Feral cat management
Ownerless cats may look the same, but there is a difference between a stray and feral cat. A feral cat is one that is born and raised in the wild with little or no human contact. A stray cat is one that has been abandoned or left from home and became lost. A stray cat is homeless but has already been habituated to humans. Stray cats learn to live on their own and adopt feral behaviors as their exposure to humans decreases.
Feral cats live on all continents except for Antarctica. Worldwide, there are approximately 100 million feral cats, with 60 million of them residing in the United States. Despite their ability to survive in the wild, feral cats have a shorter lifespan than pet cats.
Feral cats often live in groups, and seek the shelter of alley ways, eaves of buildings, trees, caves, or man-made structures. They may roam looking for food and water, but often sleep in the same location. Feral cats are skilled hunters who will eat small rodents and birds. They scavenge carcasses of animals or garbage bins. Cats are generally more active at night and therefore can be quite vocal during evening hours. They will hunt, socialize, breed and fight at night. The howls from these cats can be quite irritating to nearby humans trying to sleep.
Feral cats suffer a number of health issues including parasites (fleas, ticks and internal parasites), contagious diseases such as feline leukemia virus, feline distemper virus, feline immunodeficiency virus and rabies virus. Given the lack of veterinary care, a wound or other injury could progress to being fatal for a feral cat. All of these diseases play a contributing role to shortening the life of a feral cat.
There are a number of programs that help to address feral cat populations. Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR) programs are a hallmark way of controlling feral cat populations. These programs will humanely trap feral cats and partner with a veterinary service to have them spayed/neutered and vaccinated. Before they wake up from anesthesia, their ear will be “tipped” to allow for easy identification from a distance regarding their vaccination/reproduction status. Supporting these programs is vital to controlling the feral cat population.
Additional ways to help are shown in the sidebar below.
What can you do to help manage feral cats?
1. Financially support volunteer efforts and TNR programs. Call local humane societies and rescue organizations to find out where to donate funds.
2. Stay safe. Remember that feral cats are afraid of people and may lash out in self defense. Never approach or corner a feral cat. Allow him or her to come to you. Leave trapping to the professionals. Incorrect trapping can injure you and the cat.
3. Feed responsibly. If you feed a feral cat, you may be helping one kitty, but contributing to the overall feral cat problem. To avoid inviting feral cats to your house, feed your own pets indoors.
4. Put up a no vacancy sign. Close openings in garages, sheds and under porches where feral cats may seek shelter.
5. Appeal to their senses. Cats have a very keen sense of smell. Use commercial or natural odor repellants to discourage visits to your garden or flower beds. Place motion-activated lights or noise traps (cans of beans, bells) that will deter jumping on cars and fences.
6. Call in the special forces. Report feral or stray cats to the authorities that can help them.