You’ve very likely heard the words, “feral cat” – but what exactly is a feral cat? “Feral” is not a breed or species of cat, but rather a disposition. Feral cats are the same kind of cat as the ones we keep in our homes, they just haven’t grown up as pets. Simply put, a feral cat is any domestic cat that is not socialized to humans – meaning that they have not been raised in close contact with humans and cannot be petted, picked up, or handled.
Most feral cats start out as the offspring of a stray or lost cat that was not spayed. To keep their babies safe, these cats will have their litters in a safe, quiet place, and those kittens then grow up without human socialization. If those kittens grow up without ever being spayed or neutered, the cycle continues indefinitely.
There are many people in the world who dedicate their time to helping these cats, and strive to put an end to the cycle of more and more cats being born. Here are a few ways you can help the cats in your neighborhood!
Provide Food and Shelter
Cats are great hunters, but years and years of living with humans as caregivers has affected their evolutionary ability to provide for themselves. Contrary to what most people believe, the average domestic cat – even ones that are feral – cannot hunt enough food to properly sustain itself. That is why you may see cats hanging around dumpsters, trash cans, and restaurants – they will often supplement their diets with food that they scavenge. If you’re seeing a lot of cats and they appear to be healthy, they likely have a food source. If you aren’t feeding the cats, try hanging flyers or posting on neighborhood websites or Facebook groups to locate the person who is feeding them. This is important, as providing more food than is needed for the cats currently living in an area may attract neighboring colonies to a new territory, and can also attract possums, raccoons, and other critters.
Having a proper feeding station and feeding schedule will drastically reduce nuisance behaviors like digging in the trash or rooting through dumpsters. A clean feeding station won’t attract bugs or or other animals, and feeding cats in a discreet spot will cut down on the number of annoyed neighbors or passersby. We recommend collecting uneaten food before nightfall, so that you won’t attract other critters like possums or raccoons.
Alley Cat Allies has a few ideas for feeding stations you can purchase or DIY – don’t be afraid to be creative and think up your own design that works best for your cats and the location where they live!
Cats will naturally seek shelter from the wind, cold, rain, or perceived threats. But sometimes the places they decide to snuggle up in for a nap aren’t the best for the people they live near. Cats have been known to invade crawlspaces, take refuge under car hoods, or take over front porches. Providing suitable alternatives to these less desirable spots can make all the difference, for cats and people alike! Here is a great resource for shelter ideas, again from Alley Cat Allies.
Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR)
Perhaps the best and most important way you can help cats in your neighborhood is by taking them to the vet for spay/neuter surgery. This not only improves the health and quality of life for each cat, but stops the cycle of reproduction and prevents even more unwanted cats from being born into the neighborhood and into local animal shelters.
Through the use of humane traps, even the most untouchable cats can be safely transported to the clinic for surgery. Cats trapped and taken to the vet for spay/neuter surgery will also receive a rabies vaccine and an ear tip – where a small portion of the left ear is removed to signal that a cat has been sterilized and vaccinated. Once the cat has recovered from surgery, it is released back to the area where it was trapped. This ensures that the cat knows exactly where it is and can get back to its normal cat life – without the stress of mating behaviors or ever having to worry about taking care of kittens.
Kitty City, Inc., is happy to be able to provide the mentorship and guidance needed to successfully implement TNR to individuals in Memphis, Tennessee. If you live elsewhere, you can request help from Alley Cat Allies’ Feral Network or do a Google Search for organizations that provide help in your area.
Living with Feral Cats
Spay/Neuter through TNR will reduce or even eliminate most unwanted cat behaviors – you won’t see any kittens being born year after year, fighting, yowling, and spraying will essentially vanish, and sterilized cats released back to their territory will “hold down the fort” – they generally won’t let newcomers into their territories.
When adequate food and shelter are provided, cats are content to keep to themselves, and as we mentioned earlier, maintaining clean and sanitary feeding stations and shelters will help with unwanted visitors and unsightly cat areas. But sometimes there are still a few nuisance behaviors that residents may experience. This guide from Best Friends Animal Society will not only recap the topics we have covered in this post, but also has a great section on humane deterrents that can be used to prevent cats from entering into spaces where they are unwanted, eliminating in flower beds or gardens, and more! Sharing a copy of deterrents information with any neighbors who many not like cats is a great way to help everyone coexist peacefully.
At Kitty City, Inc., we work every day to ensure a better world for cats – from cuddly lap cats to feral feline friends. In the comments, tell us the ways you help feral cats live a better life!