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Feral/Stray Cat Resources

What Are Feral Cats? | Ferals In The Community | Trap, Neuter & Return (TNR): An Alternative | Trapping Tips | Myths And Facts About Feral Cats | Feral Cat Links And Resources


What Are Feral Cats?

"Feral" comes from the Latin word "ferus" meaning wild animal. It refers to individual animals that have "escaped" from the domestication of their species and become wild. According to Sara Pehrsson (Cats Magazine, August 1995), feral cats are neither wildlife nor pets, so they don't get the advantages of either group.

Feral cats are cats that are second, third or later generation offspring of unaltered strays and free roaming companion cats. When they live together, the group is called a "colony." They are born outdoors and usually are hidden by their mothers; they have little or no human contact in the formative months. Not socialized to humans, they view people as a danger. As they are often nocturnal, you may not be aware of their presence or total colony size. You might be aware of the spraying, nighttime mating, and the strong smell of urine from the intact males. Feral cats are not good candidates for adoption unless someone is willing to spend considerable time with them. Taming feral cats sometimes takes years.

By contrast, stray cats are companion cats that previously lived in human homes, but now are forced to live on the street. These cats have gotten lost, or been thrown out of their homes or abandoned by their former owners. Once captured or taken in, they can be resocialized.

Alley cats can be ferals, strays, or free roaming companion cats. It can be difficult to tell these cats apart. For that reason, when feral cat sweeps occur, untagged and unmicrochipped free roaming companion cats get caught up and often pay the ultimate price for being outdoors unsupervised.

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Ferals In The Community

Why Are There Feral Cats?

In today's world, feral cats exist because of irresponsible pet ownership. People allow their unaltered cats to roam the streets, reproduce, and take no responsibility for the resulting offspring. Companion animal abandonment is the other major reason. People assume their cats will survive on their own when they move away. Such assumptions kill millions of homeless cats, which die on the streets or at animal shelters each year. Those that survive become the root stock for feral populations. This is not really a "cat" problem, but rather a people problem: individuals' lack of respect for their companion cats and for their neighbors.

Feral Colony Eradication:

Eradication is the traditional method for feral cat control, although several studies show that eradication programs do not work. According to Louise Holton of Alley Cat Allies, this method has failed to reduce the feral cat population, but has increased euthanasia figures in the United States dramatically.

Cats are removed, but the food source rodents, dumpsters, etc. remains. Thus, the surviving cats have less competition for food. They will breed several times a year, quickly recolonizing. A study by Karl Zaunbrecher, DVM, published in The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, also showed that removal creates a vacuum, which can be followed by an influx of an equal number of new cats. With the new cats, fighting and nuisance spraying increases as the new cats compete for a place in the community. In little time, you are back to square one.

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Trap, Neuter & Return (TNR)

An Alternative:

An established colony will defend its territory to protect the food source, limiting the addition of new cats to the group; for this reason, leaving spayed and neutered cats in a colony is the best deterrent to population growth. The TNR approach stabilizes the colonies and eliminates many of the problems people find annoying about feral cats. Spraying and urine odor abates; mating yowls are eliminated; and fighting is reduced.

Locally, the Metro East Humane Society (Edwardsville, Illinois) recommends TNR and the humane method for controlling feral cat populations. This method also has been practiced successfully in Denmark, the United Kingdom, and South Africa since the 1970s.

How Does Trap, Neuter, and Return Work?

Each feral colony member is trapped, taken to a veterinary clinic, and given a health evaluation. The very ill are humanely euthanized. The adoptable cats (strays) and kittens are placed for adoption. The remaining healthy members are spayed or neutered, given shots (including the rabies vaccine), treated for parasites, ear-tipped for identification, and then returned to the colony. A care-taker (probably the person who was already feeding the cats) makes sure that there is clean water, food and waterproof shelter for the cats. The caretaker also monitors the colony for health problems, and keeps an eye out for the occasional new member, making sure it is spayed or neutered. The neighborhood has an effective, non-toxic rodent control system in place.

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Trapping Tips

Step-by-step instructions for trapping feral cats are provided here.

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Myths And Facts About Feral Cats

Myth Fact
Feral cats attack humans. Feral cats are afraid of humans and will run from them. You are only in danger of being bitten or scratched if you try to corner one.
Feral cats spread diseases to humans. If there is no contact, disease will not be spread. In a sense, feral cats serve as a barrier to disease - by killing rodents.

Additional information about zoonoses (diseases transmitted from animals to humans) is currently being gathered and will be available soon at this space on the Web site.
People are in danger of getting rabies from feral cats. According to the Centers for Disease Control, from 1981-1999 in the United States there were only 37 cases of humans with rabies; 22 were from bats, 14 from dogs, and 1 from a skunk. Further, feral cats in managed colonies are vaccinated against rabies.
Feral cats kill birds. Some cats - both feral and domestic - do kill birds, but the major threat to birds is man, through use of pesticides and destruction of habitat.

For more on this subject, listen to the following NPR audio segments: These audio links require the Real Audio Player, which is available here for free download.

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Feral Cat Links And Resources

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