To Control Feral Cat Populations, Cut the Tubes of Dominant Males

Rather than taking the goods entirely from feral cats, researchers now propose vasectomies are the way to go

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People tend to get a bit worked up about feral cats. In one camp are the bird and wildlife lovers. Many of them feel the strays should simply be put down. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the kitty lovers. They dutifully put out food for the strays. Perhaps they even trap the cats and take them to the vet to get shots—and maybe to be “fixed.”

In the past, programs to spay and neuter strays have shown mixed results. Like their wild cousins in Africa, feral cat colonies tend to be led by dominant males, National Geographic reports. When one male suddenly loses his studliness on the veterinary operating table, another quickly rises up in the ranks, or else sniffs out the colony, to take the old leader’s place.

Photo: germit singh

Rather than taking the goods entirely from male and female cats, researchers now propose, based upon computer simulations of cat colony dynamics, that vasectomies and hysterectomies may be the way to go. NatGeo explains why:

A vasectomy cuts the tube that carries sperm without removing a cat’s testicles, so a vasectomized cat retains its sexual hormones. Thus, it can also keep its dominant position in the colony, so it’s able to mate with females without producing kittens.

What’s more, when a non-sterilized female cat mates with a vasectomized male, she undergoes a 45-day pseudo-pregnancy period, further reducing opportunities for reproduction, the study authors found.

The authors simulated feral cat colonies to see how much effort would be needed for them to die out naturally within 11 years. The trap-neuter-release strategy would require 82 percent of the cats to undergo those procedures, NatGeo reports, whereas the vasectomy/hysterectomy strategy required just 35 percent of the cats to be put under the blade.

This method would require patience, however, since its full effects wouldn’t be realized for more than a decade. In the meantime, people in the anti-cat camp will likely still find things to complain about, such as the male cats yowling and spraying, and the continued impact on wildlife during that time. As NatGeo pointed out:

In general, a lot of the feral-cat debate is actually a “human conflict” between people with differing visions on how to approach feral cats, added the Humane Society’s Hadidian.

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