It’s not fresh news that cats are a significant problem for wildlife in Australia. We have known this for a very long time, but the problem is growing.

This year the Federal Government announced a new abatement plan for predation by feral cats, reporting that feral cats kill over 1.5 billion native mammals, birds, reptiles, and frogs, and 1.1 billion invertebrates each year in Australia.

“Predation by cats is a threat to over 200 nationally listed threatened species and they have been implicated in 28 mammal extinctions. They are a major cause of decline for many land-based endangered animals such as the bilby, bandicoot, bettong, and numbat. They can also carry infectious diseases which can be transmitted to native animals, domestic livestock, and humans.”

A spokesperson for the Federal Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DECCEEW) said cats are considered one of the most damaging invasive species worldwide.

“In Australia, cats have been primary contributors to more than two thirds of our mammalian extinctions since European colonisation and continue to drive population decline in many native animal species.”

The draft revised threat abatement plan for predation by feral cats is open for public consultation until 11 December 2023.

The consultation can be found at: Consultation hub | Draft updated threat abatement plan for predation by feral cats. – Climate Change (

feral cats

Management of feral cats requires a collaborative effort across all levels of government.

A spokesperson for the State Department of Environment and Science (DES) told the Westender that Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) places a high priority on managing pests in Queensland’s national parks and State forests.

“We conduct an integrated approach to feral animal control that includes baiting, trapping and aerial and ground control.”

“Feral cats are a serious environmental threat to our native species. They carry infectious diseases and prey on a wide range of wildlife, particularly our ground dwelling birds and small mammals.”

“They can be very difficult to manage in a natural environment as they are cunning, cautious, and cryptic in their movements. They are wary of sounds and smells and will flee if they feel threatened.”

DES funds strategic feral cat control projects across Queensland’s protected area, including shooting, baiting, trapping, and exclusion fencing, such as at Currawinya National Park.

The State Government is a member of the national feral cat taskforce run by the Australian Government Threatened Species Commissioner and the feral cat working group run under COAG arrangements.

Local governments also conduct wild cat management programs. Brisbane City Council carries out both wild dog and feral cat management programs, however as the feral cat population is generally higher than that of wild dogs, it says increased effort is put towards this area.

Domestic cats are also a problem for wildlife.

While the Federal and State governments are taking the lead on feral cats, management of pet cats (and dogs) is largely the responsibly of State and Local Governments.

“The Australian Government supports responsible pet ownership to prevent pets, including cats and dogs, contributing to feral populations and exacerbating the impacts of invasive species,” a DECCEEW spokesperson said.

“Pet cat impacts are increasing as the pet cat population grows. The pet cat population has grown by one third since 2020 and now exceeds 5 million cats nationally. This is more than the number of feral cats in Australia in most years.”

“Greater Brisbane is estimated to have more than 500,000 pet cats, and collectively the proportion that roam is estimated to kill more than 150,000 animals per day.”

Lack of consistency across jurisdictions

Professor Sarah Legge, a member of Australia’s Biodiversity Council and one of Australia’s leading wildlife scientists, has conducted extensive research on the impact of cats on Australian wildlife and contributed to the development of the Australian Government’s draft Threat Abatement Plan to manage the impacts of feral cats. 

Professor Legge said the Biodiversity Council is calling for harmonisation of state and territory companion animal legislation nationally so that local governments in every jurisdiction are able to mandate and enforce responsible pet ownership approaches.

“These approaches must include registration, microchipping, early age desexing, a limit of cats per household and 24-hour containment to the owner’s property. This would bring ownership requirements for cats in line with common requirements for dogs,” Professor Legge told the Westender.

“We also need Federal, state and territory governments to provide additional funding and support to local governments to enable them to educate residents about changes in pet ownership requirements, and to monitor and enforce compliance.”

In some good new, Professor Legge says, that nationally, one third of cat owners already keep their cats contained.

But to illustrate the inconsistencies between jurisdictions, Professor Legge says in Western Australia and New South Wales the state legislation prevents local governments from setting rules to stop pet cats roaming.

“In Queensland local governments can, and most do already have rules requiring owners to keep their cats contained to their property. However, most Queensland local governments have not implemented effective education, monitoring, and enforcement programs to ensure that cat owners are complying with the rules.”

“These programs will be really important to improving outcomes for native wildlife in urban areas. Local governments need to prioritise investment in these programs and should be supported by Federal and state governments to do so.”

“The current patchwork of state and territory companion animal legislation and then what local governments do within those variable rules is confusing for the public, inequitable and not delivering the protection that native wildlife needs in our urban areas.”

“We would like to see nationally consistent responsible pet ownership requirements mandated including registration, microchipping, early age desexing, a limit of cats per household and 24-hour containment to the owner’s property.”

“Doing so at a national scale would greatly improve the fairness of the approach, reduce the cost of community education programs, and would remove confusion within the community.”

Brisbane City Council By Laws

Many people may not know this, but it is a requirement under Brisbane’s Animals Local Law 2017 to contain pet cats to your property and for them not to cause a nuisance to neighbours.

Further, did you know that if your cat is found wandering from your property it could be impounded by Council and you may receive a fine?

States have a mixture of by-laws relating to both cats and dogs. In Brisbane, for example, you can keep up to three cats without a permit, and while people are required to limit roaming, there is no requirement to keep cats contained. In the ACT, cat owners must register their cats and owners are now required to contain their cats.

Professor Legge from the Biodiversity Council says, limiting the number of cats per household is important.

It is important to limit the number of pet cats that people keep to prevent cat hoarding, which is associated with very poor welfare outcomes for the cats and increases the chance of cats become stray or feral.”

As part of Council’s Local Law, pet owners are required to provide an enclosure that prevents animals from wandering at large.

Barriers to managing domestic cats

Brisbane City Council says that some of the biggest barriers to managing domestic cats include:

  • The misconception that it’s ok for cats to roam during the day.
  • The misconception that keeping cats indoors reduces their exercise and enrichment.
  • The risks of wandering cats being exposed to parasites.
  • Lack of understanding of the impacts domestic cats have on wildlife.

Brisbane City Council says it encourages all cat owners to desex their cats and works with bodies like the RSPCA to provide discounted desexing for all cat and dog owners in Brisbane.

Images by iStock



Herding cats: councils’ efforts to protect wildlife from roaming pets are hampered by state laws, Sarah Legge, et al, The Conversation, 20 Feb 2023.