What to Do with a Feral Cat Colony
You may have noticed there has recently been an increase in cats around your area or are spotting some mischievous cats around your garden. This could be an indicator that you live close to a feral cat colony, a place where feral cats gather to live in packs in order to survive. Although some people may find these cats a nuisance or think they may be a menace to birds and other wildlife, the first thing to do is to educate yourself on this problem and learn how to act accordingly, which is definitely the best way to reduce the severeness of this problem. Although each particular case will depend on your country or town's legislation on the subject, at AnimalWised we'd like to explain what to do with a feral cat colony in order make coexistence better.
What is a feral cat colony?
Before we start giving you the options you have and the instructions to follow when you find a feral cat colony it's important to have certain points very clear. To begin with, it's highly important to know the difference between stray, feral and wild cats. To begin with, a stray is a cat that has been lost or abandoned, but has undergone a process of socialization. On the other hand, we call a cat feral when it has not had any human contact during its first six months of life. Stray cats can also eventually gain the characteristics of feral cats if they lack human contact for a specific amount of time too. Finally, the wild cat is known as being a different species from the common domestic cat (Felis catus) which needs to live in the wild. There are around 16 different species of Wild Cats around the world, such as the Caucasian wildcat (Felis silvestris caucasia) The black-footed cat (Felis nigripes) or Geoffroy's cat (Leopardus geoffroyi).
Although wild cats ( the Felis catus's ancestors) are known as solitary predators, the fact is that the common cat has evolved into a fairly adaptable species that can create social structures in order to adapt to their environment. This is why cats will gather around places where food is accessible, whether because there is pray roaming around or because there are humans who feed them. In these cat colonies, stray and feral cats may live side by side, which is why we should pay special attention to determine and note down what category each cat falls into in order to monitor a cat colony properly and to choose the correct way to proceed in each case.
Cats from the same colony recognize each other due to the specific scent they expel when rubbing against each other, which is why they may attack cats that come from other colonies that have a different scent. Most cat colonies are actually formed by females and their litter, resembling female lion pride, which is why males are generally only found in bigger cat colonies where there are even several of them overlapping, as they usually stay in the peripheral areas of the center of colonies.
What to do if you find a feral cat in your garden
Some people may be concerned that a cat colony may be forming in their garden when they find a stray cat in their back garden. If you're worried that a cat colony may be forming, don't worry, unless you feed cats at the same place on a regular basis, there is no need to be alarmed. The most important thing to do is to determine if the cat is a free-roaming cat that belongs to someone in your neighborhood and enjoys being around your garden, if it is a stray that is lost or if it is a feral cat. No matter what, the guide given below will help you decide on what to do in each case, as if you find it's a feral, you will have to follow the same procedure you should follow with a cat colony. You'll find more information on our article What to do if you find an abandoned cat.
Having said this, as feral cats usually try to stay out of the way of humans, the most likely scenario is that a cat in your backyard is a stray, even though it may be frightened or fearful, so take this information into account when determining the type of cat you're dealing with.
How to proceed when you find a feral cat colony
Now, let's move on to the practical information so you know what to do with a cat colony. Although some people may see them as a problem or a pest due to their fouling (which can be linked to toxoplasmosis, especially in rural areas), smells and noise; you should know that coexistence is possible if done correctly and, although having a cat colony near their home may not be desirable for some people, there are ways of making life better for both humans and cats. Moreover, there are many countries in which harming and ill-treating cats is punishable by law, such as in the case of the UK, where the Animal Welfare Act 2006 is also applied to ferals.
Feral cats live on average 2 to 3 years if living in a completely unsupported environment as they get run over, contract common diseases in cats, etc... This is why the main measure that has been proven to work most efficiently is TNR (trap, neuter, release) or TNVR(trap, neuter, vaccinate, return). Although there are studies that state that these campaigns have not worked when unfolded, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association has stated that it can reduce population in cat colonies by 66% . To back these studies, there are plenty of practical campaigns that have proven the effectiveness of this measure such as the case of Barcelona (Spain) where there has been a reduction in number of cat colonies has decreased between 16% and 32% during the last 10 years.
So here is what to do if you want to detect a feral cat:
- Check for signs that it has already been neutered. Cats in colonies that have undergone the TNR campaign and have been returned to their colony have a distinctive mark on their ears to identify them. These cats have had their ears clipped (a procedure that is completely pain-free for the cat) for better identification.
- Gather information on local associations, council policies and/or become a volunteer. Cooperation between volunteers associations and the council is key in order for this strategy to work. Therefore, contacting associations that will know the correct procedure to follow will be a necessary step. Cats that are going to be trapped for neutering should not be fed during the previous 24 hours to trapping.
- Trap. An educated volunteer will go to the cat colony and trap the cat in question in order to take it to the vet. If you do not know how to trap a feral cat in a humane manner we advise you not to do so yourself, although if you want to start your education as a volunteer, we give you the basics further along in this article.
- State where you've found it in order to give the information to associations, as effective monitoring of cat colonies is much easier by creating a map of the town or city's colonies.
- Neuter. The volunteer will take the cat to the center your council has created specifically for this purpose or will take it to an associated vet. The cost of neutering will depend on local legislation. For example, in the case of Barcelona, the cost is completely paid by the council, although many private vets have special reduced rates for volunteers and associations.
- Release in same place. Although in some cases there is no other choice than to relocate the feral cat, the president of the Barcelona Cat Platform Agnès Dufau, states that it is highly important to release feral cats in the same colony where they were found, as feral cats need their freedom and putting them into captivity in shelters will create stress in cats and is considered ill-treatment.
- What to do with non-feral cats. In many cases, cats found in feral colonies are not feral yet. When we find kittens and cats that are simply strays, they can easily be re-located and can be put up for adoption or cared for in a cat sanctuary.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: Although some online sources may suggest euthanasia for feral cats if they cannot be socialized, you should know that euthanasia is not the lawful way to proceed and it is not a policy for healthy cats in most countries with feral cat colonies (with the exception of the Mammal Action Plan in Australia). TVNR and TNR is in fact backed by the American Public Health Association, the UK's Animal Welfare Act (in which it is stated that feral cats have the same rights as domestic cats) and specific local policies in most of the cities where the council has a specific program for cat colony control.
Tips to help feral cat colonies
So now you know what to do with a feral cat colony, let's talk about what you can do to help, whether you're a cat lover or are concerned about your neighborhood's cat colony.
Organisation of different people in order to work together to reduce numbers of feral cats is key. This is why the best way to help is to find your local cat care association who will put you into contact with fellow volunteers.
Volunteer work will also involve proper feeding and monitoring the cats so you can work on real numbers, create a map of colonies and control the work that's been done. Cooperation with the council will also be necessary in order to improve financing for TNR campaigns or in order to lobby to create one if the council does not currently have one. To give an example, Barcelona cat associations have reached an agreement to create a sterilizing center that is completely free for cat associations, and that sterilizes over 3.000 cats per year.
Another example is the American Health Association, which works with Petco Foundation, ASPCA and Neighborhood cats among others in order to train professionals on TNVR procedures and community cat care, so if your area does not have an association that monitors cats of its own, it may be a good idea to contact them for proper formation.
Cats can hardly fend for themselves and, although you may not think so, cats feel cold too, so winters are pretty harsh for them too. This si why you can help create or donate shelters for the cats in the colonies. Females will give birth to their kittens in warm, quiet and dark place, which is why having shelters in cat colonies will prevent them from giving birth in other places around the area where it may be a problem for others and for their own health.
Blankets, towels and hay are also needed, so this is also a great contribution to the welfare of a cat colony.
Cat relocation/ adoption
Another way in which you cat help cat colonies is by finding them a home or opening your home to one of them. According to Celia Hammond Animal trust, many cats that were once strays and have adopted feral attitudes can be re-socialized, tamed and adopted by farms, stables, big estates... which make for great rodent control. Kittens will be the easiest to socialize as they are still growing and are capable of socialization before 6 months old.
Relocating feral cats is also important in cases where they are living in abandoned buildings that are going to be demolished, near roads, etc... However, this should be done by your local cat organisation.
Should you feed feral cats?
Some people may ask themselves if it's illegal to feed a feral cat or if it causes any problems. In general terms, feeding a feral in your own private land is fine, although you should take into account that more may come. On the other hand, feeding feral cats in colonies is not illegal. Although many people think that cats are natural predators and they can fend for their own food, which is partly true, as we've said a cat colony is composed by both ferals and strays, which is why feeding is necessary. Another reason to feed a cat colony is precisely because they will be less likely to attack local wildlife.
However, there are certain guidelines you should take into account when you feed a feral cat colony:
- Feed feral cats within the colony space
- A cat needs one cup of dry feed per day
- Always feed dry food
- Water should be changed every day and new bowls should be added if the number of cats increases
- Wear suitable footwear when entering a cat colony
How do you trap a feral cat?
If you are going to trap a feral cat for TNR, here are some general guidelines, as given by the APHA:
- Purchase a humane trap, line the flooring with old newspaper, get hold of blankets and bait such as canned tuna, sardines or mackerel.
- Place the trap on a flat area of the floor. Place the bait inside the trap. It should be placed at the far end of the trap to make sure the cat is inside the box before the door closes. Use the oil from the can to pour in a zig-zag shape from the back of the box to the entrance of the box.
- Place the trap in the correct places. If you are using more than one, make sure they are facing different directions.
- Leave the area but monitor from a safe distance. Never leave the traps unattended.
- Once the cat has been caught, make sure the box is securely shut and cover with a towel so that the cat remains calm.
- Now you can take your cat to be safely neutered and released in the place where they were found.
What to do with feral cats: Final word
The issue of feral cat colonies is extremely complex and there are many concerns regarding health and safety that may clash with animal welfare. However, as this article points out, when informed and done right, they are both possible. Therefore, to get rid of the problem you will have to be part of the solution. Apart from all the things we have pointed out in this article, prevention and education is key. Creating conscience on the importance of neutering cats, lowering figures in abandonment and teaching about the benefits of TNR campaigns will be key to make sure the amount of cats on the streets decreases.
If you want to read similar articles to What to Do with a Feral Cat Colony, we recommend you visit our Basic care category.
- Levy, Julie K., David W. Gale, and Leslie A. Gale. "Evaluation of the effect of a long-term trap-neuter-return and adoption program on a free-roaming cat population." Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 222.1 (2003): 42-46.
- Dufau, Agnes. " Estatuto Jurídico del Gato Callejero en España, Francia y Reino Unido". Tirant lo Blanc, 02/2017
- Cats Protection, 'Feral cats, Essential guide 17'. http://www.cats.org.uk/uploads/documents/cat-care-leaflets-2013/EG17_Feral_cats.pdf