AVMA revises policy on Free-roaming Abandoned and Feral Cats

Updated January 11, 2016 – link provided to policy updated on AVMA website.

At its Winter Session on January 9, 2016, the AVMA House of Delegates considered and approved revisions to the AVMA’s policy on Free-Roaming Abandoned and Feral Cats. The resolution was submitted to the House of Delegates by the AVMA Board of Directors, after the Board received a recommendation from the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee.

The proposed revisions are the culmination of more than two years’ work by the Animal Welfare Committee, which is comprised of veterinarians and others representing expertise and a wide range of perspectives regarding animal welfare. Although the Animal Welfare Committee includes among its members representatives from the feline, avian, and wildlife veterinary communities, it did not tackle this question alone, but instead asked the Committee on Environmental Issues and the Council on Public Health and Regulatory Veterinary Medicine to assist with its review. Recognizing that feral cat management is a highly controversial issue, the group revised the policy to reflect new information, help build consensus, and provide leadership per the management of free-roaming abandoned and feral cats.

The welfare of free-roaming abandoned and feral cats and the impact of these cats on wildlife, ecosystems, and public health were central issues during the Committee’s discussions. Balancing these factors to arrive at a fair and constructive policy was no easy task, and resulted from a careful review of the available data in the literature; recounts of practical experience with the management of cat colonies on the part of several individuals on more than one entity (experience that brought forward multiple perspectives); consideration of a range of AVMA member comments received from around the country; collaboration with stakeholder groups; and intense negotiations with multiple rewrites involving a great deal of give-and-take and compromise. Development of effective animal welfare policy requires consideration of both data and the social environments in which solutions to welfare challenges are proposed. These factors were not only acknowledged, but carefully considered during the revision process.

During the House of Delegates discussion on the proposed revision, the range of perspectives heard was remarkably similar to those considered by the Animal Welfare Committee during its review. Amendments were proposed, including one focused on recommending enclosed colonies and another that would remove mention of euthanasia as an option. Both of these possibilities were also considered and intensely discussed by the committee. Neither the Animal Welfare Committee, nor the House of Delegates, chose to adopt those amendments.

Great efforts were made to represent the diverse viewpoints related to the management of free-roaming abandoned and feral cats, while maintaining scientific credibility and a policy that provides valuable and practical information for AVMA members and the public. The revised policy represents iterative progress toward resolving the free-roaming unowned cat problem, while recognizing that there is currently not consensus around what an ultimate solution will look like. It also points to the veterinary profession as a key player in developing approaches that are both science-based and socially responsible.



5 thoughts on “AVMA revises policy on Free-roaming Abandoned and Feral Cats

  1. I agree feral cats are not pets. Animal activists that are very vocally opposed to this concept should spend a day with me trying to restrain them in our capture neuter and release program. Many opposing opinions on the best management of this controversial problem exist. A couple of pertinent points to consider : Rabies in my State is on the increase. Cats are the most common ‘domestic ‘ species to contract rabies. Also the total eradication of the feral cat population will in some location lead to an explosion of mice and rats. Which in turn leads to a dramatic increase in the use of rat poison, which results in an increase in accidental deaths in dogs and other pets. I’ve witnessed this first hand as an emergency Veterinarian. Whoever wades into this mess without considering all the ramifications will just make a bigger mess.

  2. Feral cats are a nuisance, health hazard to humans and domestic cats and a threat to wildlife. Landowners/tenants should be empowered to dispatch them at will as they are allowed to do with other fur-bearing nuisance animals such as nutria, beaver, raccoons, opossums, skunks, etc. Any method of dispatch appropriate for wildlife would seem likewise appropriate for feral cats.

    • You should not be dispatching -ie killing any of those animals as you so desire. They all deserve to live as do feral cats. If humans were more responsible pet owners there would not be any feral cats.

  3. I read the current adopted policy for feral cats and I commend the committee as providing a comprehensive broad spectrum approach. I will make one comment and ask one question. If we were talking about any other wild animal creating the kind of havoc these feral cats have in many areas would we be so reluctant to thinning them our via euthanasia? To this question I would like to comment there is a very long precedent in this country when non threatened or endangered animal numbers create a hazard for theme selves as well as the environment culling is a method often used. For example, the thinning of the Buffalo heard in Yellowstone, removing Canada Geese from certain areas, the legal taking of Alligators in some Southern states to keep the numbers in check, the control of rodents, the control of starlings in certain areas, etc. My point is that if we consider a feral cat a “wild animal” and not a pet, then culling should be an acceptable method for control. In my opinion however the animal activists cannot separate the “pet” from the “feral cat”, thus we treat these animals with our policies more like pets than the wild animals they have become. Therefore, I do not think euthanasia via culling should be a last resort method. Additionally, if citizens who abandon cats allowing them to become feral were aware that under certain situations culling would occur they might be less willing to abandon them. I believe a large part of the problem is that people who abandon these cats believe someone will save them so its OK. I essence we coddle the irresponsible and give them a free pass in their mind.

    • I want to support Dr. Neunzig’s comments. In the state of Pennsylvania there are nuisance black bears which are trapped, tagged and relocated in more remote mountain areas where there is less interference with humans. There is a black bear hunting season which keeps the population from exploding. Wolves were re-introduced in Yellowstone to control the elk population. I have to think that in most cases feral cats are living in an outdoor environment seeking shelter and food just like wildlife. I would recommend live box trapping, vaccinating, neutering and relocating if possible, A relocation point might be a barn where mice and rat control are needed. If a proper relocation point cannot be found then I would think euthanasia should be an appropriate option. How do you prioritize which animals should live in the wild? Should feral cats be given the same status as rabbits, song birds etc.?