Research conducted under the Australian Government’s National EnvironmentalScience Program (NESP) has revealed that feral cats can cost the agricultureindustry up to $12 million each year.

The study shows that feral felines are passing on parasites such asToxoplasma and Sarcocystis to livestock and poultry, with devastatingconsequences for sheep and goats.

Infected cats often don’t appear sick themselves and through normal roamingbehaviour can spread millions of tiny parasitic eggs into the environment.These eggs then persist in soil, pasture and water for months and can beingested by livestock.

Rates of diseases are particularly high among sheep, with Toxoplasma causingthe loss of over 62,000 unborn lambs each year and affecting South Australiaand Tasmania more severely than other regions.

Australian Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Mark Schipp, welcomed the research asthe first study to estimate the national production costs of cat-dependentdiseases on farm animals.

“While the environmental impact of cats has been well recognised, thisresearch shows there is also a significant impact on livestock production,” DrSchipp said.

“The two most significant diseases impacting livestock are parasiticinfections transmitted by cats which together are estimated to cost Australianfarmers $11.7 million in annual production losses.

“It is easy for livestock to contract these parasites as they simply need tograze in an area where cats have defecated.

“While cat-dependent diseases affect Australian livestock, meat produced inAustralia is wholesome and safe.

“Our meat inspection processes are thorough and effective and our strictbiosecurity laws help to ensure we can continue to enjoy our world classproduce into the future.”

Threatened Species Commissioner, Dr Sally Box, said the research highlightsthe benefits of domestic cat containment and the importance of reducing thenumber of feral cats in and around farms.

“I encourage the community to reduce the spread of disease to livestock fromdomestic cat populations, as well as reduce the risk of cat predation onnative wildlife, by being responsible pet owners,” Dr Box said.

“The best thing pet cat owners can do to lower the risks to livestock andwildlife is to keep their cats contained 24 hours per day and ensure that theyare microchipped, registered and desexed.”

The study conducted by the NESP Threatened Species Recovery Hub is part of asuite of research to improve our understanding and capacity to manage theimpacts of feral cats on native wildlife.

The Australian Government has mobilised more than $32 million since 2014 tosupport projects delivering direct, on-ground action and research to reducethe impact of feral cats.

Image: Hugh MacGregor, Arid Recovery

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