The contribution of cat owners' attitudes and behaviours to the free-roaming cat overpopulation in Tel Aviv, Israel

Hilit Finkler, Joseph Terkel
Preventive Veterinary Medicine 2012 April 1, 104 (1-2): 125-35
The attitudes and behaviours of cat owners in regard to treatment of cats may have a cumulative effect on the food availability, reproduction, density and welfare of the free-roaming cat population and thus also on the extent of cat overpopulation. Understanding this is thus a vital step in the a priori planning of cat management programs on any scale, as well as in developing public education programs on this issue. Although recent years have seen an accumulation of knowledge in regard to cat owners' attitudes and behaviours, the findings vary among countries and locations and in Israel this has never been investigated systematically. Using a questionnaire provided to cat owners in veterinary clinics, this study aimed at identifying those attitudes and behaviours that may be contributing to cat overpopulation in Tel Aviv, Israel, and at exploring the socio-economic factors that influence this problem. The findings show that the influential factors can be predicted from the cat owners' socio-economic status, mainly education and income, as well as gender and age. A consistency in those cat owner behaviours that contribute to cat overpopulation was also uncovered, revealing a sub-population of individuals who persist in the undesirable behaviours. Finally, a strong relationship between attitude and consequent behaviour was demonstrated, indicating the importance of education and targeted publicity as a means to influence attitudes and thereby change behaviours in this respect. We propose several measures by which to reduce the current extent of cat owners' contribution to the cat overpopulation: discouraging unwanted owner behaviours such as abandonment of their cats and allowing them to breed; promoting awareness of the neutering option among cat caretakers; and increasing pre-adoption neutering rates in shelters. Regional and national laws promoting responsible pet ownership need to be enacted. By improving the current level of knowledge and awareness among cat owners regarding cat overpopulation issues, and encouraging a more responsible attitude, cat owners' bond with their cats could be strengthened, as well as their bond with and contribution to their environment.

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