Almost a quarter of a million stray cats — feral, lost or abandoned — are estimated to live in urban areas in the United Kingdom, a first-of-its-kind study has concluded.
Researchers from feline welfare charity Cats Protection collected sightings of unowned cats between 2016–2018 from 3,101 resident surveys and 877 reports.
These were taken in five of the UK’s urban areas — that of Bradford, Beeston, Bulwell, Dunstable & Houghton Regis, and Everton.
Next, the team added 601 cats’ confirmed locations to Cats Protection community teams and merged all the data into an estimated population.
This showed that more stray cat were found in densely-populated areas. From this, it was possible to estimate that the UK total of 247.429 unowned felines.
For comparison, this number is about equal to the current human population of the city of Southampton.
The researcher’s model suggests that there are an average of 9.3 unowned cats per square kilometres in the UK — although this figure varies from 1.9–57 by location.
Almost a quarter of a million stray cats — feral, lost or abandoned — are estimated to live in urban areas all across the United Kingdom, a study has concluded. Pictured: Cats on the street
Researchers from feline welfare charity Cats Protection collected sightings of unowned cats between 2016–2018 from 3,101 resident surveys (green) and 877 reports (yellow). These were taken in five of the UK’s urban areas — that of Bradford, Beeston, Bulwell, Dunstable & Houghton Regis, and Everton. Next, the team added 601 cats that Cats Protection experts confirmed (red) to the model and integrated all of the data into a population.
The model (pictured), indicated that more stray cat colonies are found in densely populated and deprived areas. This made it possible to estimate the UK total number of 247.429 unowned felines.
‘Up to now, there haven’t been any evidence-based estimates of the number of stray and feral cats in the UK,’ said paper author and feline epidemiologist Jenni McDonald of Cats Protection.
It has been a challenge before because it is difficult to tell the difference between owned and unowned cats.
“However our population-modelling method offers a solution. It combines valuable data collected from residents with confirmed sightings. This gives a robust means for us to study unowned cat populations nationwide.
Dr. McDonald concluded that this was a significant step towards understanding the true size of the UK’s feral and stray cat populations.
Unowned cats that are not spayed or neutered and have not been owned by a responsible owner are a concern as they could increase their numbers quickly.
In their study, Dr McDonald and her colleague, Elizabeth Skillings, found that the numbers of unowned cats varies wildly across localised areas — but that the highest numbers were found in the most densely-populated and deprived communities.
(In fact, population density predicted 7 percent of the variation in unowned cats abundance, while socioeconomic poverty accounted for 31%.
Unowned cats that are not spayed or neutered and have not been owned by a human being are a concern as they could increase their numbers rapidly. Pictured: A feral kitten and her kittens
‘We support these sorts of communities by neutering and finding homes for friendly unowned cats,’ said Cats Protection’s head of neutering, Jane Clements.
We will give the residents the tools and materials to build shelters for cats if they aren’t suitable for domestic use.
“Engaging communities is the key for ensuring that all cats receive long-term and sustainable care. This research will enable us take our Cat Watch programme into the areas with the greatest need.
The journal Scientific Reports published the full results of the study.