Feral cats are a double-edged sword. Many people consider them vermin, but once a population has settled into an area, odds are feral cats will remain indefinitely, even if the initial group is killed. Good habitat will be invaded by a new population. You’ll learn how to care for a feral cat colony, what kinds of environments feral cats live in, and how to prevent the formation of feral cat colonies.
Why protect feral cats?
Studies show that feral cat populations create critical damage to natural wildlife, so why protect them? Isn’t it better to allow nature to control wild populations?
Well, yes and no. Most feral cat populations thrive not on nature, but on man-created environments. Feral cats converge on food supplies. Since they often use populations of introduced rats or mice as a food source, many feral cat colonies survive where human garbage provides a food source for their prey.
So without attacking the food source, removing a feral cat colony only provides space for another colony. Protecting the colony removes the void in the unnatural ecosystem. Alternately, remove the food source. A feral colony usually will search for greener pastures if the area is cleaned up, and rodent habitat is cleaned out and eliminated.
Spaying & Neutering Feral Cats
Once you’ve discovered a feral colony, it’s actually pretty beneficial to, at the very least, spay the females. It seems odd to waste money on outdoor cats you don’t care about, but in the long run it will pay off.
As we’ve established, feral cat habitat will result in feral cats, no matter how many you kill, dump, or take to the pound. Spaying and neutering creates a colony that will hold the territory for years. What does that mean for you? No kittens run over by cars, though maybe a few adults. Because they aren’t breeding, they have a lower effect on the local prey species, because they aren’t constantly feeding kittens. No screaming cat fights in the middle of the night.
How Much Does it Cost?
Most areas provide low-cost or free spay-neuter services for feral cats. If you can’t find a low-cost clinic, sometimes veterinarians will provide a bulk discount. Make sure to get any recommended shots, as cats can carry diseases that spread to humans (like rabies) and house cats (like FIV or FLV.)
How do I Catch Feral Cats?
Most animal control offices will loan or rent small animal traps. Before placing the traps, make sure you know how to release an animal without getting into strike distance. You’ll probably catch a few possums or raccoons. Bait the trap with canned cat food.
Remember that you’ll need to have a plan to transport the cat to the vet quickly or house it indoors, because any cats you catch will never set foot in a trap again. It’s important to not mess up. While it is riskier to release a cat immediately after surgery, feral cats lead risky lives.
Veterinary Care for Feral Cats
It seems counter-intuitive to provide veterinary care for an unwanted feral cat colony, but if you’ve decided to care for a colony, their health needs do now fall to you. Providing them with basic vaccinations and proper care allows a stable colony to hold territory.
You’ll never be able to regularly catch the entire colony to provide a proper vaccination protocol. Despite this significant hurdle, attempting basic vaccinations for rabies and feline distemper help prevent those diseases from coming into contact with household pets, both yours and your neighbor’s.
Emergency Medical Care
Feral cats face significant risks. Many die from being hit by cars. Others are attacked by predators, or find themselves in inhospitable weather. Sometimes, you’ll find a cat that is feral but requires emergency treatment or euthanasia. Having a veterinarian who is already familiar with your colony helps in these situations. Emergency care costs significantly more than routine care, so having a vet that knows your cats aren’t pets but deserve humane treatment means less suffering.
Feeding Feral Cats
You know the saying – once you feed a cat, it’s yours forever. Feral cats never have a guaranteed food supply, so when they find a food source they tend to stick with it.
Feral cats require clean, pest-free food, and safety from predators while they eat. The quality of the food is immaterial as they will supplement their diets with freshly caught prey. Change the food daily, if any is left over, and rinse the bowl regularly. Either place their food in an enclosed and secure location, so they are protected from predators, or place it in the open where they will see predators, such as dogs or coyotes, coming.
If you find wildlife is attracted to the cat food, especially raccoons and opossums, feed during the day and remove the food before dusk.
Caring for feral colonies has unexpected benefits.
Often, by caring for a feral colony, you will find joy in watching the cats do cat things. Cats thrive in small groups, and “your” cats care for the others in their family. You also may find stray non-feral cats that allow themselves to be handled join your colony. These cats can be placed into permanent homes.
Have you cared for feral cats?
Have you cared for a colony? Any particular pitfalls or challenges that I haven’t addressed?