How did it get here?
cats originated from an ancestral wild species, Felis
silvestris, also known as the European or African
wild cat. In appearance and behavior, "house cats"
still resemble their ancestors, but they are now considered
a separate species.
Cats were domesticated in Egypt around 2000 B.C., though
recent evidence suggests an even earlier relationship
with people. Humans helped these animals spread throughout
the world by keeping them as companion animals and using
them to control rodent populations. Domestic cats came
to North America with Colonial settlers in the early 1700s.
An estimated 60 million cats are now kept as pets in the
United States, with an additional 40 million roaming wild.
How to spot
catus has extremely variable color and patterns.
The average weight is 7 to 10 pounds, but it can vary
by breed and lifestyle. It is about 29 to 32 inches in
length, including tail.
Domestic cats are often differentiated as either house
cats (pets) or feral cats (born in the wild or reverted
to an untamed state). Free-roaming house cats usually
have collars or tags. Feral cats are typically shy and
more slender than pet cats, due to malnutrition.
Felis catus can live almost anywhere, except
for true deserts, high mountains, and frozen regions.
Feral cats range from farms and neighborhoods to parks
and forests, preying on wild animals or eating garbage
or food left for them.
Fertile domestic cats can have up to three
litters per year, with four to six kittens per litter.
Cats mature quickly and can begin to breed within one
year. A cat's typical life span is 10 to 15 years.
Why is this animal a problem?
domestic cats are "unnatural" predators. It
is estimated that free-ranging cats kill tens of millions
of wild animals each year in the United States. Even well-fed
house pets may kill wildlife when let outdoors.
Studies have found that such cats, on average, kill
14 or more animals per year. Small mammals make up 70
percent of their prey; birds, 20 percent; and reptiles
and amphibians, about 10 percent. Cats also compete with
native predators by reducing the amount of available prey.
Feral cats are more likely than house cats to harbor diseases
such as rabies, feline leukemia, feline distemper, and
feline immuno-deficiency virus. Rabies, cat-scratch
disease, and toxoplasmosis
can be transmitted to humans. Do not approach feral cats.
They could be aggressive or transmit disease. Contact
an animal control officer for assistance.
- People can help protect wildlife by keeping their
cats indoors, spaying and neutering them, and keeping
their vaccinations current. An estimated 65 percent
of American cat owners let their pets go outdoors at
least part of the time, and sometimes these animals
- Some 20 percent of cat owners do not have their animals
neutered or spayed, and many of the resulting kittens
become feral adults. Many people intentionally abandon
cats to the wild.
- Cover garbage and keep pet food inside.
Article: "Biology and Ecology of Feral, Free-roaming,
and Stray Cats"
"Cats Indoors!" campaign information
Article and organization's position statement on feral
and free-roaming cats