Around a quarter of a million cats – or broadly the human population of Southampton – are living rough in the UK’s towns and cities.
This is the key finding of research undertaken by Cats Protection and the University of Bristol. The study provides the very first national estimate of the number of unowned cats in the UK’s urban areas. It’s based on Cats Protection’s Cat Watch project which works with communities where unowned cats are abundant to improve the welfare of owned and unowned cats.
Sightings of unowned cats were collected over a period of one year from 3,101 resident surveys and 877 resident reports across five urban areas – Bradford, Dunstable and Houghton Regis, Everton, Beeston and Bulwell (both in Nottinghamshire).
These were paired with 601 confirmed locations from Cats Protection’s community teams within a population model to identify key indicators of unowned cat populations.
Applying the findings to the rest of the UK’s towns and cities using official urban population statistics allowed Cats Protection to estimate a total figure of 247,429 unowned urban cats.
“Up to now, there haven’t been any evidence-based estimates of the number of stray and feral cats in the UK,” said Bristol Veterinary School’s Dr Jenni McDonald, feline epidemiologist for Cats Protection and lead author of the research.
“It has previously posed a challenge in part because of problems accurately distinguishing owned from unowned cats.
“However, our population-modelling methodology offers a solution, combining valuable data from residents with confirmed sightings, which gives us a robust means to study unowned cat populations nationally. This is a major step towards understanding the true scale of the feral and stray cat population in the UK.”