What do you do if you are feeding outside cats… and want to do more???
What is Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)?
Trap-Neuter-Return is the humane, effective approach for feral cats. Feral cats are humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and eartipped (the universal symbol of a neutered and vaccinated cat), and then returned to their outdoor home. Socialized cats and kittens are adopted into homes. The colony’s population stabilizes—no more kittens! Trap-Neuter-Return improves their lives and their relations with the community: the behaviors and stresses associated with mating stop.
Isn’t it unsafe for feral cats to live outside?
The outdoors is the natural habitat for feral cats, and empirical evidence indicates they can live long and healthy lives: a 2006 study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery found that of 103,643 stray and feral cats examined in spay/neuter clinics in six states from 1993 to 2004, less than 1% of those cats needed to be euthanized due to debilitating conditions, trauma, or infectious diseases.
In addition, the lifespan of feral cats compares favorably with the lifespan of pet cats. A long-term study (published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2003) of a Trap-Neuter-Return program noted that 83% of the cats present at the end of the observation period had been there for more than six years—meaning that the cats’ lifespans were comparable to the mean lifespan of 7.1 years for pet cats.
Feral cat caregivers can take steps to make feral cats more comfortable, like neutering them, feeding them, and providing shelter. These steps promote the cats’ well-being, improve their relationships with neighbors, and assist the people who live nearby to understand and co-exist with the cats. But most feral cats don’t require intervention beyond Trap-Neuter-Return.
Why can’t feral cats be socialized and then adopted into homes?
A feral cat is a cat who has either never had any contact with people or her contact with people has diminished over time. They are not socialized to people and cannot be touched, except sometimes by a regular caregiver.
The ideal window for socializing feral kittens is 12 weeks of age or younger—beyond 12 weeks, feral cats may never socialize completely or at all. As a result, we do not recommend attempting to socialize feral cats older than 12 weeks—it is dangerous and stressful for both you and the cat. Feral cats live healthy lives in their outdoors homes and the best thing you can do to help them is Trap-Neuter-Return. Outdoor cats that are friendly and socialized to people are called stray cats, and they can be re-homed.
I found a friendly outdoor cat, how do I find her a home?
First, do you know the difference between stray cats and feral cats? Stray cats are socialized to people and can be adopted into homes, but feral cats are not socialized to people and are happy living outdoors. To do what’s best for the cat, you need to know the difference!
- When deciding what to do with the cats you have found, it’s important to know that if you take a cat to an animal shelter, most shelters will likely kill the cat. Seventy percent of cats entering shelters are killed, and that number jumps to nearly 100% of feral cats and kittens. If you are still considering a shelter, always ask for the adoption procedures, typical duration of stay, and euthanasia policies before deciding if you should take a cat there. Even then, it is still at the shelter’s discretion to euthanize for any reason.
Feral, stray, and pet cats are all members of the same species; they are all domestic cats. But stray cats and feral cats are also different from each other in a very important way—in their relationship to and interactions with people.
Whether you are a shelter worker, veterinarian, or feral cat advocate—or you just share your neighborhood with feral cats—knowing how to tell the difference can help inform how best to interact with a cat or what, if any, intervention would be in each cat’s best interest.
What is socialization?
We use the term “socialized” to mean cats that are friendly towards people—or cats that enjoy companionship with us in our homes.
Kittens becomes socialized by interacting with people—being held, spoken to, and played with—from an early age. If a kitten does not become accustomed to people holding her and petting her within this crucial window, she will grow up apprehensive of humans and will not be suited to or happy living in homes.
What is the difference between a stray cat and a feral cat?
Pet and stray cats are socialized to people.
Feral cats are not socialized to people. While they are socialized to their colony members and bonded to each other, they do not have that same relationship with people.
- A stray cat is a cat who has been socialized to people at some point in her life, but has left or lost her domestic home, as well as most human contact and dependence.
- Over time, a stray cat can become feral as her contact with humans dwindles.
- Under the right circumstances, however, a stray cat can also become a pet cat once again. Stray cats that are re-introduced to a home after living outdoors may require a period of time to re-acclimate; they may be frightened and wary after spending time outside away from people. ·
- Another definition that may help:
– “A stray cat is a domestic cat that has been abandoned or has ‘strayed’ from home and become lost. Stray [cats] were once pets and they can usually be successfully rescued and placed in homes.” – Stray Cat Handbook
- A feral cat is a cat who has either never had any contact with humans or her contact with humans has diminished over time. She is fearful of people and survives on her own outdoors. A feral cat is not likely to ever become a lap cat or enjoy living indoors.
Why does it matter?
- Stray cats can readjust to living with people and can be adopted as companions.
- Adult feral cats are not socialized to people, which means they cannot be adopted. As a result, they are likely to be killed if picked up by animal control or brought to shelters, so it is in their best interest to continue living outdoors.
- Stray and feral cats can be difficult to tell apart, especially when they are trapped or frightened. Scared stray cats often need time to relax and show their level of socialization.
- Trap-Neuter-Return takes into account each cat’s level (or degree) of socialization to determine the best environment for them. Feral cats are returned to their outdoor home after being trapped and neutered. Socialized cats and kittens can be adopted into homes.
How do I tell the difference when the cats are outdoors?
Since it is difficult to determine each cat’s socialization during a stressful event such as trapping, it’s a good idea to observe cats on their own outdoors using the guidelines below. Remember that these guidelines are not hard and fast rules and that just one of these traits is probably not enough to draw a conclusion.
Bottom line: If a cat you don’t know approaches you or if you can touch her, she is most likely not feral. Not all stray cats will do this though, especially at first—each cat will act differently in a variety of situations. More monitoring using these guidelines may be necessary to determine if the cat is socialized.
Alley Cat Allies recognizes that a cat’s level of socialization and behavior is not always black and white, particularly for feral cats that recognize their caregiver. They may show signs of familiarity, such as a tail up or hanging out on a caregiver’s porch, but these behaviors are usually limited to the cat’s interaction with the caregiver and only develop after building a relationship over time. Always remember: this does not mean that the cat is a good candidate for living indoors.
How do I tell feral and stray cats apart once I have trapped them?
When in a frightening or stressful environment—such as a trap or a shelter—a friendly stray cat may act like a feral cat, avoiding people and possibly even showing aggression to avoid being touched.
What do I do next?
Once you have evaluated a cat and feel like you have a sense of the cat’s level of socialization, the next step is to get the cat neutered.
Trap-Neuter-Return is a great way to help the cats in your community; it improves the cats’ health and stabilizes the colony while allowing them to live out their lives outdoors.
We have traps available at our stationary clinic that you are able to rent for a $30 cash deposit to use to trap and return feral cats.
If the cat you need to bring in is a friendly stray cat, please call our clinic to make an appointment! (614) 396-8707