The ACT government will extend cat containment to every Canberra suburb, with all new cats to be required to be locked up from next year as part of a wide-ranging plan to reduce the impact of cats on the environment.
Cats acquired after July 1, 2022 will need to be contained across Canberra.
Cats owned before this date would not have to be contained, unless they live in an existing cat containment area. However, the ACT government will continue to promote voluntary cat containment in other areas.
Annual registration will also be introduced for cats, in line with new registration requirements for dogs. Cat owners will have to pay a one-off $57 fee when they first register the cat and will have to renew this each year, at no extra cost.
Registration details will be linked to already mandatory microchips, allowing rangers to determine whether cats are subject to containment requirements.
Fines of $1600 could be issued to pet owners who do not comply with the new rules, but the ACT government said it will take an education approach before issuing penalties.
The changes are part of the ACT government's 10-year cat plan, which was revealed on Friday by City Services Minister Chris Steel and Environment Minister Rebecca Vassarotti.
Cass Coleman, a licensed breeder of Ragdoll cats, welcomed the initiative, saying the ACT's wildlife would thank the community for making the change to widespread containment.
"I do advocate that people should keep their cats inside very strongly. I think the ACT government has done a very brave thing for bringing it in for the whole of the community, but a very wise thing," Ms Coleman said.
Ms Coleman, whose own cats have an outdoor run, said it was easier for cats to grow up in containment than to be shifted indoors as adults.
"Trying to change their habits would be extremely stressful to the cat and the owner. But I absolutely think that going forward we must have all kittens growing up contained. It is a fair solution," she said.
Ms Coleman said the ACT government should look at a night-time curfew for the cats still allowed to roam, as it would reduce the opportunity cats had to hunt native wildlife.
New legislation will be introduced to the ACT's parliament later this year or early in 2022 to implement the plan, which also commits the ACT government to increasing desexing rates and improving feral cat control.
Mr Steel said the plan recognised the need to balance the needs of much-loved pets and their potential impact on the environment.
"The heart of this plan is making sure we're promoting responsible cat ownership. Most people in the declared cat suburbs are aware of their obligations to contain their cats and are doing the right thing - they're putting in cat runs, they're making sure their cats are stimulated. They understand the benefits of that," Mr Steel said.
Mr Steel said cat control activities under the plan would include using humane traps in nature reserves, and reuniting cats found roaming with their owners.
There are already 17 cat containment suburbs, which include most suburbs in Gungahlin and Molonglo Valley. All new suburbs in the ACT will continue to be established as cat containment areas.
Cats in containment areas need to be kept within the boundaries of an owner's property, whether by using a purpose-built cat run or appropriate fencing.
The expansion of cat containment is part of the Labor-Greens power sharing agreement.
The agreement says the government would: "conduct a cat containment awareness campaign on the impact of cats on wildlife in Canberra and increase cat containment measures to move towards territory-wide cat containment".
ACT Environment Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said the plan would seek to minimise the impacts of domestic cats on native wildlife.
"Every year, free-roaming but owned Canberra cats are estimated to prey on 61,000 native birds, 2000 native mammals, 30,000 native reptiles and 6000 native frogs," she said.
"We know that cats are very special members of the family for many families. About a quarter of the families in the ACT have cats, and we really do have a vision that all cats are owned, loved and cared for. The cat containment will be a really important part of this."
The ACT cat plan also includes a commitment to expanding predator-proof fences in the territory's nature reserves, along with undertaking feral cat control "where feasible, cost-effective and provides highest conservation benefit".
RSPCA ACT chief executive Michelle Robertson welcomed a coordinated approach to cat containment across the territory.
Ms Robertson said cats left to roam had a large impact on the environment and the work of the shelter.
"The knock-on effect we have in the shelter, with so many cats coming in, with cats that have litters upon litters, they become really, really sick," Ms Robertson said.
"We had to close the shelter for a couple of days earlier this month because we're seeing high incidence of cat flu, we're seeing ring worm. These are things we don't want to see. And it's all avoidable.
"What we're asking the community is please microchip, please desex, please contain your cat."
Domestic Animal Services operations manager Adam Symes said rangers often found they could not reunite cats with their owners.
"By registering a cat, microchipping it and complying with the legislation, we're ensuring that everyone can have a cat in a safe way; we can avoid those real heart-breaking issues when cats unfortunately do stray onto roads or get into fights with other cats. This is absolutely a positive move for Canberrans as a whole," Mr Symes said.
Conservation Council ACT executive director Helen Oakey welcomed the move to contain cats across Canberra as a step in the right direction, but said it was disappointing the measure would not come into force until next year.
"Australia is facing a biodiversity crisis, and cats have shown themselves to be powerful predators and a key threat to small mammals and reptiles, and bird species. Canberra's wildlife is particularly susceptible to the impacts of cat predation due to the proximity of urban areas to nature reserve," Ms Oakey said.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: