Do Feral Cats Keep Rodents Away?

Feral cats are domestic cats that were born in the wild or were pets that have been abandoned or lost and turned wild in order to survive. They establish free-roaming colonies outdoors and survive by hunting and scavenging food. Rodents are small mammals of the order Rodentia, characterized by upper and lower pairs of ever-growing rootless incisor teeth. Well-known rodents include mice, rats, squirrels, porcupines, beavers, chipmunks, and voles.

Feral cats are prolific predators that can hunt and kill rodents. There is an ongoing debate about whether feral cats effectively control rodent populations or if they primarily threaten biodiversity. This article will examine the complex relationship between feral cats and rodents.

Feral Cats Hunt Rodents

Feral cats are prolific hunters that will prey on rodents as a food source. Studies show that feral cats routinely hunt rats, mice, voles and other rodents. With excellent night vision and lightning fast reflexes, feral cats are well-adapted for stalking and killing small rodents. Their powerful jaws allow them to deliver a killing bite to the neck or head. Feral cats are opportunistic hunters that will readily consume any rodents they can catch.

Feral Cats Can Control Rodent Populations

Some studies have shown that feral cats can help control rodent populations in certain areas when conditions are right. A 2018 study in New York City found that the large number of feral cats did reduce rat populations in less developed outer boroughs. Researchers speculated this was due to the lower human population density and availability of outdoor shelter and hunting grounds for cats.

Another study in 2018 showed that identifiable feral cats did influence and reduce a local rodent population when able to hunt freely in parks and green spaces in an urban area. The cats were documented killing and eating rodents, leading to observable changes in rat behavior and reduced numbers over time.

Feral Cats Prefer Certain Rodents

Research shows that feral cats tend to target specific rodents such as mice and rats rather than other rodent species. One study found that feral cats in urban environments prefer to hunt introduced rodents like house mice and black rats over native rodents (Parsons 2018). The size and behavior of mice and rats makes them more vulnerable to feral cat predation compared to other rodents.

Feral cats are opportunistic hunters and will target the most abundant and easy to catch rodent in their territory. Mice and rats tend to be common in areas frequented by feral cats like cities, farms, and landfills. The open and exploratory behavior of mice and rats also exposes them to feral cat predation more than other warier rodent species.

Additionally, mice and rats are just the right size for a feral cat to successfully hunt and kill. Larger rodents may be more difficult for a feral cat to overpower. Smaller rodents can more easily escape and hide. Feral cats are most effective at catching rodents approximately mouse/rat sized.

Feral Cat Hunting Has Limitations

While feral cats do prey on rodents, research shows they cannot fully control large rodent populations. According to a study, feral cats tend to prefer hunting small rodents like voles and shrews rather than rats. Rats can also easily repopulate and establish new colonies once some rats have been predated on. Feral cats hunt alone, so they are only able to make a small dent in abundant rodent populations.

In urban areas with major rodent issues like New York City, studies have found that feral cat predation does not significantly reduce rat populations. Rats in cities have abundant food sources and shelters, allowing them to thrive despite cat predation. While cats may kill some rats, they cannot hunt enough to control large infestations.

Feral cats also tend to hunt in areas near their colonies, so their predation is localized. Widespread rat populations across neighborhoods and cities can easily persist and spread despite the presence of feral cats.

Other Rodent Control Methods

In addition to feral cats, there are other common methods used for controlling rodent populations, including traps, poison, and promoting natural predators.

Traps like snap traps, live traps, and glue boards are frequently used to capture and kill rodents in homes and buildings. Poison baits containing rodenticides are also commonly used, though they can pose risks of secondary poisoning to predators if rodents consume the bait and are then eaten. Using enclosed bait stations can help mitigate this risk.

Promoting natural predators like hawks, owls, and snakes that prey on rodents is another rodent control strategy. Setting up owl boxes or maintaining natural snake habitats can encourage these predators to frequent areas with rodent problems and hunt them. However, natural predation usually does not fully control high density rodent populations.

While traps, poisons, and natural predators can all help limit rodents, integrated pest management approaches that combine sanitation, exclusion, and population reduction methods are considered most effective for sustainable control.

Public Health Concerns

Rodents like rats and mice can carry and transmit many diseases to humans, posing a significant public health risk. According to the CDC, rodents spread over 35 diseases through either direct contact, ingestion, bites, or simply being in areas rodents contaminate with their urine and droppings. Some of the most concerning rodent-borne diseases include:

Plague – Caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and transmitted via flea bites or direct contact with infected animals. Plague outbreaks still occur today and can be deadly if not treated quickly with antibiotics (CDC, 2023).

Leptospirosis – Caused by bacteria in the urine of infected animals like rats. It can enter the body through food, water, and skin abrasions. Symptoms include fever, headache, chills, vomiting, and rash (CDC, 2023).

Salmonellosis – Salmonella bacteria are found in rodent droppings and can contaminate food sources, causing diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps if ingested (CDC, 2023).

Hantavirus – Carried by rodents, particularly deer mice. Transmitted via droppings or urine and can cause severe respiratory issues. Fatality rates are as high as 40% (Meerburg et al., 2009).

Clearly, rodent infestations pose a major public health hazard due to disease risks. Proper sanitation, rodent control measures, and avoiding direct contact are critical to reduce transmission to humans.

Environmental Impact

Feral cats can have a significant negative impact on ecosystems and wildlife populations. According to a study, free-ranging cats are estimated to kill between 1.3-4.0 billion birds and between 6.3-22.3 billion mammals annually in the United States alone. Cats are natural predators that hunt even when well-fed, thus their predation is additive to ecosystem losses rather than compensatory. This extra mortality can threaten native species, particularly birds, reptiles and small mammals like rabbits and rodents.

Cat predation may disrupt food chains or alter native species behavior and abundance. Declines in bird populations due to cat predation can in turn reduce pollination and seed dispersal that some plants rely on (Trouwborst, 2020). Feral cats can also spread diseases and parasites to wildlife. Their introduction to isolated habitats like islands can devastate naïve native species that lack appropriate defenses. Numerous extinctions worldwide have been linked to feral cat colonization.

Overall, feral cats represent an invasive predatory threat that can damage native ecosystems. Monitoring and management of cat populations may help mitigate their environmental impacts. However, completely eliminating feral cats’ influence can be challenging.

Ethical Considerations

There are significant animal welfare concerns around culling feral cat populations. Many animal rights groups argue that cats should not be killed for simply existing in their natural state. They view culling as inhumane and unethical, as feral cats are sentient beings capable of suffering. According to Faunalytics[1], feral cats exhibit a strong “will to live” and survival instincts. Some alternative methods proposed include trap-neuter-return programs to humanely reduce populations over time. However, others argue the environmental damage from feral cats is untenable, necessitating more direct population control. Overall, the ethics of how to manage feral cat populations remain widely debated.


In summary, the research shows that feral cats do hunt and kill rodents as part of their natural behavior. There is evidence that in certain contexts, a population of feral cats can help control rodents, particularly in locations like barns and warehouses. However, the rodent control ability of feral cats has limitations – they prefer to hunt smaller rodents and avoid rats, have individual variation in hunting ability, and require adequate shelter and food resources in order to establish a stable population that can hunt effectively.

When considering feral cats as a form of rodent control, there are also important public health, environmental, and ethical concerns to weigh regarding disease transmission, predation of native wildlife, and the welfare of the cats themselves. While feral cats fill an ecological niche as predators, they also spread parasites and diseases as invasive species and may disturb habitats and ecosystems in which they do not naturally occur.

In conclusion, the evidence suggests that feral cats can sometimes assist in controlling rodent populations, but typically should not be relied upon as a sole solution, and any management of feral cats must consider the broader impacts on public health and the environment.

Scroll to Top