Veterinary Sciences and Medicine


Impact of Free-Roaming Domestic Carnivores on North American Agriculture: a Survey of Government Agencies

Author(s): Ana Lepe, Valerie Kaplan, Alirio Arreaza, Robert Szpanderfer, David Bristol, and M. Scott Sinclair

Over millennia dogs, cats, and ferrets became domesticated in part due to their respective roles in the management of agricultural resources. When allowed to roam free of human control (“unconfined”), these carnivores have the potential to harm or kill livestock, destroy crops and property, and become vectors for disease transmission. As part of a larger environmental survey, government agencies of the United States and Canada were queried regarding the number and frequency of sightings of unconfined dogs, cats, and ferrets in agricultural areas, evidence for harm, and resulting degree of concern for livestock, agricultural crops, and fisheries. Of the 119 jurisdictions queried, 107 (89.9%) had agriculture components. Twenty-five (23.4%) reported the existence of “incidents” (impact) from unconfined dogs and cats on agriculture, which 14 (13.0%) agencies rated as “definitely a concern” to livestock and crops. Cat sightings exceeded those for dogs in both frequency and absolute animal numbers, although differences did not reach statistical significance. Twenty-one (19.6%) respondents reported ferrets as “rarely” or “never seen” in agricultural settings, and no agency reported an impact from ferrets on livestock, fisheries, or crops. Balancing today’s societal perceptions regarding the benefits of employing domestic carnivores in the agricultural setting against the potential risks, remains an important policy and management debate.

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