Most cats in the United States are tame house pets, but there are tens of millions that live without an owner, and populations of these feral cats can be found all over the country. If you see a few feral cats hanging around your area, should you be worried? While many people fear wild animals, the danger of feral cats to humans is relatively small. However, it’s not impossible for feral cats to pass on diseases to humans, and they can be a significant menace to pets and wildlife. Here’s the rundown on the dangers of feral cats.
Will Feral Cats Attack Humans?
Anyone who’s seen a cat’s claws knows that they can be dangerous. A cat scratch can be deep and painful, and cat scratches and bites often become infected if they aren’t treated. But it is very rare for a feral cat to attack a human. Most feral cats avoid humans and are good at slipping away. They’ll attack only when cornered and threatened. That means you should generally avoid trying to catch a feral cat. It’s better to call local animal-handling agencies to see what their policy toward feral cats is.
Do Feral Cats Spread Disease to Humans?
A common fear is that feral animals will spread diseases to humans, with the most worrying being rabies. This disease spreads between many animals, including cats and humans, and is usually fatal if not treated promptly. However, it is rare for this disease to spread from cats to humans. Of the 116 documented cases of rabies in Americans since 1975, only one came from a cat bite. However, it’s always wise to visit a doctor if you’ve been bitten by a feral cat, just in case.
Contact with cat feces is also known to spread the toxoplasmosis parasite to humans. It’s possible (though not documented) that feral cat feces could be the source of this parasite. However, the spread of this parasite can be controlled by hand washing after doing yard work and washing vegetables thoroughly. In most cases, toxoplasmosis is asymptomatic in humans.
Are Feral Cats a Danger to Dogs?
Feral cats are not usually a danger to dogs. Since most dogs are larger and more aggressive than cats, feral cats are likely to flee from them. However, if cornered, they may scratch or bite dogs, causing minor injury. Feral cats might also spread fleas or diseases to dogs.
Are Feral Cats a Danger to Other Cats?
Feral cats can be a danger to tame house cats with access to the outdoors. Some feral cats will fight with tame cats over territory, resulting in scratches, bites, and torn ears. Although these wounds are usually minor, they can cause infection.
Feral cats can also spread diseases to house cats. Common ones include feline leukemia, calicivirus, feline panleukopenia, and feline herpes. You should ensure that your cat is up to date on their vaccines, especially if you plan to let them go outdoors, and always keep your cat inside after dark if possible.
The Impact of Feral Cats on Local Wildlife
Although feral cats are rarely a danger to humans or pets, they can be devastating to local wildlife. The most recent study estimates that cats kill up to 4 billion birds and 22 billion small mammals in the U.S. every year, and most of those are caused by feral cats, not pets. Some of those deaths can be welcome—for example, feral cats tend to be adept at reducing mouse and rat populations, providing urban pest control. However, cats can also cause harm to endangered populations of small animals and birds.
Feral cats are rarely dangerous to humans, but they will attack if cornered. They are a bigger danger to other animals, especially unvaccinated cats and the small birds or mammals that are their prey. If you do have a feral cat problem, there are community programs in place to help. In some areas, feral cat populations are controlled through trap, neuter, and release programs, which capture feral cats and vaccinate and neuter them before releasing them back into the wild. In other areas, you may be able to contact animal control or a professional cat trapper if you are worried about a feral cat in your neighborhood.