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Feral and unwanted cats

Feral and unwanted cats

Updated 22 January 2019 10:33am


Feral cat
Felis catus
Photo: Rex Williams

Why are feral and unwanted cats a problem?

Feral cats are born in the wild and raised without human contact. Unwanted cats are domestic pets or their offspring that are abandoned or left uncared for. Both feral and unwanted cats pose a real threat to native species. New Zealand’s unique native wildlife is particularly vulnerable to predation by cats. Cats kill and eat young and adult birds, eggs, lizards, fish, frogs and large invertebrates. Cats will kill without hunger if the opportunity arises, storing any surplus prey for future use.

Cats may also carry parasites and toxoplasmosis which can lead to illness in humans and other animals. Feral and unwanted cats are usually un-neutered, causing further unwanted kittens. Feral and unwanted cats can cause human nuisance by spraying and defecating, scavenging rubbish, fighting or mating with domestic cats and stealing food intended for household pets. The domestic cats in your area may also contribute to some of these problems.

Description and background

Feral and unwanted cats are present throughout the Wellington region. They can be found in most terrestrial habitats from sea level to the snowline. All feral and unwanted cats originate from domesticated species. They are usually short haired, slightly built, with a large head and sharp features. Feral cats are always timid around humans. They do not meow or purr, and are usually aggressive when cornered or captured. They are often in poor physical condition and may have weeping eyes or diarrhoea. Feral cats tend to avoid human contact, although some unwanted cats may continue to rely on humans for food or shelter – which makes the problem worse.

What can I do?

Before cat management of any sort occurs, the ownership of the animal must be established. Neighbours must be contacted, and ownership of all cats in the area confirmed. This is best done face to face, or by a letter box drop. All domestic pets in the control area should wear a collar before any management begins.

If an individual claims to own or care for a cat or cats, they have a legal responsibility to house, feed and care for that animal. It is an offence under the animal welfare (companion cats) code of welfare 2007 to abandon or neglect cats.

This code of welfare can be viewed at:

Under the Greater Wellington Regional Pest Management Strategy an individual must have the express permission of a landowner before feeding or encouraging cats on any land.

If you feel that animal welfare is a concern regarding the ownership of a cat or cats, you can contact Ministry for Primary Industries on 0800 008 333.

If cats are unwanted or abandoned on a property it is the responsibility of the property owner to undertake control.

Greater Wellington (GWRC) can offer advice on control techniques. GW only undertakes active feral cat control in Key Native Ecosystem sites and in conjunction with Territorial Local Authorities.

In any area where domestic cats are present, live-capture cat cages are the only acceptable control option. Any domestic cats captured can be released, and the SPCA or a local veterinarian can euthanize captured feral or unwanted cats. You must check that this service is available before you begin live capture trapping. All live capture traps must be checked daily, and any captured animals given shelter, food and water.

Private pest control companies can be contracted to undertake unwanted cat control.

Feral and Stray Cats: Monitoring and control, A preliminary guideline towards good practice