FERAL cats are costing agricultural industry close to $12 million each year.
Research from the Australian Government's National Environmental Science Program shows that feral felines are passing on parasites such as Toxoplasma and Sarcocystis to livestock and poultry, with devastating consequences for sheep and goats.
According to NESP infected cats often don't appear sick themselves and through normal roaming behaviour can spread millions of tiny parasitic eggs into the environment. These eggs then persist in soil, pasture and water for months and can be ingested by livestock.
Rates of diseases are particularly high among sheep, with Toxoplasma causing the loss of over 62,000 unborn lambs each year and affecting South Australia and Tasmania more severely than other regions.
Australia's chief veterinary officer Mark Schipp said it was the first study to estimate the national production costs of cat-dependent diseases on farm animals.
"While the environmental impact of cats has been well recognised, this research shows there is also a significant impact on livestock production," Dr Schipp said.
"The two most significant diseases impacting livestock are parasitic infections transmitted by cats which together are estimated to cost Australian farmers $11.7m in annual production losses.
"It is easy for livestock to contract these parasites as they simply need to graze in an area where cats have defecated."
Dr Schipp said while cat-dependent diseases affected Australian livestock, meat produced in Australia was wholesome and safe.
"Our meat inspection processes are thorough and effective and our strict biosecurity laws help to ensure we can continue to enjoy our world class produce into the future," he said.
Threatened Species commissioner Dr Sally Box said the research highlights the benefits of domestic cat containment and the importance of reducing the number of feral cats in and around farms.
The study conducted by the NESP Threatened Species Recovery Hub is part of a suite of research to improve our understanding and capacity to manage the impacts of feral cats on native wildlife.
The Australian Government has mobilised more than $32m since 2014 to support projects delivering direct, on-ground action and research to reduce the impact of feral cats.
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