The vast majority of B.C. cat owners say they spay or neuter their felines, but more can still be done to curb overpopulation and prevent the formation of feral cat colonies — particularly in rural areas.
According to the findings of a new study on cat overpopulation in Canada released on Thursday by the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, the situation in B.C. is on par with the rest of the country.
“In B.C., we’re pretty much in line with the rest of Canada,” said Amy Morris, manager of public policy and outreach for the B.C. SPCA.
The report shows that more cats are being sterilized to reduce unwanted litters, but there are still more cats than people willing to give them homes. It also recommends that more should be done to encourage spaying and neutering, even for kittens as young as six weeks old.
“The good news is we’ve taken some giant leaps forward in cat welfare since 2012,” said Barbara Cartwright, CEO of the federation. “The bad news is it is not happening quickly enough to overcome Canada’s cat overpopulation crisis.”
The report is an update to a similar study done five years ago, and includes the results of an Ipsos survey conducted last May.
The new findings indicate more cats are being adopted, fewer cats are being put down, and more lost cats are being reunited with their owners.
Fewer Canadians are letting their cats roam outside unsupervised where they are at risk of being hit by vehicles or getting into fights with other cats and animals.
The number of cats that arrive at shelters already spayed or neutered is up, and more are being sterilized by animal care organizations.
According to data collected by the B.C. SPCA, 93 per cent of B.C. residents say they spay or neuter their cats, just slightly below the Canada-wide figure of 94 per cent. Women in B.C. are more likely to sterilize their cats (99 per cent of women, and 86 per cent of men) — across the country, the trend is the same, but the numbers aren’t so lopsided (94 per cent for women, and 93 per cent for men).
The report notes there are an estimated 9.3 million cats in Canada. But for some reason, cats don’t receive the same care and consideration as their canine counterparts.
Toolika Rastogi, the federation’s policy and research manager, said cats are seen by some people as being more disposable, perhaps because they are often obtained free from a relative or neighbour.
They are also more fertile than dogs, and can become pregnant at a younger age.
“We have got cats being the most popular animals in the homes of Canadians, being followed very closely by dogs, and yet they are facing far more difficulty,” she said.
Rastogi said the improvement in cat sterilization rates is a direct result of animal organizations making spaying and neutering a priority.
Morris said the SPCA spays or neuters every cat it adopts out, and paid for surgeries for about 8,000 cats in 2016. It also spayed and neutered more than 5,700 cats and dogs at discounted clinics and hospitals in Kamloops, Prince George, Vancouver, Burnaby and Penticton.
However, there are large pockets in rural areas throughout the province where not enough cats are being spayed and neutered, including farming areas in the Lower Mainland, and near Kelowna, Prince George and Prince Rupert.
“The rural areas around hubs are really struggling because many of them have a lack of veterinary services,” she said.
Large cities such as Victoria and Vancouver are “in really good shape,” she said, because there are few unwanted litters born and enough homes for those that are.
Morris said the SPCA works to bring rural animals to urban centres for adoption, but the ideal is to address the problem in the home community with initiatives such as education programs, municipal discounts for low-income individuals who spay or neuter pets, and travelling veterinary services.
“People want to do the right thing — it’s about making it accessible to them,” Morris said.