Frequently asked questions
- What is the difference between a 'Feral' cat and a 'Stray' cat?
- My neighbors (or landlord) are complaining about the cats. What can I do?
- My neighbor is feeding cats, but not fixing any of them. How can I help?
- Do feral cats carry rabies?
- I've heard cats should be indoors only, so isn't it cruel to leave them outside?
- Can I relocate the feral cats?
- How do I know if a feral has been fixed? Why are feral cats eartipped?
- What is the difference between spaying and neutering?
- Can I use kittens to catch the mother?
- The kittens keep coming! What can I do?
- There's a pregnant feral cat outside. What should I do?
- A female cat had kittens outside. What should I do?
- I found a newborn kitten but the mother is nowhere to be seen. What should I do?
- Is there anything special my veterinarian should know about working with feral cats?
- Where do feral cats live?
- How do I keep ants from the cat's food bowls?
- How can I keep the water in their bowls from freezing?
What is the difference between a 'Feral' cat and a 'Stray' cat?
Not all cat lovers know the difference between a stray and a feral cat. Stray cats are those that have been lost or abandoned. Many will seek out human contact and can be re-socialized into a home environment to become adoptable. Stray cats are often candidates for rescue groups, where they will be cared for until they are adopted. Still, a stray cat that has been living outside for quite sometime, with no human contact, can turn feral.
Feral cats are those that might have been a stray at some point in their lives or those that have been born into the life of a feral colony. They avoid human contact whenever possible, and it's difficult, if not impossible, to tame them. These unsterilized cats eventually form colonies, making their home wherever they can find food and shelter. Tomcats prowl for mates, females become pregnant, and the cycle of reproduction continues. Feral cats are not adoptable and are usually the first to be put to sleep in shelters.
My neighbors (or landlords) are complaining about the cats. What can I do?
Ask what their specific complaints are and try to resolve them. The most common complaints regarding stray/feral cats are that they are spraying, yowling, fighting, sick and injured, having more kittens or roaming the neighborhood. T/N/R will substantially subside these behaviors. If cats are soiling the neighbors' gardens, place (regularly cleaned) sand or litter boxes at the colony site. Consider building a cat fence that will keep cats in (or out of) a specific area. If neighbors voice health concerns, make sure that the cats are up to date with their vaccinations and share their medical records with your neighbors.
My neighbor is feeding cats, but not fixing any of them. How can I help?
Let your neighbor know about our spay/neuter services and give them our contact information. Many people get overwhelmed with the day to day care of the cats and don't realize that they need to also spay/neuter the cats to prevent the population from growing, or they worry about the cost, and some people just don't even know where to start to get the situation under control.
Do feral cats carry rabies?
Cats pose a very low risk for contracting rabies and spreading rabies, as they are not natural carriers for the disease. Once infected with rabies, cats only live 10-14 days before they die from the disease. Feral cats by nature will avoid human contact.
I've heard cats should be indoors only, so isn't it cruel to leave them outside?
The safest place for your tame companion cats may be indoors, but the best and usually the only environment suitable for feral cats is outside. Feral cats that have undergone TNR and live in managed colonies can live healthy, content, and long lives-often as long as indoor cats. Finding homes for feral cats is often not a realistic option. Humane societies, animal shelters, and other animal organizations rarely accept them for adoption because they cannot be touched or held by people and are thus considered "unadoptable." Shelters usually kill feral cats without a holding period and animal sanctuaries rarely have room for them.
Can I relocate the feral cats?
With very few exceptions, feral cats should remain at the original colony site. Cats create strong bonds with their territory and with one another. If you relocate them, they may become disoriented and separated from one another. They don't know where there are food sources and have entirely new competition. There are very few places to relocate feral cats. Most shelters will not accept them because they cannot be socialized. Also, if you relocate an existing colony, new cats are likely to appear. If you truly are concerned for the welfare of the cats, it's best to leave them where they are and care for them.
How do I know if a feral has been fixed? Why are feral cats eartipped?
Eartipping identifies feral cats that have been sterilized and vaccinated. Eartipping is completely safe and it is painless because the cat is under general anesthetic when the procedure is performed. Eartipping provides immediate visual identification which alerts animal control that a cat is part of a managed colony. It also helps colony caretakers track which cats have been trapped and vetted, and identify newcomers who have not. Typically, the left ear is tipped. Click here to see other examples of ferals with the ear tip/notch.
What is the difference between spaying and neutering?
Spaying is the surgical removal of the female ovaries and the uterus. Neutering is the surgical removal of the testicles in male cats, rendering them sterile. Neutering is also often used generically to refer to either males or female surgeries.
The kittens keep coming! What can I do?
As soon as possible, trap the cats and have them spayed or neutered. Trapping feral cats sounds complicated, but in reality, it is a simple and rewarding process, and it doesn't hurt the cats. When the cats have been spayed/neutered and vaccinated, return them to the place where they were trapped. Kittens up to eight or ten weeks old can often be tamed, sterilized, and adopted out.
Can I use kittens to catch the mother?
Do not put kittens in the trap set for the mother. If the mother becomes frightened in the trap, she could seriously injure the kittens.
There's a pregnant feral cat outside. What should I do?
Here are three options:
- - Trap the mother and bring her indoors to have the kittens. The kittens are more likely to survive if born indoors although the mother may experience significant stress from being confined and become less able to care for her kittens. To reduce her stress, provide a warm, secluded, quiet area for her to give birth and nurse her litter.
- - Provide a warm, outdoor cat shelter and the mother may choose to have her kittens in it, although there is no guarantee.
- - Trap the mother and have your vet determine how far along she is and whether or not to terminate the pregnancy. The mother cat would be spayed at the same time. Some vets will not perform terminations if the mother is close to giving birth, so you should consult your vet and consider your own feelings about this ahead of time.
A female cat had kittens outside. What should I do?
The entire family needs to be trapped and sterilized, but do not trap a mother who is nursing her kittens unless you can catch the kittens too. Tiny kittens cannot survive away from their mothers for long. If the kittens are newly weaned (usually four to six weeks), ask if your veterinarian can perform surgery and return the mother within 48 hours. Even though eating solid food, very young kittens are unlikely to survive without their mother for body heat and protection. (If your vet cannot meet this time frame, wait until the kittens are older.) Try to trap the kittens no later than eight to ten weeks of age. The sooner they have human contact, the easier it will be to socialize them. At twelve weeks and older, kittens can be sterilized, vaccinated, and returned to the location where they were living outside.
I found a newborn kitten but the mother is nowhere to be seen. What should I do?
Do not be too hasty to move a kitten. The mother may be in the process of moving her litter to a safer area. Watch closely for several hours, but no more than a day, to see if the mother returns. If not, and the mother has abandoned one or more very young (neonatal) kittens, their only chance to survive is bottle-feeding. This is an intensive process not unlike caring for newborn human babies.
Is there anything special my veterinarian should know about working with feral cats?
Yes, there are specific protocols which need to be followed for the safety and care of the veterinarian and the cat. For example, spay with dissolvable sutures, use an injectable anesthesia cocktail, eartip, full exam, ear cleaning, vaccinations, deworming, and early-age spay/neutering.
Where do feral cats live?
Like almost all living creatures, feral cats need warm, dry shelter to protect them from extreme temperatures and wet weather. Cats provided with no alternatives will live under decks, abandoned structures or vehicles or less accessible portions of buildings like the attic or crawlspace. You can build a shelter from plans or use a strong box or crate insulated with waterproof material thick enough to keep out wind and cold. A large shelter can provide a haven for more than one cat. Visit our Resources page to learn more about cat shelters.
How do I keep ants from the cat's food bowls?
A common deterrent is to put the cat's food dish within a bigger bowl filled with water (so the food bowl sits in the center of the larger bowl) - ants wont' cross water. Others have reported success by using a dryer sheet under the pet bowl, drawing a chalk outline around the food bowl or sprinkling a small amound of cinnamon around the bowl.
How can I keep the water in their bowls from freezing?
During the winter, water left outside for your cat can freeze. The cats need water, especially when dry food is predominantly provided, which is often the case in winter when wet food can also freeze. You can buy electrically heated water bowls from a variety of retailers, but this requires that you have access to an electrical outlet. You can also try a 'Solar Sipper' insulated bowl, which will keep water ice free at temperatures down to 20 degrees. Click here to find many inexpensive and creative tips.
Please contact us for more information.