Feral Cats

Feral cats are the offspring of tame, homeless cats who were either lost, or more likely, abandoned. Growing up with little or no human contact, they are fearful of people. They are not wild animals, however, and depend upon humans for their survival; the commonly accepted belief that feral cats can survive by catching mice is a myth. They are typically found eating out of dumpsters at apartments, restaurants, grocery stores and schools, or they find their way to a backyard where food has been placed for the resident’s own animals.  Not feeding the cats in hopes that they will “go away” is not realistic, nor humane.

Commonly Asked Questions

I found a cat – what should I do?
First, try to determine if the cat is tame. Companion cats can stray from home and become lost, although most homeless cats have actually been abandoned. Call the Animal Services Department in your city or county and report the found animal, as required by law; speak with your neighbors and post signs; place a “found” ad in your local newspaper (generally free of charge); contact our adoption referral program for further information on rehoming tame cats.  Also note that a tame lost or abandoned cat can be very scared and may be timid initially, thus giving the appearance of being feral.

If the cat is not tame, but rather, is a feral cat, Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is the effective and humane way to care for these animals, and ultimately reduces the feral cat population.  See below for further information on TNR.

I found a pregnant stray or feral cat – what should I do?
A pregnant cat can generally still be spayed.  Schedule an appointment with a veterinarian (we can provide referrals to veterinarians who provide low-cost spay / neuter surgery) to assess the gestation of the pregnancy.  In this situation, the individual must examine his / her feelings on this sensitive issue and be prepared to make a decision.  It may help to know that thousands of unwanted kittens end up at our county animal shelters every year, and many of those will have to be killed simply because there are not enough homes for all that are born.  Those who are lucky enough to find adoptive homes literally take a home away from other kittens and cats who were born before and who will now have to be killed at animal shelters.

A female cat had kittens outside – what should I do?
Do not take a mother cat away from nursing kittens before determining that they are old enough to be weaned.  The kittens’ first teeth appear around 4 weeks of age and they will begin trying to eat solid food; however, they will not be ready to wean before 6-8 weeks of age.   The best option is to provide food for the mother and let her continue to do the work of caring for the babies.

Handle the kittens from the beginning when the mother cat is away, or remove them from her when they are 6-8 weeks old and eating cat food on their own.  Then begin the socialization process.  Feral kittens can be well-socialized up until the age of roughly 12 weeks.  Tamed kittens over 8 weeks of age and at least 2 lbs. can be safely spayed / neutered and placed into new homes.

I just found a newborn kitten(s) and the mother is nowhere to be seen – what should I do?
Do not be too quick to remove a newborn kitten from the area.  The mother cat may be in the process of relocating the kittens to a safer place or she may be away looking for food.  She is likely nearby and listening for the sound of her kittens’ meowing.   If a person is standing near, however, a mother cat will not approach her kittens.   Try to watch the area, unobserved, so she doesn’t feel threatened when she returns.   If there is no sign of the mother after several hours to a day, she may have been hurt, killed, or trapped.  The only chance a kitten under 4 weeks old has to survive is by bottle-feeding with a milk replacement formula called KMR, available at pet food stores, or goat’s milk, available in the refrigerator case of most supermarkets.   Kittens cannot digest cow’s milk and it can cause great digestive upset to their already fragile systems.

Do not take nursing kittens away from a mother cat before determining that they are old enough to be weaned.  Taking kittens away from a nursing mother is not only physically painful for the mother cat who is full of milk, but it can equate to a very tough and even fatal beginning for the kittens.  Unweaned kittens must be bottle-fed every 3-4 hours around the clock with a milk-replacement formula, but even still, many will not survive as they have not received the immunity necessary from their mother’s milk.

For many other commonly asked questions in regards to feral cats, please visit Alley Cat Allies or SNIPcat.org.

What Are My Options with Feral Cats?

Again, feral cats are not wild cats; they depend on humans for their survival.  Intentionally not feeding the cats in hopes that they will “go away” is an inhumane attempt at eradication, and one that provides no permanent solution.  There are three options one can take:

Do Nothing – This is the least responsible approach.  Un-neutered, un-vaccinated and uncared-for cats scavenge for food while breeding prolifically.  Common sense dictates that a vaccinated, sterilized, well-fed, monitored cat will always be less of a threat to another animal or human.

Trap and Remove – Eradication has been attempted throughout the United States for decades without success.   The Vacuum Effect, which has been documented and proven throughout the world, occurs when new cats move in, in place of those removed, to take advantage of the food sources present.

Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) – This non-lethal process reduces the numbers of homeless cats in the environment both immediately and for the long-term.  The animals are humanely trapped, then neutered by licensed veterinarians.  Kittens, who are easily socialized at a young age, and tame cats, are placed in adoptive homes.  Healthy feral adults are returned to their outside “home” to live out their lives with the help of caring people.  TNR has not only prevented the births of millions of unwanted kittens, but also improved the lives of countless cats that otherwise would have been killed.  TNR has been used effectively in other parts of the world for decades.   Numerous institutions and organizations endorse TNR, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, Cat Fancier’s Association, and San Francisco SPCA.   For more information on TNR, please visit Alley Cat Allies or SNIPcat.org.

Feral Cat Resources & Organizations

For further information on feral cats and colonies, referrals to low-cost veterinarians or financial assistance programs for spay/neuter surgeries, or borrowing humane cat traps, please contact our Spay/Neuter Assistance Program at (925) 279-2247, ext. 305.