Canada's Cat Overpopulation Crisis
Canadians love cats. They are still this country’s most popular pet.
While cats are actually found in more Canadian households than dogs, sadly, they do not receive the same care and consideration as their canine counterparts. Education about dog behaviour is prevalent, dog-owner responsibilities are well established in municipal bylaws and canine companions are highly valued by Canadians. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for cats.
In most of the country, there is no dog overpopulation and, in some areas, there is even a shortage of dogs for adoption, while cat overpopulation continues to challenge communities across Canada. The impacts of this overpopulation are serious and include cats languishing in shelters long term, or worse, succumbing to stress-related illnesses. For cats who remain outdoors, risk of disease transmission, as well as illness, injury and death are daily realities.
What are the root causes of this overpopulation? If cats are not spayed or neutered and allowed to roam outdoors, the result is a lot of kittens on the streets and in animal shelters. And without permanent ID, a cat who gets lost might stay that way.
But the tide may be turning. After months of ground-breaking and intense industry research, the Humane Canada™ (formerly as CFHS) National Cat Overpopulation Task Force has released a brand-new study about how the issue of cat overpopulation has evolved in the last five years. In our newly released report, we’re seeing evidence that cats are starting to be treated with the level of care they deserve. Attitudes are shifting, spay/neuter rates are going up and we’re seeing more cats with permanent ID, like tattoos and microchips – which help them to find their way home if they ever get lost or separated from their owner. Overall, we seem to be shifting to a more proactive approach to cat ownership in Canada, which is encouraging.
The good news is that we’ve taken some giant leaps forward in cat welfare since 2012. The bad news is that it’s not happening quickly enough to overcome Canada’s cat overpopulation crisis. We still have a long way to go. Shelters in your area are likely still overwhelmed with the number of cats in crisis – just like almost every other SPCA and humane society across the country. And, they need the help of Humane Canada™ today, more than ever.
As our members deal with these issues in their local communities, Humane Canada™ is working at the national level to develop new and innovative programs to help them address overpopulation and its impacts. We are also tracking how these innovative approaches are working.
While the situation may be improving, the pace of change is still too slow. That’s why Humane Canada™ is working to engage even more stakeholders in this next phase of work to overcome the crisis.
Click the image below to download an English copy of the report:
Click the image below to download a French copy of the report:
Did you find this report enlightening and helpful? Support our work so we can keep expanding Canada's body of animal welfare research!
It’s International Homeless Animals Day, a day that, for the past 25 years, has been highlighting the crisis of companion animal overpopulation and its solution: spay/neuter. In most of Canada today, this crisis is centred around our most popular companion animal – the cat.
When many of us hear about cat overpopulation, we picture an overabundance of cats in animal shelters and not enough families to adopt them – a situation that can have tragic consequences, including the risk of euthanasia. The number of cats needing homes rises as new litters of kittens are born and eventually surrendered to shelters. What most people don’t tend to understand is that, based on the sheer number and reproductive rates, the overall contribution of unowned free-roaming cats to cat overpopulation is much greater than owned cats, and this is what needs to be curtailed. But what’s the best way?
If a shelter is bursting at the seams with cats in need of adoption, and healthy-looking unowned cats are continuously brought in, does it make sense for the shelter to keep accepting them and risk overcrowding the entire animal population, leading to stress, potential illness and resulting euthanasia, while reducing the likelihood that potential adopters will find their feline companion?
An approach that has been successful in addressing this situation in some communities is called “return-to-field”. When free-roaming cats who are healthy and thriving in their outdoor home are brought to a full shelter, there is a better way for the organization to use its resources than to take them in and house them. They can provide medical treatment, including vaccination and sterilization surgery, a microchip or tattoo, and then return them to their home location where the cats have a better chance of survival than in a full shelter. They won’t contribute to the overcrowding that overextends shelter resources and makes it much less likely that the cats’ welfare needs will be met. Back in their territory, they will be less prone to fighting, roaming and mating behaviours associated with intact cats and, best of all, they will no longer contribute to an increasing feline population. For some of us, this approach may involve shifting our view of what a “home” is – perhaps to align more closely with the view of the unowned cat.
The concept of return to field is related to TNR, or Trap, Neuter, Return. TNR is the only humane, effective solution to managing and eventually eliminating populations of unowned, free-roaming cats. If we want to reduce the impacts of these cats, including wildlife predation, TNR must be done right. In brief, it’s important to understand that any well-intentioned person who is thinking of taking a few cats to be sterilized once in a while is not likely to make any impact on a community-wide scale. Effective TNR requires solid planning, sufficient resources and community-wide support.
Cooperation is an absolute necessity for a project of this scale and complexity to be successful. Thus, it’s essential to bring together all the people affected by cats, regardless of whether they’re concerned about the nuisance or the cats’ well-being. Working together towards common, stated goals is the first step. Not all situations are the same; each community will need to develop a custom approach, with collaboration, coordination and buy-in from all stakeholders, including the public. There are also the many volunteers to coordinate – TNR requires diligent caretakers to oversee colonies of cats, providing them food and monitoring their health, in addition to trapping cats when it’s time for their spay/neuter surgery.
Because cat populations are fluid, free-roaming owned cats will interact with unowned cats. As well, irresponsible owners may abandon cats in areas where outdoor populations already exist. Thus, a TNR program must be carried out in combination with public education initiatives regarding the importance of early sterilization of owned cats (cats can become pregnant as early as four months of age) and the illegality and cruelty of abandoning animals.
It’s important for TNR advocates to get buy-in from local government, and municipal bylaws should be written to support both current and future TNR efforts. For owned cats, promoting responsible guardianship is key, including the need for permanent pet identification so lost and stray cats can be recovered, cat licensing, incentivizing sterilization, limiting free-roaming and prohibiting abandonment. However, such requirements should exempt free-roaming colony cats, whose caretakers are not really “owners” in the same sense, and for whom the policy objectives are different. Caretakers should not be punished for feeding their charges. They should be allowed to provide feed to the colony in a way that does not attract wildlife or encourage immigration of new cats to the area. Colony cats should not be counted as “owned” if bylaws include a limit to the number of cats a resident can keep. Similarly, returning cats to their colony or neighbourhood after vet care should not be considered “abandonment”. Smart municipalities support TNR because it addresses public health and safety concerns as well as reducing cat-related complaints.
With regard to actually devising a TNR population management program, there are a number of best practices to follow:
A TNR initiative should be geographically targeted to areas where the highest concentration of free-roaming cats exist or areas that are important to vulnerable wildlife.
It’s important to get one population or colony under control before tackling subsequent ones.
Start by addressing the resources in the area, such as food sources, prior to tackling sterilization. If there is abundant, freely available food, immigration of other cats into the area can thwart any decreases in population that could be achieved through spay/neuter efforts. Caretakers should provide the sole stable food source to colony cats, on a set schedule.
A minimum of 65 or 70 per cent of the population should be sterilized, understanding that population stabilization and reduction will be achieved faster with as rates approach 100 per cent. Progress towards the sterilization target and other goals must be monitored and must guide the next trapping targets.
TNR efforts should be coupled with vaccinations (particularly rabies), parasite treatments and a general health check. The sterilized cat should be marked with the universal sign of a left ear tip and preferably another form of permanent identification and, once recovered, returned to their home territory and monitored. Friendly strays and kittens who are young enough to be socialized can be integrated into homes or adoption facilities, where space exists. That said, it’s important to stay focused on meeting the project’s sterilization targets rather than diverting resources towards fostering and adoption, or population control will not be effective.
A long-term commitment to the program (on the order to five years or more, depending on the population) is essential to produce a decline in the population – the ultimate goal of TNR. As a result, continued funding is essential for lasting success. All of this requires many volunteers, including caretakers and vets and, of course, funding sources.
Relocation of cats or colonies is not an easy process and should not be undertaken lightly. Cats are very strongly bonded to their territories. Any attempt to relocate them will mean confining them in their new home for weeks while they build confidence that resources will be sufficiently provided by the caretaker. Otherwise, they are likely to leave in search of their previous home. Relocation may be necessary to protect important wildlife habitats.
Readers interested in learning more about TNR can find online resources from organizations with fantastic expertise in the area, such as PetSmart Charities.
If you want to learn more about advocating for accessible spay/neuter services in Canada, please explore our Accessible Spay/Neuter toolkit here.
In 2012, Humane Canada published a ground-breaking report about the crisis faced by Canadians and our most popular companion animal: cats. The report, Cats in Canada: A Comprehensive Report on the Cat Overpopulation Crisis, raised national awareness about one of the most pressing animal welfare issues in Canada.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of animals enter our shelters and, by far, the majority of these are cats. Some are pets surrendered by owners who can no longer care for them. Others are found roaming as strays or abandoned by irresponsible guardians. Cats are less likely to be reunited with their owners than dogs and, once in shelter care, it typically takes longer to adopt out cats than it does dogs. Some are never adopted. Cats in shelters may be euthanized when they become ill – a development that can be hastened by stress. Many shelters struggle each year with the unending stream of new feline arrivals.
The first report of its kind, Cats in Canada investigated this overwhelming situation of cat overpopulation and presented data regarding the extent of homelessness, overburdened animal shelters and euthanasia. It provided the first Canadian estimates on the scale of the issue, based on 478 responses from veterinarians, municipal shelters, humane societies and SPCAs, rescue organizations, trap-neuter-return groups, spay/neuter groups and other organizations that help house or care for stray, abandoned and feral cats in Canada.
The report looked at the extent of Canada’s cat overpopulation problem and identified potential solutions. It also addressed the important contribution that veterinarians make to address the issue. Both animal welfare organizations and veterinarians widely agree that a key solution to this overpopulation crisis is accessible spay/neuter surgery (i.e.: available to as many pet guardians as possible). Accessible services remove barriers to spay/neuter surgery, like the cost of the procedure and geography.
As a result of the study, stakeholders across Canada launched a number of initiatives to reduce and address cat overpopulation. These initiatives included hosting community discussions about local and regional cat overpopulation, celebrating the human-cat bond while raising public awareness about cat welfare, advocating for accessible spay/neuter services and advancing knowledge about best practices to improve outcomes for shelter cats.
Five years later, we want to track the effectiveness of what’s been done so far to tackle the overpopulation crisis. Which is where you come in. Humane Canada is currently conducting a follow-up study to measure where we are with cat overpopulation in Canada after five years of dedicated work on the issue. Recent statistics suggest the number of homeless cats in Canada is decreasing, but we need this five-year follow-up data to reach a more conclusive answer.
If you are a veterinarian or work with a municipal shelter, humane society or SPCA, rescue, trap-neuter-return or spay/neuter group – or any other organization that helps to house or care for stray, abandoned and feral cats in Canada – we need your data!
Please take the time to complete our national survey, which is open until July 31. Your input is critical to the success of this study! Click here to take part: catsincanada.ipsosinteractive.com.
If you have any questions or need more information, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (613) 224-8072 ext. 21.
Humane Canada gratefully acknowledges the financial support of The Summerlee Foundation, BC SPCA, Edmonton Humane Society, Toronto Humane Society and Winnipeg Humane Society in helping to fund our Cats in Canada research.
What do we mean when we say the word humane? And what does it mean to be a humane community or nation?
In Canada and around the world, the humane movement is about compassion, collaboration, education and action. It was built on the idea that we need to protect the most vulnerable in our society, and it’s focused on minimizing or eliminating the suffering and exploitation of animals.
But how do we create a humane Canada when we are so far behind in our laws, policies and practices? One person at a time.
We’ll need strength, passion, commitment, intelligence and grit to create a humane Canada, but I believe that this amazing country of more than 36 million compassionate, kind and justice-driven people is up to the challenge.
On Canada Day – and Canada’s 150th birthday – I want to challenge you to be part of the change you want to see for animals. Every action and decision can impact the health and welfare of animals, and below are ten things you can do to help animals starting today by supporting their inherent worth and dignity.
GO HUMANE: Do you buy eggs, dairy or meat? Are the products you’re buying SPCA Certified or using another humane food labeling system? If not, research alternatives that do. Learn more here.
DECREASE MEAT INTAKE: If you eat meat, consider cutting down or going meat-free at least once per week. It is, in part, the high demand for meat that creates inhumane conditions for animals on farm or during transport or slaughter.
ADOPT DON’T SHOP: Don’t purchase animals from pet stores. Reputable, registered breeders are not allowed to work with pet stores to place their animals, so your new pet more than likely came from a puppy or kitten mill or backyard breeder. Adopt. Don’t shop. Learn more about disreputable breeders and puppy mills here.
SPAY/NEUTER YOUR CAT: Help cut off cat overpopulation at the source by spaying or neutering your cat. If your cat isn’t spayed or neutered, ask yourself: can you guarantee that each and every kitten your cat might produce will end up in a secure, permanent home? Find a low-cost spay/neuter clinic near you here.
INCREASE SPAY/NEUTER ACCESS: Does your city, town or county offer spay/neuter surgeries for free or at a reduced rate? If not, start an accessible spay/neuter initiative in your community! Go here to find everything you need to help you advocate for this kind of program.
HELP IMPROVE OUR LAWS: Tell the Prime Minister and all Liberal MPs that you expect them to follow up on the commitment they made to strengthen the Criminal Code provisions on animal fighting and bestiality when they struck down Bill C-246 last Fall. Go here to contact our elected representatives today.
REPORT ANIMAL ABUSE: Animals are counting on you to be their champions. When you see animals being abused or mistreated, do not just stand by and allow it to continue. Report animal abuse when you see it. Learn how here.
SUPPORT BILL S-203: Tell Canada’s Senators to support Bill S-203, the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act. Just before the Senate rose for the summer, Humane Canada fought hard to ensure it wasn’t killed behind closed doors. Help us keep up the momentum by contacting the Senate today. Go here for contact info.
ADVOCATE FOR CHANGE: Tell your MP that animal welfare matters to you, and you will be asking for their support for each and every animal welfare Bill that goes before the House of Commons. For tips on getting the best outcome from your meeting, go here.
- HELP END SUFFERING: Don’t financially support facilities or tourist attractions that exploit or mistreat animals for the sake of human entertainment, including zoos, roadside attractions, aquariums or exotic animal shows or rides.
By committing to these 10 simple things in your everyday life, you can make a significant contribution toward a humane Canada. Together, we will achieve our vision of humane treatment for all animals!