Feral Cat Information
Feral Cat Fact Sheet
What is a feral cat?
Not all outdoor cats are feral cats. Sometimes a tame cat that has gotten loose or has been abandoned shows up in a feral colony. Because these cats are more human-friendly, they tend to stick out in the crowd and make themselves known fairly quickly. The primary distinguishing characteristic of a feral cat is its elusive, suspicious behavior and reluctance to interact with humans.
Feral cats often live in colonies, in locations where they have access to water, food, and shelter. You may see colonies near restaurants, shopping malls, or apartment complexes. A cat that is feral is easy to identify, as it is usually elusive, even after many introductions and/or time consistently spent with a human.
Why are feral cats a problem?
Because feral cats are not “officially” owned by anyone, they are not sterilized, and continue to breed. The University of Washington’s Math Department calculated the reproductive potential of one female cat using the scientifically collected data from Dr. Michael Stoskopf ’s population studies of feral cat colonies in North Carolina.
Here are the assumptions used for the population projection: One female cat gives birth to six kittens per year. Kitten gender is 50% female, and only 25% of kittens survive to reproductive age. All surviving female kittens become adults and reproduce with the same birth and kitten mortality rates. If no adult cats ever die, how many cats/kittens would there be at the end of seven years?
The consensus of five Math Department professors these experts based on these assumptions is this: One female cat and her offspring could produce between 100 and 400 cats by the end of seven years. Multiplied by a few hundred cats in a community, and the cost and reality of managing these cats becomes staggering.
Since Feral Cats are unsocialized, they are challenging to adopt and many never adjust to being indoors. Frustrated owners, wanted a snuggly and lovable companion, often take these “failed” pets to animal shelters, where the most likely fate is euthanization.
What can be done about feral cats?
The more patient cat-loving individual may be able to adopt a feral cat into his or her home. I have to qualify with “may”, as I have two of these feral cats in my home. I do have friends who comment on how “unsocial” they are, because they do not immediately come out and cuddle when I have visitors. It took a very long time for them to trust me. Kinishba, my little girl, lived in my box spring for 6 months, and still does not manage change very well. After 4 years in my home, she will only occasionally sit in my lap and does not like to be held. But…she does love to sit at my feet while I work (she’s there right now), and is right at the end of my bed when I wake up in the morning. Her brother Rodeo socialized much more easily and is now very quick to investigate any new visitors. We have a great kitty home, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. But I often wonder what their fate would have been had they been adopted into another home with someone who expected immediate return on emotional investment and who wasn’t willing to roll with the feral punches…
If you do choose to adopt a feral cat, be sure to have it examined by a veterinarian before bringing it into your home. You do not want the cat to expose any other cats you have to fatal diseases such as feline leukemia or feline immune deficiency.
Most feral cat advocacy groups recommend a trap-spay-neuter-release (TSNR) approach. In fact, the Feral Cat Coalition of San Diego reports that in a five year period of a coordinated, collaborative approach with feral cats, the number of cats killed in shelters dropped by 50%! This spares the life of the cat, allows them to live in the environment they are accustomed to, and helps to manage the problem of uncontrolled breeding. I know many people who care for feral cats simply by having them sterilized, and providing food, water, and outdoor shelter. They are still considered members of the family, they just don’t live indoors.
The least desirable option is to ask your local shelter to take the cat. Its most likely fate is death (more than 70% of cats entering the shelter system end their lives there). It also does not solve the problem of cat overpopulation. Cats breed and replace themselves faster than trapping and removing them can handle them. That is why TSNR is recommended.
How you can help
Any feral cat advocacy group would love your help! Even if you’re not living in Phoenix, where our group and website originate, please consider becoming involved in a local group that aids feral cats. Here in Phoenix, Altered Tails/AzCATS actively conducts spay and neuter clinics for feral cats once a month. For more information, please visit www.alteredtails.org.
If you have determined that a cat that is living outside is indeed feral, and not a tame cat that has been abandoned, check for a clip on one of its ears (see photo). This is a universal mark by TSNR groups indicating that the cat has already been sterilized. There is no need to trap a cat with this tick mark.
Whether a cat lives indoors or outdoors, it deserves to be treated with respect. If you suspect that an outdoor cat that you see has been abandoned, please contact a rescue group. Tame cats, contrary to the belief of owners who abandon them, may not always be able to fend for themselves in the outdoor world that is unfamiliar to them. If you would like to help improve the life of the feral cats in your neighborhood, consider becoming involved with your local TSNR group to help reduce the population of feral cats.
Written in part by Monika Woosley
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