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Quarter of a million cats living rough in UK urban areas, charity finds

The new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, provides the very first national estimate of the number of unowned cats in the UK’s urban areas

Around a quarter of a million cats are thought to be “living rough” in the UK’s towns and cities, according to new research from Cats Protection

The new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, provides the very first national estimate of the number of unowned cats in the UK’s urban areas. 

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The findings were based on Cats Protection’s Cat Watch project which works with communities where unowned cats are “abundant” to improve the welfare of owned and unowned cats.

Sightings of unowned cats were collected over a period of one year from 3,101 resident surveys and 877 resident reports across five urban areas – Bradford, Dunstable and Houghton Regis, Everton, Beeston and Bulwell.

These were paired with 601 confirmed locations from Cats Protection’s community teams within a population model to identify key indicators of unowned cat populations.

The findings were then applied to the rest of the UK’s towns and cities using official urban population statistics, which allowed Cats Protection to estimate a total figure of 247,429 unowned urban felines.

The study also found that their numbers vary widely across localised areas, with the highest numbers found in the most densely-populated and most deprived areas. 

Dr Jenni McDonald, feline epidemiologist for Cats Protection and lead author of the research,said: “Up to now, there haven’t been any evidence-based estimates of the number of stray and feral cats in the UK. It has previously posed a challenge in part because of problems accurately distinguishing owned from unowned cats.”

“However, our population-modelling methodology offers a solution, combining valuable data from residents with confirmed sightings, which gives us a robust means to study unowned cat populations nationally. This is a major step towards understanding the true scale of the feral and stray cat population in the UK.”

Jane Clements, Cats Protection’s head of Neutering, said: “We support these sorts of communities by neutering and finding homes for friendly unowned cats.

“If any cats aren’t suited to becoming domestic pets, then we neuter them too and give residents the means to look after them in their community, such as providing materials and designs to build cat shelters.”

She added: “Engaging communities is the key to ensuring that all cats are cared for in a long-term and sustainable way and this research will enable us to take our Cat Watch programme to the areas of greatest need.”

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