How To Help Feral Cats

Feral cats roam the streets their whole life

Feral cats roam the streets their whole life

Feral cats are a huge issue throughout the world. Most people know a few feral cats in their neighborhood, and some areas are infested with ferals. Feral cats are cats that grew up on the street and live their lives in the great outdoors. They provide problems for a variety of communities, including people, birds, and other cats. Luckily, there are many ways that people can help with the feral population in a humane and loving way. Here, we’re going to tell you everything there is to know about feral cats and how you can help.

Are feral cats different than strays?

In a short answer, yes. Feral cats are cats that have lived their whole lives outside or in the wild. Stray cats are cats that were living in a home at one time or another but were lost or abandoned. Stray cats and feral cats behave very differently due to their previous experiences of exposure with humans. A stray cat may come up to you and beg for food, while a feral cat would wait in the background until you left the area. Feral cats rarely make any noise, where a stray cat has learned to meow around humans. Stray cats openly depend on humans while feral cats barely acknowledge them.

How do feral cats live without humans?

The life of a feral cat is not an easy one. For starters, they have no medical care and are therefore extremely susceptible to disease, infection, and parasites. Feral cats also have to deal with inclement weather; from rain, to snowstorms, to overwhelming heat waves. They are at risk of animal abuse simply from being outside, and have to avoid animal poison and traps. Finding food is a constant task, and fighting over territory with other cats is always a threat. For all of these reasons, the average lifespan of a feral cat is less than two years. This isn’t including the fact that approximately half of feral kittens born die in the first week.

Did you know: October 15th is National Feral Cat Day

 

What are some ways to help with feral cats?

There two main ways that a person can help the feral cat population. Both are aimed at keeping the feral population down in a humane way, as well as relieving communities from the harmful effects of untouched feral colonies. Feral cats that haven’t been spayed/neutered are more likely to spray, fight, and of course, remain on the streets for the rest of their lives. The ways that you can help keep the feral cat population down, and increase the quality of life of the feral cats in your community:

Participate in trap-neuter-release: Trap-neuter-release, or TNR, is the single most effective way of humanely keeping down the population of feral cats. In TNR, participants will set out humane traps to catch the feral cats to later pick up and bring to the veterinarian. The veterinarian will then spay/neuter the cat and likely vaccinate them against rabies. Then, the cat will be released back in the area that they were trapped from. This way, the cat can no longer produce more feral kittens, or transmit rabies to another animal. This is the most cost-effective, humane, and efficient way to keep the feral cat population down. Many veterinarians and animal hospitals provide free spay/neuter services for feral cats, or at a discounted rate.

Become a colony caretaker: Colony caretakers will take it upon themselves to TNR a particular colony in the neighborhood, as well as a few other responsibilities. If a cat needs surgery, the colony caretaker will trap and drive the cat to the appointment, and then offer their home for aftercare. They may also step in and foster feral kittens so that they can be housecats and help to adopt them out. If you are interested in becoming a colony caretaker, Alley Cat Allies has a great guide for the whole process.

Feral cat colonies like this one can pop up anywhere

Feral cat colonies like this one can pop up anywhere

Is relocation an option?

It may sound simple: “Why don’t we just move the feral cats somewhere else?” Well, unfortunately, cats are very territorial creatures and will simply make it their goal to return to the same area that they’ve been hanging out in all along; Not to mention the fact that it would be difficult to transport and then find an area for the entire colony of cats to live in.

Can I bring a feral cat to the shelter for adoption?

Unfortunately, feral cats are often past the point of being adoptable. If a cat is truly feral, their behavior around humans is not desirable for almost any cat owner. They don’t know how to interact with humans and won’t learn any time soon. However, if the cat living in your back yard seems friendly and eager to come inside, they are likely a stray cat, not a feral cat, and might be a great candidate for adoption.

Can I adopt a feral cat?

Again, feral cats are not the same as housecats. A feral cat and a housecat are great examples of the nature vs. nurture argument. Although both cats are cut from the same cloth, their upbringing severely changes the way that they interact with humans. Even if you had two kittens from the same litter, one left to the wild and one brought into the home, they would grow up to act completely different. Early socialization is the best way for a cat to learn to behave with humans. Bringing a feral cat into your home is a danger for your entire household, since feral cats may have any number of diseases, infections, and parasites, and may behave violently towards humans.

Can I adopt feral kittens?

Feral kittens can become housecats if they're exposed to humans early enough

Feral kittens can become housecats if they’re exposed to humans early enough

Yes! As long as the kittens are at least four weeks old, the minimum age required for kittens to nurse from their mothers, they can be safely brought into the home. Make sure to take the kittens to the veterinarian for their shots and spay/neuter procedures, and socialize them as much as possible. Kittens generally shouldn’t be up for adoption until they are at least 8 weeks old; at that point, you can adopt them out yourself, submit them to a no-kill shelter, or decide to keep them yourself. If feral kittens are brought into a home early enough, they can end up just like any other happy human-friendly kitty.

What should I do if I find a cat on the street?

If you find a cat on the street and they come up to you, they are likely a stray cat, not a feral cat. You can proceed by contacting your neighbors, bringing the cat to a veterinary clinic to be scanned for a microchip, and contacting all local shelters to add the cat to their lost-and-found bulletin. You can also see what resources for lost cats are online for your area. Fostering the cat and helping by posting “found” ads yourself will probably end better than a shelter, since most shelters are kill shelters and will only hold onto strays for a few days before euthanizing them.

How do I trap a cat?

Trapping a feral cat for TNR may be saving its life

Trapping a feral cat for TNR may be saving its life

You’ll need to purchase a humane cat-sized trap, for starters. You can find these at most hardware stores or online for less than $50 each. Remember that you can use this trap more than once, so it is a worthy investment, especially if you live near a colony. Resist the urge to feed the cats for two days before trapping so that they’ll be extra hungry and will risk entering the trap for a treat. Place wet cat food in the trap behind the trip plate, and wait for the cat to be caught. Then, you can take the trapped cat to your veterinarian as soon as they’re securely in the cage. The veterinarian will do the procedure, and then likely ear-tip them. Ear tipping is a way to tick the cat’s ear so that humans will know that they are TNR’d.

By participating in TNR, you are helping keep the feral cat population down, as well as helping the feral cats in your area have a greater quality of life. Feral cats didn’t choose the street life, the street life chose them, so you can think of them as your housecat’s weird cousin. Happy TNRing!

Do you have a feral cat colony in your area? Let us know in the comments!