Feral cat is a term that has been used to describe a homeless cat that is undomesticated. We consider “feral” to describe a particular behavior a cat expresses when it is not used to people or feels frightened. It is virtually impossible to differentiate whether a frightened cat was
(1) born without human contact,
(2) formerly had human contact and became un-socialized from living on its own, or
(3) if it is simply frightened. For our purposes we choose to call these cats free-roaming and use the term “feral” to describe a behavior a free roaming cat may convey.
Homeless Animals Rescue Team
What is a cat colony?
A cat colony is a group of free-roaming cats that live in close proximity to each other. Colonies are often formed around shelter and a food source.
Where do free-roaming cats come from?
The source of free-roaming cats is endless. Free-roaming cats come from shelters, pet stores, rescuers, hoarders, newspaper ads, etc. All free roaming cats are the descendants of unaltered tame cats somewhere in their ancestry line.
What happens to feral-behaving cats in a shelter?
Sadly, each year shelters receive more cats than they are able to adopt. As a result shelter employees must assess each cat to determine the probability of it being adopted. Cats who express feral behavior are consider poor prospects and are euthanized. In most cases it is impossible to determine if a cat is simply frightened in a shelter environment or if it has lived without humane interaction. As a result it is a sad fact that many frightened tame cats are euthanized under the label of “feral”.
What is the best thing I can do for free-roaming cats?
Consider implementing a Trap, Neuter Return (TNR) program. By implementing a TNR program these free roaming cats can continue to live out their lives without adding to the homeless cat population. After a spay/neuter surgery, cats live healthier lives and many of the unpopular behavioral problems associated with unaltered cats will dissipate.
What is TNR?
Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) is a program that allows free roaming cats to live out their lives without adding to the homeless cat population. Cats are humanely trapped, often evaluated to ensure they are healthy enough to live a free-roaming lifestyle, vaccinated, spayed/neutered, ear tipped to identify them as being altered, and then released back to their familiar environment. Often kittens and tame cats are placed with rescue organizations for adoption into homes.
Why do we ear tip cats?
Ear tipping identifies free-roaming cats that have been sterilized. Ear tipping is completely safe and it is performed under general anesthetic. Ear tipping provides immediate visual identification, which alerts animal control that a cat is part of a colony. It also helps colony caretakers track which cats have been trapped and altered, and identify newcomers who have not. Once a cat is trapped, the caretaker should look for an ear tip. If the cat has an ear tip it should be released immediately.
What is a colony caretaker?
A caretaker is someone who monitors a colony to insure any new cats that appear in the colony are altered. The caretaker provides food and water for the cats, making their lives a little easier. Some caretakers feed an entire colony of free-roaming cats, and there are a number of organizations which provide for the care of free-roaming cats in a limited area, such as a college campus or beachfront.
Q: What is the most important thing a caretaker can do to help free-roaming cats?????
A: Spay or neuter the entire colony and continue to monitor the colony to ensure any new comers into the colony are also altered.
Do people bond with their free-roaming cats?
Absolutely! People bond with the cats and the cats bond with their caretaker. Many of the cats that are cared for by a caretaker know their feeding schedule and will wait at a designated area for their caretaker to bring them food and water. Others may recognize the sound of their caretaker’s car and wait until they hear the familiar sound before appearing from their safe hiding spots. Free-roaming cats tend to bond with their caretakers and may even allow them to get within a few feet of them. Otherwise, they are fairly reclusive.
How do I trap a cat?
Cats can be trapped using a humane trap. The trap has a door on one end, which can be lifted up and set in place with a small catch. The door is connected to a flat metal trip plate on the bottom of the trap. The trip plate is set far enough back in the trap so that the animal's tail won't get caught in the door when it slams shut. A small amount of aromatic food is placed in the back of the trap, past the trip plate. With kittens and very small cats, it is important to set the food all the way at the far end of the trap so the kitten or cat will be forced to put its full body weight on the trip plate, thus setting it off. The door will spring shut behind the cat as soon as a paw hits the trip plate. These traps are typically brown in color here in AZ.
What can I do to make the cat more comfortable while in the trap?
Before trapping the cat, you can line the bottom of the trap with newspaper so that the cat is not walking on an exposed metal cage floor. As soon as you have trapped the cat, you should cover the trap with the towel or specially designed trap cover. This often has a calming effect on the animal.
Can a pregnant cat be spayed?
Yes. The closer she is to giving birth the more closely she should be monitored after surgery and should not be released back into her environment until the end of the day following her surgery. The repeated cycle of giving birth can be much more difficult on a female cat than being altered while pregnant.
Is it safe to spay a lactating (nursing) cat?
Yes. The surgery will not affect her milk production. Nursing moms should be released back to their environment the day following surgery.
At what age can a cat start having kittens?
A lot depends on the length of the daylight period, time of the year, and family (genetic) tendencies of the cat. We recommend you spay/neuter cats by four months of age.
Can I trap a mom and her litter of kittens?
If you find young kittens that cannot be separated from their mother, you can trap the mom and bring mom and kittens indoors for fostering. When I've done this, I put the mom and babies in a large ex-pen (4' x 4' x 4') with a mesh top, and then I put a large sheet over the top of the pen, covering the top and 3 sides of the pen. The pen and top can be purchased at Ryan's Pet Supply in Phoenix. I also put a large plastic carrier with bedding inside the ex-pen, so mom has a place to nurse her babies. She will feel safe inside the carrrier. If you bungee cord the carrier door open, she can go in and out as needed. The ex-pen is large enough to allow room for a litter box, food and water bowls and even a scratching post and toys. If the mom is feral, she will probably stay inside the carrier when you enter the room. This will allow you to carefully open the ex-pen door to clean the litter box and give food and fresh water. When the babies are weaned, they can be removed from the pen and separated from mom. After the mom has had some time for her milk to dry up, she can be spayed with an ear tip and returned to the outdoor environment that she came from. For more information on how to determine the best plan of action for a mom and her litter of kittens, please visit this website:
Should I relocate my ferals to a "safer place?"
Relocating ferals in not recommended for a number of reasons. Cats are very territorial and have strong bonds with the area they inhabit. There is important protocol that must be followed strictly if a feral is relocated, and this should only be done under extreme circumstances and if all other attempts to negotiate and work out existing problems has failed. It is always best to try to solve the issues that are threatening the cats' presence in their current environment.
We recently negotiated a reasonable solution with a resident in a trailer park who has threatened to "trap and dump" our feral colony if we don't move our feeding station or get rid of the cats. We talked to the resident and explained that we cannot relocate the cats and there is not a place nearby to move the feeding station to. (We are not feeding on his property, but rather on city easement.) We asked him about his concerns and offered a solution. He is upset because the cats are getting under his trailer and tearing up his insulation around the heater. I explained that they are just trying to get warm, but let him know that we can see how this is a problem for him. We offered to buy him some material and help to seal up the open areas under his trailer. He was very happy about this and is willing to work with us on a solution. Not everyone is as reasonable as he turned out to be, but it is always best to negotiate and execute a solution to the problem before deciding to trap and relocate cats. The grass is not always greener somewhere else, and change is very difficult for cats to adjust to.
Please see below for information about relocating feral cats:
Safe Relocation of Feral Cats from Alley Cat Allies
Resources courtesy of
H.A.R.T. ~ Homeless Animals Rescue Team
P.O. Box 606
Mesa, AZ 85211-0606