A magnified picture of a cat flea.
Britain has an estimated 7 million pet cats and 1 million ferals. By comparison, the United States has approximately 60 million pet cats and 60 million ferals. Feral populations are swollen by breeding and the dumping of unwanted pets; 5 million cats and dogs are 'dumped' annually according to the US Department of Agriculture while American surveys suggest that between 36% and 60% of unneutered pet cats go feral within 3 years.--Americanferalcat.com- http://www.feralcat.com/sarah3.html [I'm not sure why they compared us to the UK and not some other country, perhaps it's because both countries contain many pet lovers.]
I'd like to straighten out the confusion between stray cats and feral cats. Stray cats usually have a home, or have had one that it's no longer welcome in. Feral cats are wild animals. Think of feral cats like raccoons, possums, skunks, foxes. Don't go near them they do bite. Most adult feral cats don't tame down well but young kittens, given time and TLC, can be tamed.
Now, feral cats with rabies are more dangerous because rabies can change their personality. A normal feral cat won't let you within 10 feet of them. A rabid feral cat will act like fluffy who lives in your house and will curl up on your lap for a good pet session, then switch to frightened and aggressive at the drop of a hat.
Why do feral cat colonies keep growing? Those of us who grew up on farms may be able to give you a clue. Farm cats are rodent control but they aren't the top of the food chain. They have owls, foxes, coyotes and occasionally mountain lions that eat them.
In town, cats are at the top along with raccoons, possums, and skunks. They have no larger predators to keep their population in check. One might compare this to the large turkey and deer populations that are highway hazards.
What does keep a cat colony in check when there are no predators? It's one word that the world tries to conquer on a daily basis. Disease. http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/brochures/ZoonoticDisease.html Your cat, if he/she does go outside will probably have an encounter with a stray or feral cat. Certain diseases don't require direct contact like rabies does. Keeping your cat inside does not prevent them from getting a few diseases. You can carry it in on your clothes and your dog can bring it in on their feet. It can be on sidewalks, in the park or anywhere you walk your dog. Do you remember those pictures of the people in China after SARS came out? They wore gloves and masks and disinfected every touchable surface in public places. That may be a little extreme for most cat diseases but you get the point.
Predators and disease isn't the only cause of death with cats. Cats cause the death of cats. Cats do fight with one another. Fight wounds are usually bite wounds and cats have mega quantities of bacteria in their mouths. Bite wounds occasionally abscess (a pocket of infection and white cells that fight the infection), abscesses lead to high fevers and secondary pneumonia if untreated, and death. If the cat does manage to survive, they won't be reproducing for a short while. Biting is also the way to spread feline leukemia, feline aids, feline infectious peritonitis and Rabies (Rabies is spreadable to humans).
Poor nutrition also leads to poor reproduction, reduced ability to fight infection and less energy to win a fight.
Usually a kittens first heat cycle is between 6-9 months of age. The average litter of is between 3-5 kittens, sometimes more. Cats usually have a heat cycle 2 x a year, some cats go right back into heat after weaning their kittens meaning they can potentially have 4 litters a year.
Lets do the math:
4 litters a year
5 kittens a litter
kittens going into heat at 6 months
Okay, lets not. That's a lot of cats.
I have some more math for you though. Lorie Prestes at the McCook Humane Society said Thursday on KICX radio that there are 19 feral cat colonies in McCook. Each colony has an average of 50 cats. 50 x 19 would be 950 feral cats. If half of those colonies had 100 cats, that would 1425 cats. No wonder we're having problems.
What other problems are there with feral cat populations?
There are more than 90 million pet cats in the U.S., the majority of which roam outside at least part of the time. In addition, millions of stray and feral cats roam our cities, suburbs, and rural areas. Scientists estimate that free-roaming cats kill hundreds of millions of birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians each year. Cat predation is an added stress to wildlife populations already struggling to survive habitat loss, pollution, pesticides, and other human impacts. -- American Bird Conservancy
Lastly, feral cats contribute to the spreading FLEA populations. I can almost guarantee that most of the fleas that travel around our community use feral cats as taxi cabs. You think cats multiply quickly, wait until you see how quickly fleas multiply. Female fleas can start laying eggs 20-24 hours after taking their first blood meal. Eggs hatch in 21 to 35 days, adults can emerge in as little as 13 days and can be delayed as long as 50 weeks. Female fleas can produce 40-50 eggs a day. -- Companion Animal Parasite Council http://www.capcvet.org/recommendations/fleas.html How about those apples?