A variety of behavioural traits have substantial effects on the gene dynamics and genetic structure of local populations. The mating system is a plastic trait that varies with environmental conditions in the domestic cat (Felis catus) allowing an intraspecific comparison of the impact of this feature on genetic characteristics of the population. To assess the potential effect of the heterogenity of males’ contribution to the next generation on variance effective size, we applied the ecological approach of Nunney & Elam (1994) based upon a demographic and behavioural study, and the genetic ‘temporal methods’ of Waples (1989) and Berthier et al. (2002) using microsatellite markers. The two cat populations studied were nearly closed, similar in size and survival parameters, but differed in their mating system. Immigration appeared extremely restricted in both cases due to environmental and social constraints. As expected, the ratio of effective size to census number (Ne/N) was higher in the promiscuous cat population (harmonic mean = 42%) than in the polygynous one (33%), when Ne was calculated from the ecological method. Only the genetic results based on Waples’ estimator were consistent with the ecological results, but failed to evidence an effect of the mating system. Results based on the estimation of Berthier et al. (2002) were extremely variable, with Ne sometimes exceeding census size. Such low reliability in the genetic results should retain attention for conservation purposes.