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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Roaming, stray, and feral domestic cats and dogs as wildlife problems


From several centers of domestication, cats and dogs have become the near-ubiquitous companion of man. Their dependence on man is such that when abandoned in a rural environment most succumb to malnutrition in combination with predation, diseases, parasites, and exposure. Where not subject to predation and where native or introduced prey is adequate, some survive to form feral populations. This applies on oceanic islands, in Australia and New Zealand. Elsewhere, as far as is known today, requirements for survival are met with in parts of the U.S. and Europe only, in remote wilderness areas in the case of dogs, and more widespread, with a tendency to fall back on surplus and waste products of man during hard times in the wild, in the case of cats. Where vermin populations, such as those of rabbits, rats and mice are dense, cats provide inadequate control; they can be useful in keeping small vermin populations small. Away from oceanic islands and desert areas, where their impact on native animals can be disastrous, this makes them sufficiently useful for damage to wildlife (notably to lizards, small marsupials and some birds) to be outweighed, without providing a clear-cut case for a need for control of either roaming, stray or feral cats in rural areas. On the other hand, dogs are potentially destructive animals, whether roaming, stray, or feral; they demand strict control.

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