How cats have been used in NZ
Cats are the most popular companion animal in New Zealand, with 41% of households sharing their home with at least one cat.1 The love and connection we have with these animals are reflected in the comparatively low number of cats used in research, testing and teaching and how they are used.
Many studies involving cats aim to improve their health and comfort in our homes, like surveying their humans to find risk factors for cats becoming overweight.2 However, some cats are still harmed for science; for example, wild cats are used in harmful ways for research aimed at trying to protect native wildlife.
Note: Cats living in the wild are often referred to as feral cats, but we will refer to these animals as wild cats.
Cats have been used in research, testing and teaching in various ways - from non-harmful to cruel and invasive methods. Most cats used for research, testing and teaching purposes are used for basic biological and veterinary research. They are also used in teaching, environmental management and more.
Cats in NZ have been used for:
- Testing pet food formulations.
- Veterinary research, including
- testing medications for feline diseases,
- studying disease symptoms and ways of diagnosis (like FIV, tooth decay, and cancer)
- researching pet cat behaviour and health
- Environmental management, including
- testing of toxic bait formulations and traps,
- studying wild cat behaviour,
- optimising management methods (like killing trapped cats)
- training staff to handle wild cats
- Teaching veterinary and vet nurse students basic concepts like animal handling and basic clinical/husbandry skills.
Cats are also considered to be used for research, testing or teaching when blood samples taken during routine vet checks are used for research purposes.
This is not a comprehensive list. For more details and referenced examples of how cats are used, see the case studies section at the bottom of this page.
High Impact Studies with cats
Every year, the NZ Government reports on the use of animals for science that was rated as high or very high impact (i.e., cause the most harm or stress to the animals involved). Those are either very severe, very long in duration, or both.
In 2020, 37 cats were rated this way:
- A project with wild cats on Auckland Island was graded D. It aimed to determine wild cat home range size, habitat usage and seasonal patterns of movement to assist with planning for a possible eradication. Three cats were released due to size; one captured cat was euthanised due to sustaining a broken leg due to struggling in a leg trap. The remaining 33 cats were fitted with collars and released.
Thankfully, we have found no high or very high-impact studies involving cats in the reports from 2014 to 2019.
The figures in the table below have been provided by MPI.
How cats were used for science in NZ:
|Basic biological research||121||244||116|
|Animal husbandry research||0||0||0|
|Production of biological agents||0||0||0|
|Development of alternatives||0||0||0|
|Producing offspring with compromised welfare||0||0||0|
|Total number used||701||698||351|
|Animals killed that were bred but not used||NA||0||0|
|Total number including those bred and killed but weren't used||701||698||351|
Where cats have been used
Private companies, universities, and polytechnics use cats for research, testing and teaching purposes. Find out more.
Where cats have been sourced from
Cats used for science are sourced mainly from breeding facilities and public sources, while some are captured in the wild. According to the Ministry for Primary Industries, public sources include public donations, animals obtained from a pound, a pet shop or other public sources. This includes the use of companion animals (i.e. for training veterinary nurses). Find out more.
- Learn about the many ways that you can help end animal experimentation.
- Return to the main Case Studies page.
- Learn about the alternatives and replacement methods that can be used instead of animals.
- Read about why animal testing is both ethically and scientifically flawed.