Australians’ love of wildlife makes them cautious cat owners

May 19, 2016

Australian are most likely to accept a wildlife-based rationale for restrictions on cat ownership, the study found

Picture by Jiri Lochman

An international study across six countries has revealed that Australians are most likely to accept restrictions on cat ownership because of the potential risk the pets pose to wildlife.

Murdoch University PhD researcher Catherine Hall and collaborators surveyed 1720 cat owners and non-cat owners from Australia, New Zealand, the UK, USA, China and Japan, finding international differences in practices and attitudes towards pet cats’ interactions with wildlife.

Ms Hall believes that Australians have a ‘special preference’ for their native fauna compared to citizens from other countries, and this could explain why they are concerned with wildlife predation.

“Australians are most likely to accept a wildlife-based rationale for restrictions on cat ownership with 60 per cent of owners agreeing that pet cats killing wildlife is a serious problem,” said Ms Hall.

“Whereas in the UK, we found that only 12 per cent of owners and 38 per cent of non owners agreed that wildlife predation is a serious issue. In the UK we also found that legislation is unwanted and there is very little support for the confinement of pet cats.”

Ms Hall said it was important to understand the attitudes of the general population towards owning a cat, as well as the practices of owners, such as whether cats are free to roam or restricted to owners’ properties.

“This allows governing authorities to create effective regulations sensitive to local situations that are more likely to be accepted, and identifies areas where targeted education may encourage compliance,” she added.

“Problems arise when cats are free to roam, including the unwanted hunting of wildlife, transmission of disease to humans and livestock and causing a nuisance to neighbours through fouling gardens and fighting with other cats.

“Roaming cats also risk injury or death which can be emotionally and financially costly to owners.

“Given that cats are an important part of many peoples’ lives, the best approach is to regulate cat care practices to improve cat welfare, reduce nuisance and protect wildlife.”

Ms Hall said that given her findings in the UK, cat owning practices might be more influenced by campaigns which tackle cat welfare rather than the risks to wildlife.

The one year intensive study also found that Australian and Japanese respondents felt most strongly about cats being kept in at night, while support for the desexing of cats was highest among cat owners from Australia, New Zealand and mainland USA.

Australian and Japanese respondents felt most strongly that cats should be kept in at night whereas in the UK, less than 30 per cent agreed with this practice, irrespective of cat ownership.

Ms Hall et al’s research paper was published in Plos One and can be viewed here.

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