Disentangling the link between supplemental feeding, population density, and the prevalence of pathogens in urban stray cats

Peer J

Corresponding Author: Myung-Sun Chun, jdchun@snu.ac.kr

Summary Author: Leah Crone, lec62627@uga.edu

Feral cats often receive supplemental feeding from humans in urban environments.  These humans can be considered “cat caretakers.” With an expected positive correlation between increased cat population density and cat caretaker activity, there is concern that more densely populated areas will foster the spread of pathogens.  To test this hypothesis, a team of researchers, including CEID member Nicole Gottdenker, conducted population density surveys at 12 sites in Seoul, South Korea. It was estimated that the number of cats at each survey site was from 132 to 268 per km2. Against their hypothesis, cat population density did not have a positive relationship to cat caretaker activity. There is a trend for higher cat population density in low cat caretaker activity regions.  High cat caretaker activity areas had a higher proportion of sterilized cats when compared to low cat caretaker activity areas. With more cats being sterilized in high cat caretaker activity areas, that may be the reason as to why there is a lower population density in these areas.  It was discovered that different pathogens were more prevalent based on multiple factors including population density, cat caretaker activity and sex of the cat. The results of this study challenge the initial assumptions that a positive correlation exists between cat population density and cat caregiver activity, illuminating the complex ecological and sociological factors that shape the population dynamics of animals whose life-histories are heavily influenced by humans.  While supplemental feeding may influence population density, it is important to consider other impacts of supplemental feeding on population dynamics, such as changes in behavior.  Thus, supplemental feeding may result in multiple side effects, each altering pathogen transmission differently.  To better understand the epidemiological risk of urban stray cats to humans and wildlife, there is a need to further study the intersection of pathogen transmission and the influence of human behavior on urban cat populations.

Hwang J, Gottdenker NL, Oh D, Nam H, Lee H,& Chun M. (2018). Disentangling the link between supplemental feeding, population density, and the prevalence of pathogens in urban stray cats. PeerJ. 6:e4988 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.4988

Photo Credit: “Black and White Cat” by Sebaso licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0