Tackling The Cat Crisis: A Collaborative Approach To Neutering
Keeping companion animal populations at a level where every animal can be cared for properly is a monumental task, and effective sterilization programs are a huge part of that work. This study from the U.K. looks at the various challenges that exist in making sure that sterilization is a routine part of keeping a cat, from the perspective of vets, animal advocacy groups, and members of the public. The study finds that there still needs to be a concerted effort to educate the public on the importance of early sterilization so that the overall cat population can decrease or be kept stable.
“The cat population in the UK has reached crisis point,” begins a 2014 study from the RSPCA. “The charity is full to capacity and is having to rely heavily on private boarding establishments to house the many unwanted and abandoned cats – at considerable cost.” From this rather dark starting point, the publication outlines the breadth of the problem. “In the same period [as cat populations have risen], the number of new homes that took in cats declined by 10 percent, but not as a result of reduced rehoming activity.” Though the organization says that “it is widely recognised that effective neutering is the principal answer to cat population control,” the population of cats continues to increase, and to this end, the RSPCA commissioned a study to better understand the thoughts and behaviors of both people who have and have not had their pet cats neutered. They found that, although keeping cats as companions was consistent across all socioeconomic groups, there was “considerable variation between those who neuter and those who do not.”
The study identified some interesting tendencies, perhaps based on folk wisdom or mistaken belief as to how neutering affects animal behavior. Though they found that “the majority of people are pre-disposed to the idea of neutering,” many of the people who supported sterilization per se had “a widely held mistaken belief that a cat should have a litter of kittens before she is spayed, so this attitude does not come into play until after a first litter. Having a litter of kittens has become a deeply ingrained social norm.” They found that many respondents justified this belief with emotional projections, such as saying that their cat would make a great mother, or that it was wrong to “deny them the right to motherhood.” Another key finding of the research was that the level of male cat sterilization was “irrelevant for population control, although there are very good reasons for maintaining a healthy rate of male cat neutering.” Though there are obviously benefits to sterilizing male cats (“minimising anti-social behaviour, the spread of disease, straying and injuries,” to name a few), because it doesn’t have as much of an impact on actual population levels, the report urges “allowing subsidised neutering to be targeted primarily at neutering females.” The researchers also noted that there was confusion about when to sterilize female cats to achieve the best results.
“To maintain a stable domestic cat population,” the researchers note that “neutering rates of 92 percent for female spays need to be achieved and sustained.” They add that, even though a great deal of investment has been put into neutering activities and education programs to date, “there have been insufficient inroads made with those audiences least likely to neuter.” The paper concludes with the hope that, armed with this new information about cat owners who do and do not neuter their pets, advocates, rescue groups, and vets will be better equipped to educate the public and implement programs that will make a bigger, better difference in the lives of cat companions.
The cat population in the UK has reached crisis point. The numbers of cats entering the RSPCA increased by eight percent in the period 2010–2012, from 29,269 to 31,556. The charity is full to capacity and is having to rely heavily on private boarding establishments to house the many unwanted and abandoned cats – at considerable cost. At the end of 2013, 30 percent of the cats in the care of the RSPCA were accommodated in private boarding establishments – and the cost for boarding rose from £1.9 million in 2010 to £2.45 million in 2013. That figure is expected to rise again by the end of 2014.