapping, hunting, shooting, poisoning (e.g. using poisoned baits or secondary poisoning from poisoned rats), and introduction of viral disease (e.g. panleucopaenia). There are drawbacks to these control methods. For example, trapping/shooting/hunting are time and labour intensive and not economically viable over large areas. The introduction of disease is problematic because of transmission of disease to owned domestic cats and the low transmission rate amongst widely dispersed feral cats. Toxins used for cat baiting may have unacceptable environmental impacts on habitats (Denny and Dickman, 2010) or affect non-target species, and delivery of poisons may not be effective (Hetherington et al., 2007). Visual lures (such as feathers and cotton wool) and attractants (such as tuna oil) can be used to attract greater numbers of feral cats to traps and baits. However, cats by nature are hunters rather than scavengers, so control methods relying upon food baits or lures are generally unsuccessful when prey numbers are high. Read (2010) proposed a new poison delivery system which may be more effective and cat-specific. It involves ejecting poison to the back/neck region of cat-sized animals after interception of an infra-red beam. Cats respond by oral grooming of their fur to remove the poison, whereas the poison is not consumed by less dextrous and less fastidious species such as dogs.
‘Trap-neuter-return’ (TNR) is a control strategy used as an alternative to lethal control of feral or semi-feral cats; it is often advocated by animal welfare groups. TNR involves trapping and sterilizing cats, which are then returned to the environment, but often continue to be fed and cared for by volunteer caretakers. As part of TNR schemes, cats may be immunized so the overall feral cat population will not only contain more sterile individuals but may also be less likely to spread disease. Advocates often argue that eradication is unethical, or that the TNR population may help to resist immigrations of unneutered and disease carrying feral cats which might otherwise invade from surrounding areas. However, without eradication, TNR does not prevent negative environmental impacts; cats which continue to be fed remain a threat since even well-fed cats still kill native wildlife (Longcore et al., 2009).
Eradication of feral cats from islands can result in dramatic recoveries of threatened vertebrates. For example, the iguana (Cyclura carinata) in Long Cay, Caribbean and the rodent (Peromyscus pseudocrinitus) in Coronados Island, Gulf of California. Eradication is usually feasible on islands under 1000 ha, and eradication attempts from islands up to 10,000ha have been successful, but cats have been eradicated from only two islands >10 000 ha (Medina et al., 2011).
Eradication programmes must consider indirect effects of feral cat eradication, including effects on prey populations such as mice, rats, and rabbits. For example, following eradication of cats on the World Heritage Site of Macquarie Island, in 2001, numbers of rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) increased substantially and have negatively impacted on native vegetation (Bergstrom et al., 2009).
To address concerns of hybridization with wildcats (Felis sylvestris), the focus is on identification and protection of genetically pure populations of wildcat. There are however difficulties in distinguishing between pure wildcats and hybrids. In Scotland, captive breeding programmes have increasingly been used to conserve Scottish wildcat populations (see Felis sylvestris in ARKive)
In Australia, predation by feral cats was listed as a Key Threatening Process under the Federal Endangered Species Protection Act 1992. A Threat Abatement Plan for Predation by Feral Cats was produced in 1999 and amended in 2008 to promote the recovery of vulnerable and endangered native species and threatened ecological communities (Environment Australia 1999 and DEWHA 2008). A recently published review (Denny and Dickman (2010) assesses the efficacy of the methods used to estimate relative abundance of cats, describes currently used cat control methodologies, and discusses possible future directions for the control of cats in Australia. It also includes details of the current legislative framework that exists for cat control in Australia, describes the ecology of feral and stray cats exploiting various habitats. Please follow this link to view Denny E. A & C. R. Dickman 2010. Review of cat ecology and management strategies in Australia. See also: ‘Feral cat ecology and control’ published by the Queensland Government.
BibliographyTop of page
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