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Almost 250,000 stray cats live in urban areas of the UK, according to a new study.
Researchers estimate the number of unowned cats to be 247,429, with most concentrated in more densely populated and socioeconomically deprived areas.
The findings suggest there are, on average, 9.3 unowned cats per square kilometre in the UK, but the number varies between 1.9 and 57 unowned cats per square kilometre depending on the location.
Researchers modelled data from 3,101 surveys of residents in five urban towns and cities in England – Beeston, Bradford, Bulwell, Dunstable and Houghton Regis, and Everton – between 2016 and 2018.
The authors of the study, published in Scientific Reports, analysed the findings of 877 separate resident reports and 601 expert reports.
They then scaled up their model to estimate the densities of unowned cats in England and across the UK with reference to data on human population density and deprivation.
The authors suggest the number of stray cats is higher in more densely populated areas because there are more people, and therefore more pets, which may produce accidental litters and be abandoned or stray from home.
These unowned cat populations could then support themselves by scavenging on human food waste, the researchers suggest.
The team behind the findings also speculate that pet owners in deprived areas may face barriers to neutering their cats, meaning the animals may freely breed – driving up the stray cat population.
While the researchers said their model is based only on data estimates and that many factors could be influencing cat populations in each area, they suggest the model still provides some insight and may help guide interventions to manage these populations.