Environmental Impact and Relative Invasiveness of Free-Roaming Domestic Carnivores-a North American Survey of Governmental Agencies

Animals (Basel). 2017 Oct 14;7(10):78. doi: 10.3390/ani7100078.


A survey of the United States and Canadian governmental agencies investigated the environmental impact and relative invasiveness of free-roaming domestic non-native carnivores-dogs, cats, and ferrets. Agencies represented wildlife, fish, game, natural or environmental resources, parks and recreation, veterinary and human health, animal control, and agriculture. Respondents were asked to document the number and frequency of sightings of unconfined animals, evidence for environmental harm, and the resulting "degree of concern" in their respective jurisdictions. Results confirmed the existence of feral (breeding) cats and dogs, documenting high levels of concern regarding the impact of these animals on both continental and surrounding insular habitats. Except for occasional strays, no free-roaming or feral ferrets were reported; nor were there reports of ferrets impacting native wildlife, including ground-nesting birds, or sensitive species. This is the first study to report the relative impact of free-roaming domestic carnivores. Dogs and cats meet the current definition of "invasive" species, whereas ferrets do not. Differences in how each species impacts the North American environment highlights the complex interaction between non-native species and their environment. Public attitudes and perceptions regarding these species may be a factor in their control and agency management priorities.

Keywords: North America; cat; dog; domestic carnivore; environmental impact; ferret; government; invasive; non-native species; survey.