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How Many Stray and Feral Cats Are There in the U.S.? Statistics to Know in 2023

Bynewsmagzines

Mar 22, 2023
ginger stray cat outdoors


Note: This article’s statistics come from third-party sources and do not represent the opinions of this website.

Cats get increasingly popular as pets with every passing year. But there is still a vast number of stray and feral cats in many communities. The existence of all these homeless cats emphasizes the importance of spaying and neutering.

The following statistics are quite disheartening for the most part. While stray and feral cats can survive without help from humans, they have a hard and short existence.

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The 10 Feral and Stray Cats Statistics

  1. There are an estimated 60–100 million homeless cats in the U.S.
  2. An average of 3.2 million cats end up in animal shelters every year.
  3. Every year, about 530,000 cats are euthanized in animal shelters.
  4. About 66% of cats are adopted each year.
  5. About 100,000 stray cats that enter shelters each year are returned to their owners.
  6. 40% of cats are surrendered to animal shelters.
  7. The highest intake month for cats is June, with about 150,000 cats taken into animal shelters.
  8. Only 2.5% of cats are returned to owners from animal shelters.
  9. There are 29% fewer birds in North America than there were before 1970.
  10. The trap-neuter-return (TNR) program saw a 66% reduction of feral cats in one location.

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Animal Shelter Statistics

1. There are an estimated 60–100 million homeless cats in the U.S.

(PubMed)

It’s challenging to come up with an accurate count, particularly across such an enormous country. This estimate also places about 76% of homeless cats in urban areas.

feral cats resting outdoor
Image Credit: Dimitris Vetsikas, Pixabay

2. An average of 3.2 million cats end up in animal shelters every year.

(ASPCA)

Not all of these cats are strays or feral; some are surrendered due to the owners having financial problems, the cat having behavioral problems, or some other unforeseen issue. The number also includes cats rescued from bad situations like hoarding or abusive homes.

About twice as many cats enter animal shelters as strays compared to cats dropped off by owners.


3. Every year, about 530,000 cats are euthanized in animal shelters.

(ASPCA)

This number is higher when you include dogs, of which 390,000 are euthanized annually. More cats are euthanized than dogs because of the sheer number of them.

Cats are typically euthanized because of behavioral issues and illness. But it’s also common to put down animals due to the lack of space in the shelter.

The good news is that the number of cats and dogs euthanized has decreased yearly since 2011.

fluffy ginger cat lying on the ground
Image Credit: Ludemeula Fernandes, Unsplash

4. About 66% of cats are adopted each year.

(ASPCA)

This works out to 2.1 million cats adopted each year. In comparison, 17% of cats are euthanized. It’s promising that more cats are adopted than euthanized, but 17% is still too high.

The decline in euthanasia is because of the increase in adoptions and stray cats being returned to their owners.


5. About 100,000 stray cats that enter shelters each year are returned to their owners.

(ASPCA)

This number is actually quite small when you look at the number of dogs: 710,000 stray dogs were successfully returned to their owners. Rhode Island had the highest rate of stray cats returned to owners than any other state, at 61.6% in 2020.

young woman with monochrome black and white cat
Image Credit: Olesya Kuznetsova, Shutterstock

6. 40% of cats are surrendered to animal shelters.

(Scientific Research Publishing)

When someone is looking to find a home for their cat, only 30% of cats were rehomed with family and friends. Between the 30% for family and friends and 40% taken to shelters, that tells us that there are about 30% of cats abandoned and left to fend for themselves.


7. The highest intake month for cats is June, with about 150,000 cats taken into animal shelters.

(Shelter Animals Count)

April was the lowest intake month in 2020, with approximately 73,000 cats brought into animal shelters across the U.S. This is a difference of about 115%.

cats in animal shelter
Image Credit: Yulia Grigoryeva, Shutterstock

8. Only 2.5% of cats are returned to owners from animal shelters.

(Shelter Animals Count)

Dogs have higher numbers, with 17.4% being returned to their owners. These numbers demonstrate that dogs are more likely to get lost and then returned, while cats are abandoned. Adoption was the most common outcome, though, with 60.7% of cats adopted.

divider-catDamage Caused by Stray and Feral Cats

9. There are 29% fewer birds in North America than there were before 1970.

(Science, Nature)

This is a loss of 3 billion birds. The primary cause of this substantial loss of birds is cats. Another study found that outdoor cats were responsible for the death of 6.3 to 22.3 billion mammals and 1.3 to 4 billion birds every year.

feral cat hunt bird
Image Credit: Losonsky, Shutterstock

10. The trap-neuter-return (TNR) program saw a 66% reduction of feral cats in one location.

(AVMA)

This was just one study in one location, so it doesn’t absolutely prove that the TNR program is efficient. It is helpful, but with a constant population of cats entering a colony, it’s an ongoing problem.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Stray and Feral Cats

What Is the Difference Between Stray and Feral Cats?

Stray cats have been around people at some point in their lives, but through circumstances like getting lost or being abandoned, they have lost their dependence on humans. Stray cats are more likely to be adopted and live in a home again, as long as too much time hasn’t passed.

Feral cats have had no or very little exposure to people. The longer they go without human contact, the more likely they won’t ever live comfortably in a home. Some stray cats can become feral if they go without contact with people for too long. But feral kittens can be successfully turned into house cats. (Alley Cat Allies)

What Is the TNR Program?

TNR is a program where community members humanely trap cats (usually with a kind of box trap) and then bring them to a veterinarian. They are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and eartipped and then returned to where they were trapped. (Alley Cat Allies)

feral cat in the cage
Image Credit: Piqsels

What Is Eartipping?

Eartipping is cutting off the tip of the left ear, typically done while the cat is under anesthetic while getting spayed or neutered. While some people might be reluctant to adopt a cat with a tipped ear, it serves a crucial role.

It tells anyone trapping cats for the TNR program that this cat has already been spayed or neutered, which will prevent the cat from going through an unnecessary procedure.

It’s also a good way to keep track of any new cats that enter the community that haven’t had the procedure done. It’s quite easy to spot from a distance, which is helpful when dealing with cats that avoid human contact.

Eartipping can prevent animal control agencies from bringing the cat to a shelter where they will likely be euthanized. (PetMD)

Should I Have My Cat Microchipped?

Absolutely! Microchipping is the best option for your cat in case they get lost or injured when outside. This goes for indoor cats too, as it’s possible for them to slip outside without your noticing.

All vets and animal shelters have microchip readers, and as long as you remember to keep the information updated (like when you move), you’re more likely to be reunited with your cat. (PetMD)

Microchip implant for cat
Image Credit: Ivonne Wierink, Shutterstock

Why Do People Give Up Their Pets?

Unfortunately, it’s common for people to have to give up their pets for several reasons, including behavioral issues, moving and housing problems, allergies, illness, and not having the time to spend with them.

But one of the biggest reasons is financial. From 2022 to 2023, inflation has been hitting many families hard, which has led to the surrendering of pets because they can no longer afford to look after them.

The fact that so many animal shelters are inundated with surrenders can partially help explain why some people just abandon their pets. If no shelters can take your pet, what options are left? (Washington Post)

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Conclusion

There are far too many feral and stray cats roaming in our communities. They live relatively short and often violent lives and wreak havoc on the natural world, though you can’t blame the cats for acting on instinct and just looking to survive. The fault lies with us.

You can advocate on behalf of homeless cats and call attention to the TNR program. It isn’t perfect, but it can help lower the feral cat population.

Also, try to adopt when you can. Saving one life might not seem like much when you’ve seen the staggering numbers of homeless cats. But one life is more than enough.


Featured Image Credit: Gabriella Clare Marino, Unsplash

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