Cats in General
Feral cats are cats
that have reverted to the wild.
A feral cat may have orginally been a
housecat who was abandoned and left to fare
on her own or she may have been the
offspring of a cat living outdoors.
It is estimated that
there are about 60 – 100 million feral
cats in the United States.
Some are being cared for by people.
There may be about 17 million people
feeding about 35 million feral and stray
cats in this country.
Cats who, by necessity
and through no fault of theirs, live
outdoors learn survival skills that enable
them to live.
They become nocturnal animals and are
very wary – even afraid – of
They pass these fears onto their
offspring in attempt to keep their offspring
the kittens develop a fear of people from a
very early age.
Feral cats can be
partly, or occasionally even significantly,
domesticated if they are placed in the
company of people, however, in the case of
adult cats, this domestication process may
take as long as several years depending on
the temperament and age of the cat, the
length of time that she was living outdoors
and the amount of contact she has with
people during the taming process.
It is best to start taming feral
kittens before 8 weeks of age. It is progressively more difficult to tame a feral kitten the
older she is.
Feral cats are often
found in fairly predictable areas.
They are found on college campuses
and on military bases where students or
military personnel abandon their cats when
In addition, virtually every large
city has feral cat colonies formed when
negligent owners abandon their cats and
leave them to wander the streets.
In addition, many farms have feral
colonies to the control rodent populations.
Finally, vacation resorts and areas
around hotels, parks and campgrounds also
frequently have feral cat populations
because of the constant food sources there.
Feral cats often live
in fairly stable colonies.
Because feral cats are difficult to
domesticate and because they can live long
lives if they have sources for food and
shelter, caring for the colony is a humane,
compassionate and effective way to provide
for these cats.
By trapping the cats and having them
spayed/neutered and then returning them to
their colonies, the number of feral cats
will, over time, decrease as the older cats
in the colony die of natural causes.
Hopefully all cats in the colony can
be trapped in order to have them
However, at times, kittens may be
born before all of the colony members are
In communities where all homeless
kittens are able to be adopted, an attempt
should be made to rescue the feral kittens
in order to tame them.
The kittens born in feral
circumstances should be separated from their
mothers as soon as they are weaned and at
least by 8 weeks.
They can then be tamed and adopted to
This method of caring
for feral cats is called trap-neuter-return
The cats are trapped, then spayed and
neutered and then returned to feral
TNR was pioneered in the United
Kingdom about 3 decades ago and is now the
preferred method of control for feral cats.
about TNR, how to care for a feral colony
and how to tame feral kittens can by
obtained from Alley Cat Rescue (http://www.saveacat.org)
and from Alley Cat Allies (http://www.alleycat.org).
You should not attempt
to pick up a feral cat with your hands or by
wrapping a towel or blanket around the cat.
Feral cats will interpret such an
effort as your attempting to hurt them and
they may bite or scratch in order to protect
The best way to catch a feral cat is
by using a humane trap.
Such a trap can be obtained from many
shelters or humane/rescue groups.
Such traps lure the cat
in with food and then, when the cat is in
the cage, snap shut.
You should never leave a cat in such
a trap when she might be threatened by other
animals, people or inclimate weather.
When the cat is trapped in the cage
you should immediately cover the cage with a
towel or blanket to calm her down.
Before trapping a feral
cat you should make plans with a
veterinarian so that the vet can be ready to
spay/neuter the cat within 24 hours.
The cat can be tranquilized through
the bars of the cage and then placed back in
the cage after surgery.
Feral cats should also
have their left ear tipped (notched) so that
they can always be recognized as altered
cats when back in the colony.
The cats should also be vaccinated at
the same time as the spaying/neutering.
After surgery, male
cats should be kept overnight in the trap
before being released to the colony.
Because spaying is more complex and
invasive than neutering, female cats should
be kept for 2-4 days in their trap before
release to ensure that there are no
She can be fed by putting food in the
trap through the back door.
Maintaining the colony
requires daily food and water, providing
shelter and watching the cats for signs of
The shelter should be insulated, have
straw and have a waterproof covering.
Dusting the bedding with flea powder
will prevent flea infestations.
Outdoor “litter boxes” can be
built and should be kept clean.
Kittens born to feral
mothers or born to stray (but not feral)
mothers who have been abandoned, should (in
communities where all kittens are able to
find homes) be removed from the colony and
The feral kittens should be separated
from their mothers after they are weaned –
and definitely by at least 8 weeks of age.
Taming these kittens is
a time-consuming, but rewarding undertaking.
Depending on the age and temperament
of the kittens and on the amount of human
contact the kittens have had, taming the
kittens can be accomplished easily and
readily, or can take significant effort and
a feral kitten may take just a few days or
may take many weeks or months.
If you have never tamed
a feral kitten before, we suggest that you
contact someone with experience in doing
this before you start.
Many “tricks of the trade” have
been learned by those who have gone before
you and these will save you and the kittens
much stress and wasted effort.
The key to taming a
feral kitten is to provide her with a
maximal amount of human contact in a
situation where she cannot totally escape or
can put the feral kitten in a small room,
such as a bathroom, and then have someone in
that room several hours per day. You can
also start out by placing the kitten in a
large cage and then putting the cage in a
busy room of the house.
Your goal is to show
the feral kitten that she can trust you.
You can gradually get closer to her
by giving her treats and using toys (such as
feather stick toys) to play with her.
You can then slowly
begin to pet her and then gradually advance
to picking her up and holding her for
progressively longer periods of time.
When petting her or picking her up it
is best to approach her with your hands in
back of her.
Moving your hand toward her face or
even moving your hand quickly away from her
face may be interpreted as threatening and
evoke a fear or aggression response.
When working with a very fearful
feral kitten, it may be necessary, when
attempting to handle her, to wear thick
gloves to avoid being bitten or scratched.
There are other tricks
that can also be helpful.
Having the feral kitten be around or
see domesticated cats can be useful.
By observing normal human-cat
interactions the feral kitten will start to
emulate some of the behaviors of the
Also, playing a radio or TV in the
room with the feral kitten may also help the
Of course preventing
the situation where cats are forced to live
and fend for themselves outdoors is the
first, best policy.
Many of these cats were abandoned for
no fault of their own or are the offspring
of cats that were abandoned. Preventing
pet overpopulation and providing help to
those who are having trouble keeping their
pets will, in the end, help to decrease the
feral cat population.
Every individual can help to decrease
the feral cat population by:
their own cats spayed and neutered
Talking to friends and neighbors
about having their cats spayed
and neutered – especially if they
allow unaltered cats to roam
Discouraging friends and family from
breeding their household pets
Supporting their local shelters and
These groups make
low-cost spay and neuter services available
to those who need assistance.
They also provide assistance to those
who are having problems keeping their pets
by providing information about correcting
pet behavior problems and information about
housing and allergies that will allow them
to keep their pets.
Also, by providing adoption services
for homeless animals as an alternative to
having the public purchase animals from
people who breed animals for profit, the pet
overpopulation problem can be decreased.
are indebted to Alley Cat Rescue for
providing some of the background information
in this section about feral cats.