Essentials of Feral Cat Care

Feral Cats

Managing feral cat populations can reduce contagious feline illnesses, control overpopulation and protect bird habitats. Feral cats can be born in the wild or they can be domestic cats that have been abandoned or become lost. Breeding cats are capable of having at least two litters of feral kittens each year.

Exponentially, a single breeding pair of stray cats can be responsible for 420,000 offspring over a seven-year period.

Rather than exterminating stray cat and feral cat populations, humane agencies recommend trapping, neutering and releasing these animals. This process helps to maintain stable colonies rather than leaving a void, which is quickly filled by additional reproducing cats.

Trapping Feral Cats

  • Live traps, also known as humane traps, are used for feral cat trapping.
  • Begin a regular feeding program within the feral cat colony. Get them used to the routine.
  • The day before you plan to trap, do not feed. Trapping, transport and surgery is very stressful for the cats so it's important to schedule the surgery for the same day as the capture to reduce the cat's time in captivity. Cats should have no food the night before surgery.
  • At the usual feeding time, set the trap in a location where the cats have been fed and cover it with a towel. Do not leave the trap in direct sunlight and be sure it does not wobble.
  • Bait the trap and move out of the area. Check the traps approximately every fifteen minutes. Once you've captured a cat, immediately cover the trap completely with a towel. Move the trap to a quiet area as you wait for the trip to the vet.
  • After neutering, the vet should mark the cat's ear. This way, it will avoid duplicating your efforts. If you trap a marked cat, you can immediately release it.

Cautions When Dealing with Feral Cats

Feral cats can transmit rabies to humans. Rabies is a fatal disease but is completely curable if treated in time. Any cat that bites a handler should be quarantined for ten days. If the cat shows symptoms, the handler must be treated.

Bites and scratches should be washed and disinfected immediately. Other contagious diseases that can be spread to humans include conjunctivitis, salmonella and campylobacter.

Feral Cat Care

Feline viral diseases plaque feral cat colonies. Feline Leukemia (FeLV), Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), and Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) can be fatal to both feral and domestic cats. Typically, the first several cats in a colony are tested. If these animals test negative for any of the viruses, the colony is thought to be disease-free. Ideally, cats that test positive for FeLV or FIV should be isolated and retested in two months. If that is not feasible the cat should be euthanized.

Trapped cats should be dewormed and treated for fleas and mites. Although the likelihood of reinfestation is high, they will be parasite-free during recovery from their surgery.

There are an estimated 40 to 60 million feral cats in the US today. There are agencies that exist to assist you in your efforts to control and manage stray cat populations. Contact your local humane society for more information.