What are feral cats?
Feral cats are cats that were likely born outside, and have lived most of their life outdoors and with little human interaction. Without human socialization these cats don’t associate us with food or safety and have adapted to hunting and sheltering themselves. Because of this, feral cats are best suited to remain in their outdoor colonies rather than being indoor pets despite being the same species as domestic cats.
How can I help?
The biggest thing we can do to help feral cat colonies is to keep them from breeding. Cats can go into heat as young as four months, and having litters outside is often stressful and unsafe for these cats who receive minimal medical care. If breeding is left unchecked, the colony can outgrow their habitat and cause problems for both the colony and the environment.
The main method for doing this is TNR: trap, neuter, return. Local organizations have programs in place that offer spay and neutering services for feral cats at a discounted rate. This is better for the feral cat colonies than taking them to shelters, because it allows the feral cats to thrive in their environment while restricting the amount of kittens born into unsafe conditions. Feral cats who have been spayed or neutered and then returned to their colony will have a single tipped ear to indicate that they don’t need to be captured. Depending on the circumstances, young kittens and friendly adult cats will be put into foster care to be socialized to humans before being adopted out to a new home.
If there are concerns about the cats having shelter from the elements or dropping temperatures, there are a number of affordable DIY shelters that can be made and placed outside. A simple shelter can be made by placing a styrofoam container inside a plastic storage bin and using hay for insulation.
By knowing how to best help feral cats in your neighborhood, you can help them survive and thrive in their environment! For information on local TNR programs, contact your local animal shelter or veterinary office.