Feral cats are a common sight in almost all communities throughout North America. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals estimates that there are between 60 and 100 million feral cats in the U.S. alone. By definition, a feral cat has either never had any contact with humans or human contact has faded over time. Feral cats tend to be fearful of people and survive on their own outdoors, forging and hunting for food and shelter. Cats who are lost, abandoned or never handled or socialized with humans have a difficult time finding homes or being placed in a pet home, however kittens born to feral cats can be socialized at an early age and adopted into homes.
A female cat can physically get pregnant as young as 16 weeks of age and give birth to two or three litters a year. Survival rates for kittens born to feral female are not the same as domestic cats, however in a seven year span a single female feral cat and her kittens can produce 420,000 more cats. The feral cat population — and the problems associated with it — grows and perpetuates. The life of a feral, stray, or abandoned cat is often short, sometimes lasting for just two or three years.
Feral cats can disrupt neighbourhoods with noisy fights, odor, urinating to mark territory (also known as “spraying” or “marking”), flea infestations, and the inevitable breeding that creates even more unwanted cats. Some communities step up to control feral cat overpopulation by spaying and neutering captured cats and releasing them. Feral colonies are popular in large urban areas as a way to control the feral population and vets assisting in the program often nick a cat’s ear to identify that they have been vaccinated and neutered.
How can you help?
Don’t contribute to the problem. Cat owners should spay and neuter their cats and keeping them inside will keep them both safe and ensure they don’t get lost and seek survival by becoming part of a colony. Resist the urge to feed feral cats. Although it is generous and they no doubt will appreciate it, feral cats need health care as well as food. If you take on the responsibility and begin feeding them then the onus is on you to ensure you provide some kind of semblance of health care. A little money can go a long way to help a cat. Spay/neuter surgeries may cost as little as $17 for shelters to perform, so a single $20 donation can dramatically change the life of a feral cat. Contact your nearest Humane Society to find out if they’ve got a TNR program; if they don’t, they’ll know who does. You can also donate money to animal welfare groups through an estate or will.
If you want to become a caretaker for a feral colony and if you can provide ongoing shelter, food, or health care to a group of feral cats, contact your local Humane Society, veterinary hospital, or other animal welfare group to find out how to get started. Remember that the colony will rely on you in the same way a domestic cat does, but without the close physical bond. Once you take on a colony if you move, go away or on vacation you have to someone willing to take on the care of the colony.