Objective: To estimate and predict changes in the cat population of Australian households from 1979 to 2005.
Method: Telephone surveys were used to estimate Australia's total household cat population for each year from 1979 to 1999. A simple mathematical model based on population characteristics in 1995 was used to predict future population changes to 2005. Estimates and predictions for 1996 to 1999 were compared to validate the model.
Results: Australia's household cat population increased steadily from 2.23 million in 1979 to peak at 3.24 million in 1988. Since then it has steadily declined to 2.60 million in 1999. The population size predicted from the mathematical model was similar to that from surveys for the years 1996 to 1999. It is predicted that the population will continue to decline to approximately 2.19 million in 2005. The proportion of Australian households owning cats fell from 31.1% in 1994 to 25.8% in 1999, while the average number of cats per cat-owning household remained relatively constant at 1.47.
Conclusions: Australia's household cat population is decreasing, falling by 19% between 1988, when it reached its peak, and 1999. This contrasts with the US where the population increased by 13.9% over the same period. The decline in Australia appears to be due to a decrease in the total number of cat-owning households rather than the number of cats per cat-owning household. It is likely that this trend will continue unless there is a change in household pet ownership preferences in the meantime.