NZ Vets call for national cat strategy – Expert reaction

Should cats be registered like dogs? Microchipped? Kept indoors? New Zealand vets are calling for a nationwide strategy to protect the welfare of our growing cat population and native wildlife.

Credit: flickr / Alex D.
Credit: flickr / Alex D.

The New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) this week released a commissioned report examining options for cat management, hoping to spur discussion around developing real solutions for managing our domestic and feral cats.

The association says a nationwide strategy is urgently needed to protect the welfare of cats and New Zealand’s wildlife.

The review, commissioned by the NZVA, bases its recommendations, such as stricter regulation, neutering and micro-chipping, on existing research from both New Zealand and overseas. Preliminary results from an independent survey show that New Zealanders are willing to support such initiatives (see below).

A NZVA media release and the full review are available on the NZVA website.

The SMC contacted independent New Zealand experts for comment on the review and recommendations.

Dr Heidy Kikillus, Postdoctoral Fellow – Cities and Urban Nature, Victoria University Wellington, comments:

Should this report prompt a change in central government policy or legislation (e.g. a national management strategy?)

“Many government agencies put cat management in the ‘too hard’ basket as it is rather controversial.  Why do we readily accept registration for our pet dogs but balk at registration of pet cats?  Additionally, if particular cat management legislation was passed, would the public actually support it?

“At Victoria University of Wellington, we currently have a nationwide survey about people’s attitudes towards cats and their management (survey open throughout 2015).  We have over 2,000 respondents thus far, from both cat owners and people who don’t own cats.

“To date:

  • 88% of survey respondents feel that desexing cats should be mandatory (with some exceptions for registered breeders)
  • 70% of respondents feel that microchipping should be mandatory
  • Almost 50% support a night-time curfew for cats
  • 80% support a limit on the number of cats per property (most common suggestion = 3 maximum)

“Please note that these figures may change as more people complete the survey throughout the year.

“While the coordination of a national management strategy will be incredibly complicated, it would be a step forward in managing cats in New Zealand and better balancing cats and conservation.”

What, in your view, are the most important cat management strategies for us as a country to tackle first?

“DESEXING!  At present there are too many unwanted cats in New Zealand and cat welfare organisations are often at capacity.  In order to reduce the number of unwanted kittens in NZ, desexing is imperative.  It is also the cornerstone of responsible pet ownership.

“Stray and feral cats often do not live a charmed life, with the NZVA report stating “shortened lives and reduced welfare associated with injury, disease, and malnutrition”.  These cats are also likely to be hunting wildlife in order to survive.  Again, by continuing to promote desexing, it is hoped that the number of cats in these categories will decrease.

“In regards to pet (companion) cats, the NZVA report also mentions better regulations as a possibility (microchipping, collars, registration).  Microchips are a fantastic tool for reuniting lost pets with their owners, and thus could be an important instrument in reducing the number of stray cats.  Collars with identification tags may also help in this regard, however I often hear from cat owners that many cats refuse to keep a collar on (not a problem with microchips).

“Regarding containment, many New Zealanders find the concept of containing cats to be bizarre.  Cats have a very independent and aloof nature and containment is often perceived as taking away their freedom.  As the NZVA report states, cats are perfectly capable of living indoor lifestyles, and this is common in areas overseas where the cats themselves have predators (e.g. coyotes, etc.).  Other benefits of containment include lower vet bills, with contained cats less likely to be injured or contract diseases.”