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An Update on Cats in Canada

An Update on Cats in Canada

The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies has released a 5-year update of their seminal 2012 Cats in Canada: A Report on the Cat Overpopulation Crisis. A national survey of the public, shelters, rescues, humane societies, SPCAs, veterinarians and municipalities, the 2017 report offers a wealth of information about our progress (and lack thereof).

As the CFHS writes, “The good news is that we’ve taken some giant leaps forward in cat welfare since 2012. The bad news is that it’s not happening quickly enough to overcome Canada’s cat overpopulation crisis. We still have a long way to go.”

From our perspective, there is one particularly exciting statistic in the report: the public survey results show that 72% of cat owners keep their cats from roaming unsupervised!

That’s a significant improvement over the results of our survey in January 2016, which showed a national average of 59%. The increase of 13% represents more than 1.1 million more pet cats kept safe from outdoor dangers. The efforts of shelters, humane societies, rescues, municipalities, Angel Catbird and this campaign are convincing more cat owners to keep their cats safe from the risks of roaming unsupervised, and thereby keep birds safer too.

Other results:

“There are still twice as many cats being admitted to shelters as dogs, and the fraction of those cats who are juvenile is also twice as high as for dogs, pointing to the continuing problem of unwanted litters. Though many stakeholders are implementing best practices … (spaying and neutering all adoptable animals, providing them with permanent identification and improving shelter management practices), there continue to be more homeless cats than homes available to take them in.”

The public survey results indicate the top three sources of cats are “free/giveaway”, “friends/relatives” or “found as stray”. Disappointingly, the proportion of cats obtained via those means has increased from 47% in 2012 to 52% in 2017. That means a lot of new cat owners are not benefiting from those shelter best practices, and are instead adopting un-neutered, un-vaccinated, un-ID’d cats. Many cats are not sterilized early enough to prevent all pregnancies. An intact female allowed to roam may become pregnant in one of her first heats. As the CFHS writes, “The production of whole litters of kittens who have no future homes must be curbed.”

There is some great progress on other fronts:
• Cat euthanasia rates are dropping — in 2016, 18% of animals admitted to Canadian shelters were euthanised, and 95% of those were for health reasons. In 2011, the rate was 40%.
• Adoptions increased from 43% of cats admitted to 60%.
• The estimated number of homeless sheltered cats – i.e. cats in shelters for whom no new home was found – has dropped precipitously, from more than 635,000 to just over 261,000. (That figure doesn’t include homeless cats not in shelters, a number very difficult to calculate, but it is estimated to be much larger.)

The report also notes that 10% of the public reported feeding cats in their neighbourhood, and that without spay/neuter initiatives, the practice can inadvertently increase the population of homeless cats. There is therefore a recommendation that stakeholders and municipal governments provide education about how feeding feral or homeless cats outside of a feral cat-care program or other spay-neuter initiative increases overpopulation and related suffering.

More individual owners report their cats are fixed (94% in 2017 vs 80% reported in 2012). The CFHS notes there are several facts to consider when looking at this particular statistic. First of all, the public may feel compelled to provide what they know is the ‘right’ answer, even if they haven’t actually fixed their cat. There are also socio-economic considerations, in that the average income of survey respondents was $66,000, and there’s a greater need for access to spay/neuter at lower socio-economic levels. And finally, not all cats are sterilized early enough to prevent unwanted pregnancies. In other words, some owners get their cat sterilized too late to prevent a first litter.

The percentage of stray cats reclaimed by their owners has improved somewhat, though it is still much higher for dogs than cats. The rate was 10% in 2016 vs 8% in 2011 for cats; 68% in 2016 vs 57% in 2011 for dogs. To put it another way, 1 in 10 cats are reclaimed by their owners, but 7 out of 10 dogs are reclaimed.

One of the most interesting aspects of the report is the spotlight it sheds on the differences in attitudes amongst different groups of stakeholders. Only 19% of municipalities spay or neuter animals prior to adoption, for example, versus almost 100% of other stakeholder groups (humane societies, SPCAs, rescues). Similarly, only 38% of municipalities perceive there to be a cat overpopulation problem at all, versus 100% of rescues and humane societies. Clearly there is more work to do in improving municipal awareness of the issues and ensuring that municipalities who operate shelters implement best practices.

We need to keep working together to address the root causes of cat overpopulation. Don’t let your cat become a shelter statistic or contribute to the cat overpopulation problem. Help your cat, and Canada’s cats: make sure your cat is spayed or neutered, ID’d, and safe from roaming unsupervised. And if you feed unowned cats, ensure they’re fixed too.

To read the entire Cats in Canada: A Five-Year Review of Cat Overpopulation, visit CFHS here.