How to Humanely Deal with Feral Cats

Cats Sitting Next to wooden fence

It's a dilemma every cat lover faces: Do I feed the poor feral kitties or do I call animal control so they stop destroying my yard?

As much as you may want to be the Mother Teresa of cats, it’s just not feasible to feed and care for them all.

If you try, you’ll likely notice that the cat population around your house will explode. And we don’t want you to bankrupt yourself for the sake of those cute strays.

Don’t worry: there’s a better way!

Here’s what you need to know about feral cats and how to best deal with their cute, pleading Oliver Twist-like faces.

What Are Feral Cats?

Cat in Alley

Feral cats, stray cats, neighborhood cats, alley cats – each of these terms describes the same scenario:

Cats without human homes.

Now, before you start getting teary eyed and pledging to adopt every feral cat you find, we have some news for you: cats are meant to be wild.

Don’t get us wrong: we love our dear, adorable, pamper-worthy domesticated cats! We love them so much we worked some scientific mojo to make sure you have a heads up when your kitty’s not feeling quite right.

But the truth is that your cat’s DNA is all about the wild life. And feral cats have that same wild DNA.

When your cat sits in the window eyeing the birds and other critters scurrying around outside, his predatory instinct is at work. Feral cats thrive on that predatory instinct and use their natural abilities to dash, dart, jump, and capture their prey in the wild.

They’re also masters of conserving energy, which means they can go longer than your full-bowl-demanding cat can without food.

Feral cats are also geniuses when it comes to finding safe places to live outside. Just like your fur baby who likes to hide in boxes, under the couch, and in the back corner of your closet, feral cats tap into that primal survival instinct to find the very best outdoor homes that protect them through chilly winters and harsh summers.

So What’s the Problem?

Aggressive Cat Hissing

Unfortunately, feral cats are like kids who never learned table manners. They tend to fight with other cats, leave their food scraps in the yard for you to step on, and leave their droppings in the flower box that you only want to smell good things in.

Cat lovers who exercise their good intentions by trying to adopt feral cats often find that their new addition to the family doesn’t want to be an indoor cat – and he may show it by being aggressive.

Adopted adult feral cats tend to get in fights with other pets, scratch children without provocation, and don’t fully grasp the concept of the litter box.

In other words, feral cats like to do their own thing and they don’t care whose house or yard they mess up in the process.

Feral cats that hang out around your home can also cause problems for your domesticated fur babies. Some domesticated cats can feel threatened and get extremely stressed out when they sense another cat encroaching on their territory. Even if there’s a wall and a window between them and their perceived foe.

To avoid any problems with your home, your yard, other animals, and especially your precious pets, it’s best to deal with the problem as soon as it begins.

How to Help Feral Cats?

Cat in cage

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and The Humane Society of the United States agree, the best way to help feral cats is to use the trap-neuter-release method.

TNR, aka Trap, Neuter, Release

The TNR method of dealing with feral cats is the safest and most humane option for several reasons.

First, trapping and turning feral cats over to shelters or pounds means they will likely be euthanized. Feral cats are not socialized to be pets; they grew up in the wild and it’s pretty dang hard to train them otherwise after that life. Cats that are unsafe to be adopted out are often put to sleep, which no cat-lover wants.

Second, feral cats love their life! They want to stay outdoors, hunt, run, and nap in the sunshine. Let them live their lives outdoors – just.... not where they can ruin your gorgeous garden.

Also, by trapping, neutering, and releasing feral cats, you can solve many other problems at the same time, including:

  • Reducing flea infestation problems
  • Reducing the number of feral cats by limiting reproduction
  • Limit children’s exposure to unsafe or ill cats while they’re playing outside
  • Reducing the number of unsafe animals that may lurk around your neighborhood to prey on feral cats, such as coyotes
  • Reduce unwanted and unpleasant noises such as late night tomcat fights

How to Trap, Neuter & Release Feral Cats

The TNR method is exactly what it sounds like. First, you trap the cat using a humane cat trap stocked with some appealing kitty chow. Then, you take the feral cat to a local TNR program to be spayed or neutered. Lastly, you release the cat back into the wild.

If you’re about to embark on the TNR journey with your local feral felines, here are some tips to follow:

  • Wear thick gloves at all times.
  • Place an old towel in the bottom of the trap to protect the cat’s feet from injury on any of the metal parts.
  • Place the trap on firm, flat ground so it doesn’t wobble.
  • Don’t put the trap food in a bowl. Just place it carefully in a little pile.
  • Always keep an eye on your cat trap. Move out of sight, but stay close. A trapped cat can become an easy target for other cat bullies and prey.
  • Trap at night or in cool weather only.
  • Once the cat is trapped, move gently and quietly to cause as little stress as possible.
  • Cover the trap with a blanket or towel to keep the cat calm.
  • Once you transport the feral cat to the TNR program, let the professionals handle the cat as much as possible.
  • Use care when returning the cat to the wild as he or she may be sore from surgery. Feral cats know how to take care of themselves once released, but while they’re in your custody, try to keep them as calm and safe as possible.

Thanks to the Humane Society of the United States, there is a database of TNR programs around the country. Stop by their website to find one near you.

Have questions about feral cat problems? Ask is in the comments below and we’ll do our best to help!




Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

Author



14 Responses

Rai
Rai

August 07, 2018

Thank you, everyone, for your comments. There’s some great discussion going on here!

@Cindy – Good point, Cindy! While many people use the term “stray cats” to mean any cat they see out and about – whether they know if it has a home or not – you’re correct that stray cats are cats who have been domesticated at some point but somehow get separated from their human homes.

@Sakelarious – WOW! This is wonderful! It’s so honorable that you want to help feral cats and I truly hope you succeed. Feral cats are certainly not “bad” in any way – they’ve just grown up in the wild and have a different set of needs and circumstances that we all should be aware of as cat-lovers. Thank you for sharing and I wish you the greatest success!

@Ginny – I’m so glad to hear you’ve had a positive experience with adopting a feral cat! It’s heartwarming to hear those stories and I’m thrilled that you and your fur baby found each other! :-)

Mary White
Mary White

August 06, 2018

Last week I trapped 4 feral cats. I drove two, in traps, to a vet who cooperates with an animal rescue group in my area. I paid for their weekend boarding, and will pick them up on Monday after their “procedures”, drive them home to spend a bit of time in my enclosed porch before release back into my yard.

I spent some time in the emergency room for alarming symptoms of my (carelessly earned) cat bite; now on scary antibiotic but feeling better. Never mind about that; the kitties are worth it.

Meanwhile, back at the porch, the kitten who I frightened by touching her entered my third trap. I’m waiting for instructions from the rescue group so that I can transport this kitten to the vet. She may have to have rabies test first. No cat rabies in our area for the 3 decades I’ve lived here, so I hope she’ll soon have her operation and return to my porch for recovery and release.

The mother of these cats is also living in my porch for the time being. When I have a trap available again I may be able to lure her in for her hysterectomy. About March first I discovered that she had 5 kittens living under my deck. We fed her an watched as her kits grew. I’m glad to have them and her neutered and return them to their wild life.

My indoor cats are a gorgeous american shorthair feral that I trapped last October, whose 3 kittens were born in my spare bedroom, one of whom (also gorgeous) is still with us. They are lovely companions. The other brother and sister went to live with a family who lost their two elderly rescue cats earlier last year. They are the center of that family.

Love the cats. They are the most amazing and incredible animals.

mary
mary

August 06, 2018

great article! feral cats don’t have to be “rescued”. they love their freedom and should enjoy their outdoor lives like any other animal out there; squirrels, rabbits, birds, cats, they’re happy out there. but it is a good idea to catch and spay them, to prevent the suffering of hunger and disease that uniquely afflict cats and their kittens. when i had a car i was very much involved in tnr. nowadays i can only feed them and give them antibiotics when i see one is sick.

Erin P.
Erin P.

August 06, 2018

I am a volunteer feeder through a feral cat program, and have also done some TNR, so I am happy to read this article in support of TNR. Our third cat is an “R” Fail- I trapped her and took her to get spayed, but she had complications resulting in us keeping her until she was well enough to “Release”. That was two years ago! I read another comment here about adopting a 9 month old Feral. It does take patience, but SO worth it. Check out The Lucky Ferals Channel on YouTube for a heartwarming glimps into the lives of four feral cats that now live as indoor cats with their caring human, Lady LF. You will see that maybe cats DO want to live inside, get brushed & pet, have soft beds, toys and yummy food!

Eileen McKenzie
Eileen McKenzie

August 06, 2018

Thank you for the positive article in support of feral cats and TNR programs. Your well-written article was very accurate and informative in regards to refuting the misinformation going around claiming that cats are invasive and destructive to wildlife. Your article also showed an accurate understanding of ferals, and your tips for trapping and handling feral cats are very helpful.

Mary White
Mary White

August 03, 2018

When handling or feeding feral cats, ALWAYS wear heavy gloves. I was bitten last night and my index finger is swelling like a puffer fish. I applied iodine immediately, but I was very careless not to have gloves on.

Elise Pear
Elise Pear

August 02, 2018

I trapped, neutered the momma & poppa cats & returned them to my property. The 3 kitties had to be kept until large enough for neutering & stayed in my laundry room for 2+ weeks. My 20 year old male spent a week with them hopefully giving some comfort. All of the cats received rabies & distemper shots before being released. The kitties, Inky, Dinky, & Stinky are happily hunting & always ready to eat the food I provide.

Ginny Steffes
Ginny Steffes

August 02, 2018

We recently adopted a feral kitten that was 9 mos old at the time. With lots of patience and love, she has become a precious pet. She isn’t a lap cat yet, but she loves to be petted and rolls over for more. Comes when we call her, uses her litter box without issue. Overall, she has been one of the sweetest cats that we have owned. In the past we have always adopted and all were great cats!. Adopting a feral cat can be a good thing with lots of love and patience.

Shelly Schmidt
Shelly Schmidt

August 02, 2018

Yep Miss Kitty was a feral kitten mom left her on doorstep so my mom took her in and raised her. But she was a kitten. She is pushing 17 now and prefers to stay in my husbands office she has everything she wants in there. I inherited her. Love her to pieces but she does prefer her space and I wonder if she knows why.

Donald Pearce
Donald Pearce

August 02, 2018

Or you could do as my Cousin did. She got with an Organization, that would Trap, Neuter and Return that Feral Cats. She had Shelters and would feed, them. They in turn, kept the Rodent Population in Control. This way there were not Endless Litters, being Born.

Betty
Betty

August 02, 2018

I would not agree that ferals are cats without a human home. Ferals are wild in nature although they may adapt to living with humans at levels ranging from not-at-all to almost-domesticated. Three feral cats live in my house. I do not think they are safe in this area living outside. There are large, aggressive roaming dogs and wild animals. So after the Trap & Neuter, they got Released into my house. We co-exist here. The oldest is 15 and has been here inside since she was a solitary kitten the size of my cupped hand. She remains feral. The other two are a mother and son, 4-5 years old. Those are now semi-feral or almost-domesticated. In all three cases, you allow them to approach (or not); you dont go picking them up to pet! They love PrettyLitter as do I. They adjusted right away.

Cindy
Cindy

August 02, 2018

I would like to point out that stray & feral cats are not the same. Stray cats had a home at one time and either found themselves lost or abandoned. Many strays are adoptable and easily return to life with humans. The majority of feral cats have never had a home, many being born to feral mothers. There are some cats who start out as strays that do return the wild so to speak, becoming wild and feral.

Stacy LeBaron
Stacy LeBaron

August 02, 2018

Thanks so much Pretty Litter for sharing information about this topic. I am proud to be a Pretty Litter subscriber!

Sakelarios Kouskoutis
Sakelarios Kouskoutis

August 02, 2018

I am planning on creating a feral non profit if I can get the funds together to do so. I truly love hearing you all spread information about this problem. They truly do need to be fixed and returned. I also plan on seeing if we can tame which ever we can and give them homes.
Its a complex process but it is possible. I am all about non-kill, and caring for these poor homeless cats.

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