A cat born and raised in the wild, or who has been abandoned or lost and turned to wild ways in order to survive, is considered a free—roaming or feral cat. While some feral cats tolerate a bit of human contact, most are too fearful and wild to be handled. Feral cats often live in groups, called colonies, and take refuge wherever they can find food—rodents and other small animals and garbage. They will also try to seek out abandoned buildings or deserted cars—or even dig holes in the ground—to keep warm in winter months and cool during the summer heat. If a feral cat survives kittenhood, his average lifespan is less than two years if living on his own. If a cat is lucky enough to be in a colony that has a caretaker, he may reach 10 years.
Feral cat FAQ:
Is There a Difference Between a Stray Cat and a Feral Cat?
Yes. A feral cat is primarily wild-raised or has adapted to feral life, while we define a stray cat as someone's pet who has become lost or has been abandoned. Stray cats are usually tame and comfortable around people. They will frequently rub against legs and exhibit behaviors such as purring and meowing. In contrast, feral cats are notably quiet and keep their distance.
Will Animal Shelters Adopt Out Feral Cats?
No, feral cats are not adoptable and shelters rarely will accept them. The fact is, most feral cats exhibit wild, shy or frightened behavior, and it's impossible to predict how or if they will ever acclimate to indoor life. Feral cats make up a large percentage of the four million to six million cats euthanized yearly by U.S. animal shelters. Adopting a feral is seldom the best course of action for either the cat or the prospective adopter.
Can I Tame a Feral Cat?
We do not recommend it. While a feral cat might look exactly the same as a pet cat, they're actually very different. Feral cats survive by avoiding close human interaction. When properly cared for, feral cats are happier outdoors in their own territory—they have their own hierarchies and are able to exhibit their natural behaviors.
Does Eradication Work?
Eradication, the deliberate and systematic destruction of a feral cat colony, by whatever method, almost always leads to the “vacuum effect”—either new cats flock to the vacated area to exploit whatever food source attracted the original inhabitants, or survivors breed and their descendants are more cautious around threats.
What Is Relocation and Why Doesn't It Work?
Many communities have rounded up colonies of feral cats either for euthanasia or to relocate them to another area. This never works. Feral cats are very connected with their territory. “Relocation of feral cat colonies is difficult to orchestrate and not 100-percent successful even if done correctly. It is also usually impossible to catch all of the cats, and it only takes one male and one female to begin reproducing the colony,” Oldham states. “Even when rounding up is diligently performed and all ferals are removed, new cats will soon move in and set up camp.”
What Is Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)?
TNR is the method of humanely trapping feral cats, having them spayed or neutered and vaccinated against rabies, and then returning them to their colony to live out their lives. TNR also involves a colony caretaker who provides food and adequate shelter and monitors the cats' health. TNR has been shown to be the least costly, as well as the most efficient and humane way of stabilizing feral cat populations.
By stabilizing the population, cats will naturally have more space, shelter and food, and fewer risks of disease. After being spayed or neutered, cats living in colonies tend to gain weight and live healthier lives. By neutering male cats, you also reduce the risk of injury and infection, since intact males have a natural instinct to fight with other cats. Spaying also means female cats do not go into heat. That means they attract fewer tom cats to the area, reducing fighting. If cats are sterilized and live in a colony that has a caretaker, they may live more than 10 years.
How Does TNR Benefit the Community?
TNR helps the community by stabilizing the population of the feral colony and, over time, reducing it. At the same time, nuisance behaviors such as spraying, excessive noisemaking and fighting are largely eliminated, and no more kittens are born. Yet, the benefit of natural rodent control is continued. Jesse Oldham, ASPCA Senior Administrative Director of Community Outreach and the founder of Slope Street Cats, an organization dedicated to feral cat welfare, notes, “TNR also helps the community's animal welfare resources by reducing the number of kittens that would end up in their shelters—TNR creates more space for the cats and kittens who come to them from other avenues.”
What Is a Colony Caretaker and how can I become a caretaker?
A colony caretaker is an individual (or group of individuals) who manages one or more feral colonies in a community. The caretaker keeps an eye on the cats, providing food, water, shelter, spaying/neutering and emergency medical care.
Offer your help to established colony caretakers. Ongoing needs include feeding, trapping, transportation to and from the veterinarian among other things.
For more information visit Alley Cat Allies here.