Cat control in NSW – how it could work
Following the Killer Cats article in January’s EcoUpdate, we received feedback from members wishing to know how they could help support changes in legislation relating to cat control in NSW. Several people also mentioned that they are cat owners and that their cats are quite happy indoors or in cat runs and enclosures.
The Invasive Species Council and partners have produced a guide called ‘Safe cat, Safe wildlife‘ which we can all use to discuss the issue with our local state members, as well as with our local councillors. These are the main recommendations and opportunities for the NSW Government to reduce wildlife predation by pet cats:
- Amend the NSW Companion Animals Act 1998 to enable local governments to enforce anti-roaming laws for pet cats at a local level.
- Allocate a minimum of $9 million to fund compliance, education, desexing, identification and registration programs.
- Encourage local governments to develop companion animal management plans.
- Develop a state-wide web resource for pet owners.
- Streamline pet identification and registration processes.
- Make desexing mandatory state-wide.
Current inadequate NSW State legislation
Laws relating to domestic cats in NSW are prescribed in the NSW Companion Animals Act 1998 which allows cats to roam free. The protection of native birds and animals from domestic cats is covered by the Act which tasks local councils with promoting and implementing the requirements some of which are:
- an annual permit is required for a cat that is not desexed.
- all cats over 6 months old, or being sold, must have a microchip installed by licenced practitioner and must be registered with the local council.
- cats are prohibited in wildlife protection areas.
- a council officer may issue a notice to the owner of the nuisance cat requiring the owner to prevent the nuisance behaviour, such as causing damage on your property or creating a disturbance.
- any person may lawfully seize a cat if that action is reasonable and necessary for the protection of any person or animal (other than vermin) from injury or death. For example, if a neighbour’s cat is catching birds in your garden, you can catch it and report it to council’s rangers.
NSW is equal last in Australia to implement stronger measures – see maps.
The size of the problem
There are approximately 3.8 million domestic cats in Australia and they are present in 27% of households where each registered owner has on average 1.4 cats. However, the number is probably much higher as only around 50% of domestic cats are registered.
There are millions of unowned domestic or stray cats. Some of these are fed by homeowners and others scavenge around urban areas. Their life span, however, tends to be short. These cats and other owned cats that are allowed to roam freely, kill an average of 186 reptiles, birds and mammals per year, and by uncontrolled breeding, add to the feral cat population. It is estimated that no more than 30% of domestic cats are kept indoors at all times.
Domestic cats are a major contributor to diseases in humans and are estimated to cost the health system around $8 billion per year. In Australia, there are 550 deaths and 8500 hospitalisations annually, attributed to diseases transmitted from domestic cats. The most dangerous of these is toxoplasmosis which is responsible for 125,000 infections per year. The disease is transmitted via infected cat faeces.
We know that many cat owners love wildlife and take great care to make sure their cats do not go outside unsupervised. If you own a cat, please ensure your pet is desexed, micro-chipped, registered and kept indoors at all times. If you choose to confine your cat in your backyard, you can install a confined cat run or install a cat proof fence, 1.8 m high topped with an ‘Oscillot’ barrier. However, do not expect to see native wildlife in your backyard.
References and further reading:
- Killer Cats – EcoUpdate January 2023
- The impact of cats in Australia – Threatened Species Recovery Hub: Science for Saving Species.
- Impact of pet cats on Australian wildlife – Invasive Species Council
- Cats in Australia – Invasive Species Council
- ‘Among the Pigeons: Why our cats belong indoors‘ by John L. Read, published 2019 by Wakefield Press.
In the Media:
- Councils push for stronger laws to keep cats inside – ABC 16 February 2023
- NSW council calls for statewide pet cat curfew and power to enforce containment – ABC 26 July 2022
- Feral pest inquiry response shuts down cat curfew but urges owners to keep pets contained – ABC 8 March 2022
- Why pet owners keep their cats indoors and it’s not to protect wildlife – The Conversation September 2021
- Native animal annihilators – ABC video 2020
- One cat, one year, 110 native animals: Lock up your pet, it’s a killing machine – Threatened Species Recovery Hub 28 Oct 2020
- Don’t let them out: 15 ways to keep your indoor cat happy – The Conversation May 2020