The number of pet cats that are owned in the United States is estimated at approximately 89 million, making cats America’s most popular pet. A more elusive figure is the number of unowned community cats.
Community Cats Are Prolific Breeders
It is estimated that 70 million or more community cats currently roam the alleys, fields, and backyards of the United States. They often provide important rodent control duty, but they are also prolific breeders. If left unaltered, their numbers increase rapidly, and often become more than a community can sustain.
Population Dynamics of Owned VS. Stray Cats
Several national humane societies have studied the population dynamics of owned and stray cats and found that, on average, owned cats produce 1.2 litters before being spayed. In contrast, stray cats have one or more litters each year. The result is that most surplus cats arise from stray, not owned, cats.
Estimating a Community’s Unowned Cat Population
According to the AVMA, a community’s owned pet cat population can be estimated by dividing the human population (available at www.census.gov) by 3.5. Surveys of cat feeding suggest that the fed community cat population can be estimated by dividing the human population by 6 (Levy 2003).
The number of cats that are not fed is uncounted, and the total community cat population may be even higher. Approximately 60% of owned pet cats are allowed outdoors, which means that about half of cats seen outdoors are community cats and half are owned pet cats.
Factors Affecting Local Cat Populations
Local cat populations are also affected by factors such as the community’s geographical size, climate, rural vs. urban land use, animal control policies, amount of spay-neuter, and cultural differences, so the number of pet and community cats is likely to vary from region to region. Regardless of the specifics, it is likely that community cats constitute a large portion of the cats present in most areas.
Operation Catnip Local Statistics
Using Alachua County, the home of Operation Catnip, as an example:
- Human population (from US census): 247,336
- Human population ÷ 3.5: 70,540 owned pet cats
- Human population ÷ 6: 41,223 unowned community cats