U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version


Document Type



Dutcher, A., K. Pias, G.C. Sizemore, and S.M. Vantassel. 2021. Free-ranging and Feral Cats. Wildlife Damage Management Technical Series. USDA, APHIS, WS National Wildlife Research Center. Fort Collins, Colorado. 25p.


U.S. government work


Domestic cats (Felis catus) are a common household pet in the United States, with an estimated 25.4% of households owning cats (American Veterinary Medical Association 2018). While an increasing number of cat owners keep their pet cats exclusively indoors, a portion of society maintains that domestic cats are entitled to a free-ranging lifestyle and may even consider unowned domestic cats to be wildlife. Although wildlife managers recognize the beliefs of many concerned stakeholders, including advocates who use strong emotional appeals on behalf of cats, it remains that free-ranging and feral domestic cats are an invasive species spread by humans (Lowe et al. 2000) (Figure 1).

Free-ranging cats are associated with a number of sociological and ecological conflicts. They impact people directly through the spread of parasites and diseases, damage to gardens and property, and noise nuisances. Cats also cause conflict through their direct and indirect impacts on native wildlife through predation, competition, spread of disease, and impacts on species survival (e.g., nest failure, injury, behavioral changes). Removing free-ranging cats is the most effective strategy for addressing cat-caused damage. Such removals could include adoption, placement in a long-term holding facility (e.g., cat sanctuary), or euthanasia. Owned cats should be kept indoors or otherwise under their owner’s control.

Up to 164 million cats reside in the United States, of which an estimated 30 to 80 million are unowned (Loss et al. 2013) (Figure 2). A large portion of owned cats are also free-ranging (Loss et al. 2013). The threat which free-ranging cats pose to native wildlife cannot be understated.