What is a feral cat?
A feral cat is one that may or may not have started out "domesticated" but is no longer comfortable with or around humans. A feral cat is considered to be wild as it once was in its natural state. These cats will run frantically when cornered and may become extremely aggressive.
Is there a difference between a feral cat and a stray?
Yes, a stray cat is called a stray because no one knows where he/she belongs and who his/her owner is. A stray cat can become feral. They are also called "strays" because they have strayed or wandered from home or were abandoned.
Can a feral cat be tamed?
It really depends on the cat and the caretaker. Generally speaking, the younger the cat, the better the chances of domesticating. However, I personally have been successful "taming" adult and senior ferals. The degree of domestication will also very from cat to cat. Some become friendly, some tolerate human presence, and very few become extremely friendly, again depending on the individual cat and its situation.
Why are feral cat colonies a problem?
An unmanaged feral cat colony can be viewed as a problem by humans due to their sheer numbers and the possiblity of spreading disease. Most colonies are subject to abuse because they are viewed as a nuisance and as a possible threat to people from rabies.
As long as there is a food source available, the cats will continue to breed and exist in a particular environment. They are unable to "take care of themselves" and do not know how to control their population. Feral cats generally live very short lives, often the victims of disease, nutritional deficiency, or they may be killed by vehicles or become prey for other animals.
How did SADSAC become involved with feral cats?
I noticed a large colony in a nearby neighborhood. The neighbors were trapping them and taking them to the animal shelter to be euthanized in large numbers. Cats were getting run over and killed in the streets and children were torturing them.
Once I identified the problem, I spoke to our Vice President and Treasurer and they agreed to help me raise the funds to trap, neuter, vaccinate, foster, place and release all of these cats. No one knows how many these cats have produced so far, but I estimate this particular colony to be well over one hundred.
So far, we have "fixed" approximately seventy cats in all, and have placed approximately thirty. As long as they keep breeding, there are many more to go. As time went on, it came to our attention that there are many feral cat colonies in the area, and we decided we would help as much as possible.
What are you doing to try to help them?
We are continuously raising funds, trapping, neutering, vaccinating, testing, fostering and placing feral cats. We also ask for donations of food to help feed them and have gotten a few Dogloos which we use as shelter for these kitties. Whenever possible we try to educate the public on how and why these colonies exist and how to manage them safely. It is our goal to teach people how to help themselves.
What is the "trap/neuter/return" program?
Trap, Neuter, Return, or TNR for short is the way we manage these feral colonies. It is the only way to keep their numbers in check. Research has shown that there is a vacuum effect. This means that feral cats will breed according to their available food supply. If food is plentiful, females will have larger litters and they will grow up strong and healthy. When food is scarce, females have smaller litters, may stop cycling and/or producing kittens and they often die of malnutrition and disease at a
very early age. If all the cats are destroyed and/or removed from the food
source, others will move in to take their place, and the cycle begins again.
Did you know that cats are induced ovulators? That means that the act of mating will cause the female to drop an egg. They are like bunnies--they don't miss. This is why a litter can have several different fathers and why female cats, once they have gone into heat, never seem to come out. As soon as a litter is born, the female cat will again become pregnant and the cycle begins again. A female cat can get pregnant while nursing and will attract males from miles around. This is why it is so difficult to get the
population under control.
We also will get males and females neutered early. Many veterinarians
have been doing this for years with no adverse effects on their patients.
Spaying and neutering can be done as early as eight weeks of age. SADSAC
prefers to wait until they are four months old, but in the case of ferals,
we may decide to do this surgery early.
What can a community do to help solve a feral cat problem?
Well, for starters, spay or neuter your own pets! Encourage friends and family to do so as well!
Anyone can manage a feral cat colony. If you become aware of a feral colony, here's what you can do:
Find out what the law allows in your county or particular area.
While I would not announce that you would like to manage a feral colony, find out what the laws are pertaining to the numbers of cats. Are rabies shots required? Are there any zoning restrictions?
Check with your local shelter, or better yet with a volunteer-run ASPCA or Humane Society to see if you can borrow a live trap. You can also purchase them from some stores such as Southern States, or Tomahawk Live Trap Company. Check with your local vet to obtain contacts for rescue groups for help or advice. Some rescue groups hold adoptions at PetsMart and other pet stores.
TIP: Not all rescue groups are created equal, use your best judgment.
Ok, I have my trap(s), now what do I do?
First, find a local vet who will spay/neuter feral cats and make arrangements to drop the cat off for surgery. Cheaper is not
necessarily better, use your best judgment. Then, establish a feeding station,
skip a meal so they are really hungry. Try some canned food to lure them in.
I do not use a plate as the cat can hurt itself on it once the door closes.
Put some canned food in the trap (read the directions) and move a cat-safe
Once the cat is trapped it WILL panic!!! Give it a few minutes to calm down before approaching it. Approach slowly and don't look the cat in the eye. Bring a sheet or large blanket to cover the trap with the cat still in it. They feel more secure with the blanket blocking their view of the big scary world.
Do not attempt to remove the cat from the trap and never leave a trap unattended. People steal traps and who knows what they would do with a hapless trapped feral! A feral cat will presume he/she is fighting for their life and will do anything to protect itself or get away.
Once the cat is trapped, put it in your car (still in the trap) on a large piece of plastic. I learned this the hard way--it is not unusual for a scared cat to urinate or defecate on the way to the vet. Leave the cat in the trap and hand the cat in the trap to the veterinary assistants. They will take it from there.
What procedures does SADSAC have done on the ferals?
Initially with the large colony I mentioned we FeLV/FIV tested any cat over six months of age, and FeLV tested any under that. Luckily all were negative! Then the cat is spayed or neutered and the left ear is tipped (this is the universal signal of a managed colony's "fixed" population). They are vaccinated after the surgery, but before waking if really feral, or (in my case) vaccinated the day after the surgery so as not to lower their immune system before surgery. We also clean their ears and apply Revolution to deworm and get rid of fleas and ear mites. Currently there is a first dose free promotion from the manufacturer.
Where can I find out more about feral cats?
There are many books available, and you can always e-mail us with any questions you have. We are most happy to help!
For other sources online, you may want to look at these sites:
Alley Cat Allies
Feral Cat Coalition