Research reveals impact of feral cats on agriculture

3 December 2020

Research conducted under the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program (NESP) has revealed that feral cats can cost the agriculture industry up to $12 million each year.

The study shows that feral felines are passing on parasites such as Toxoplasma and Sarcocystis to livestock and poultry, with devastating consequences for sheep and goats.

Infected cats often don’t appear sick themselves and through normal roaming behaviour can spread millions of tiny parasitic eggs into the environment. These eggs then persist in soil, pasture and water for months and can be ingested by livestock.

Rates of diseases are particularly high among sheep, with Toxoplasma causing the loss of over 62,000 unborn lambs each year and affecting South Australia and Tasmania more severely than other regions.

Australian Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Mark Schipp, welcomed the research as the first study to estimate the national production costs of cat-dependent diseases on farm animals.

“While the environmental impact of cats has been well recognised, this research shows there is also a significant impact on livestock production,” Dr Schipp said.

“The two most significant diseases impacting livestock are parasitic infections transmitted by cats which together are estimated to cost Australian farmers $11.7 million in annual production losses.

“It is easy for livestock to contract these parasites as they simply need to graze in an area where cats have defecated.

“While cat-dependent diseases affect Australian livestock, meat produced in Australia is wholesome and safe.

“Our meat inspection processes are thorough and effective and our strict biosecurity laws help to ensure we can continue to enjoy our world class produce into the future.”

Threatened Species Commissioner, Dr Sally Box, said the research highlights the benefits of domestic cat containment and the importance of reducing the number of feral cats in and around farms.

“I encourage the community to reduce the spread of disease to livestock from domestic cat populations, as well as reduce the risk of cat predation on native wildlife, by being responsible pet owners,” Dr Box said.

“The best thing pet cat owners can do to lower the risks to livestock and wildlife is to keep their cats contained 24 hours per day and ensure that they are microchipped, registered and desexed.”

The study conducted by the NESP Threatened Species Recovery Hub is part of a suite of research to improve our understanding and capacity to manage the impacts of feral cats on native wildlife.

The Australian Government has mobilised more than $32 million since 2014 to support projects delivering direct, on-ground action and research to reduce the impact of feral cats.

To find out more about NESP visit environment.gov.au/science/nesp