We would like to touch on this issue and offer some information and guidance on how to properly and responsibly care for feral cats.
What is a Feral Cat? There are many philosophies and definitions on what a feral cat is. However for our purposes here we will define them as: Unsocialized cats that have either been born in the wild to a cat or a once friendly house cat who became lost or was abandoned and is now unsocialized.
How do I Care for Feral Cats? Caring for them is relatively simple. If you plan to take this on however, be sure that you can continually care for the cats daily and can commit to them for as long as they are there. If not, please contact local resources that will be able to help the animals. If they are on your own property and have shelter of some sort to keep them from the elements you are already a step ahead. If they do not have shelter you can make shelters relatively easy. At the end of this posting there will be additional links, including the types of shelters you can make for feral cats.
Cats, just like all animals require a clean, potable source of water. If there is not a fresh source of water close by or it requires them to cross in to unsafe areas, such as roads, or neighboring properties that do not want them there, then you can set up self watering stations such as this:
These can be found at any pet supply, farm supply, or walmart/target or other large chain stores. They are relatively inexpensive and generally pretty sturdy. You will want to make sure the water is changed daily, and in extreme weather to prevent bacteria or freezing.
You will also want to provide a dry kibble daily for them. The frequency should be at a minimum of once per day. Once the cats begin to depend on you for a food source you will want to make sure their feeding times are generally around the same time each day. This will help you get a good count of who is there, and monitor them for health issues. This also will help you to identify potential new cats in the colony so that you can take the appropriate measures for them as we will discuss further in this posting. Some caretakers choose to provide canned food for their feral cats as well. That is perfectly fine to do. And may be especially helpful for any aging cats that may have difficulty with the dry kibble.
They're fed and sheltered...now what? The most responsible and successful feral caretaker's have a goal of reducing and eventually eliminating the feral cats in their area. Let's face it, while many live the life, and survive....if you had the choice, would you rather live outside dealing with all the elements of weather, potential for injury or death due to cars, uncaring humans, predators, or illness....OR would you prefer to live a life indoors with your choice of lounging station, food, love and affection?
So how do we reduce the numbers humanely? That's easy...it is called - Trap, Neuter, Return....or TNR. Many local humane organizations offer humane traps and instructions on how to properly use them for a small rental fee, or you can purchase them fairly inexpensively at local farm stores such as Tractor Supply or Agway. There are many programs available in communities all across the nation now that provide low and sometimes free spay and neuter services for feral cats. There will be a link at the bottom of the page to locate one in your area, or you can call us at the shelter and we can give you some options as well. Sometimes our own personal vet is willing to help us with this cause. You will want to call him or her and see what they may be willing to offer. At the time of spay or neuter we recommend obtaining a rabies vaccine for your feral cat. The likelihood of recapturing and re-vaccinating year after year may be slim to non existent, but that one vaccine can make a difference.
Spaying and neutering your feral cats will eliminate spread of disease, injuries from fights, spraying from the males, and of course litters of kittens. If you happen to have a feral mom cat have kittens in your colony, you will want to try to cat the kittens at an appropriate age and socialize them so they can live in homes with families, instead of living outdoors in the colony. You will also want to have a plan in place for stray friendly cats that show up in your colony. Whether you take them in yourself and try to find them forever families or you work with a local humane shelter or sanctuary to find them placement, if at all possible, friendly strays should always be given an opportunity to get off the streets.
How do I protect them from being trapped by others or humane agencies? At the time of spay/neuter most vets will do what they call ear tipping. It is painless because it is done while they are asleep and heals very quickly so that even when released back outside there is little to no chance of infection during the healing process.
The ear tipping signifies this cat has been spayed or neutered and is being cared for in a colony. We recommend letting your local agencies know that you are caring for a colony, and the location of that colony so that if they do receive one of your cats you can get them back. Some low cost programs will also offer to microchip the cats, and we recommend that as well, because its a sure fire way to get your cat back to his or her colony where they are safe. Most humane agencies don't have a plan for feral cats they receive other than euthanasia. Eat tipping and microchipping however can save that cat's life. Another item is signage. Whether caring for a colony on your own property, or property where you have been given permission to care for the local ferals. A small sign stating that this is a feral colony, managed by, and a contact number or email should someone need to is recommended. This helps to eliminate the dumping of household cat into the feral colony, as well as letting others know, these cats are cared for, leave them be.
What if one of my cats is ill or injured? One of the most important aspects of responsible colony care is recognizing an ill or injured cat. If the cat appears to be injured due to an animal attack and they have not had a rabies vaccination within the last year, you will have to make a difficult decision. Do we treat and quarantine the cat to monitor for rabies or do we humanely euthanize them. Some may say, wow that's drastic, but you have to keep in mind, of you treat and release without knowing his or her rabies status you could potentially infect your colony, and runt he risk of getting bitten by a rabid feral cat yourself. Many times in this process you will have to make tough decisions for the good of the colony, and not just the individual cats.
You will need to evaluate the extent of the injuries. This is where having a great relationship with a local vet comes in handy. You may need to attempt to trap the cat, or they may be in such need that you can carefully corner and catch them. Be sure to always use thick gloves, a blanket and a carrier or crate large enough that you can put the cat and blanket inside without chance for escape. From there your veterinarian and his or her trained staff can evaluate the cat. If you are lucky the injury or illness can be easily treated and the cat released back outside right away. Other times not. At that point you will have to determine what you are able to do for this cat. You may have to make the tough decision to euthanize, in the best interests of the cat.
What do I do if the cats are not on my property? This is a very common question, and one that can be easily answered but sometimes the desired outcome difficult to achieve. Very simply, you must have permission to care for the cats by the owner of the property, whether it be community property or someones personal property. If its community property or abandoned property then you must acquire appropriate permission or even permitting from your local municipality. Some municipalities are educated on and open to responsible management of cat colonies. They see the benefit in population reduction, disease and wildlife control, and the over humane perspective of caring for others. However you may face an uphill battle with a local government who is not so open to the issue. This is where support from others comes in handy. Are there others in your community who are willing to assist? Does your local humane shelter want to get involved and speak on your behalf? What national organizations are there that can help? Are there other's doing what you want to do that can help? No worries! We have provided you with a listing of resources below to help answer these and many other questions.
Alley Cat Allies, a national network for advocating and caring for feral cats. They are also a fantastic resource for local Alley Cat Ally members.