Feral cats in managed colonies are as healthy as domestic cats

The feral cats in managed TNR colonies in North Florida are as healthy as, if not more healthy than, domestic cats in America according to a study titled Prevalence of infectious diseases and feral cats in northern Florida. I think that information is a little surprising but very good to hear. But I have heard this before from good sources. Peole are told that feral cats live short, diseased and miserable lives with a lifespan of 3 years. PETA push out this information in fact. They are wrong to generalise. They can lead lives as good as those of domestic cats.

The study was examining the most common infectious diseases in feral cats in northern Florida and how they compared with the health of domestic cats. There were 553 participating cats. They came to the following conclusion, in their words:
"Feral cats in this study had similar prevalence of infections compared to those published for pet cats in the United States. This suggests that feral cats assessed in this study appear to be of no greater risk to human beings or other cats than pet cats."
So they are saying that taken as a whole, domestic cats in America are not healthier in terms of carrying infectious diseases than the feral cats of northern Florida when those cats are within a colony cared for by a volunteer under a TNR program. I have added the information about TNR colonies as the report states: 'the results of this study should be interpreted with some caution as the samples were collected from feral cats that were trapped by caretakers for the purpose of neutering'. This must mean TNR programmes.

Ear-tipped feral cat - a badge that he is part of a managed colony and as healthy as a domestic cat
Ear-tipped feral cat - a badge that he is part of a managed colony and as healthy as a domestic cat. Photo: Pinterest.

That qualification is quite important because feral cats looked after by volunteers certainly improves health. These cats are spayed and neutered and returned to where they came from. Sometimes they are vaccinated and of course during the spaying and neutering operation they can at least be checked out by a veterinarian or vet tech. 

It is probably fair to say that feral cats in a TNR colony managed by volunteers are not entirely typical of all feral cats in America. That said, there are many volunteers managing feral cat colonies performing TNR programs. 

The information, I think, is important because there are many detractors of the feral cat. One of the reasons for criticising the feral cat is that they spread disease. You hear this a lot from residents of any location in America. 

But it seems, on the basis of this study, that they don't spread disease any more than any other cat including domestic cats. And importantly the study indirectly praises TNR programs. It is the kind of information that needs to be presented in council meetings up and down America's towns when discussing how to deal with the ubiquitous 'feral cat problem'. There is hardly a problem if the cats are as healthy as domestic cats and provided they are fed at set times only to avoid attracting wildlife.

The study found that the prevalence of FIV and FelV was lower in feral cats than in domestic cats. They also found that the most prevalent or common infections in feral cats within their study were as follows:
  • Bartonella henselae, which causes cat scratch fever in people;
  • Feline Coronavirus (FCoV), which is a common viral infection in cats generally asymptomatic which can cause mild diarrhoea. Pathogenic oronavirus ccan lead to feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)
  • Mycoplasma spp., which is a bacterial infection usually of the respiratory system and urinary tract, as I understand it;
  • D. immitis, which is heartworm, a blood-borne parasite that resides in the heart or adjacent large blood vessels of infected animals;
  • T. gondii, which is toxoplasmosis, a well-known, usually asymptomatic disease in cats and in people which has been well discussed on the Internet.
This is a cross post so if you like to look at the first post on this topic then please click on this link

And if you'd like to read the original report from the scientists then please click on the link below:


It is published on the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (2004) 6, 287e296.

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