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▼ What is the difference between a stray cat and a feral cat?

A stray cat is a domestic cat that has been abandoned or has ‘strayed’ from home and become lost. A feral cat is a cat who has either never had any contact with humans or her contact with humans has greatly diminished over time. A feral cat is fearful of people and not likely ever to become a lap cat or enjoy living indoors.

Stray cats were once pets and they can usually be successfully rescued and placed in homes. If you believe that the cat you are feeding is a stray and not a feral, it should be brought to the closest animal shelter to find a new home.

▼ Why not just trap the cats and bring them to a shelter?

Most animal shelters will euthanize feral cats when they receive them from the public. They cannot be placed up for adoption because they have never been handled by people and are not suitable as pets. The kindest thing you can do for the cat you have trapped is to go through a TNR program and return it to its home outdoors.

Feral cats take up residency in locations where there are good resources (food and shelter). As time goes on, if the cats are not spayed or neutered, the colony will continue to grow. If these cats are then trapped and removed it will leave an empty space for other neighboring cats to move in and take advantage of the resources. This is called the “vacuum effect” and is seen in many different species.

The inhumane practice of removing these cats for euthanasia will just continue on as cat after cat moves into the newly vacated territory. By spaying and neutering the original group of cats we can stop this cycle and allow these cats to live out their lives.

▼ Can feral cats be “tamed” and become pets?

Similar to wildlife who have never been touched by humans, it is incredibly hard to tame an adult feral cat to become a house pet. Sometimes, however, if a feral cat has had a dedicated caretaker for many years, the cat will grow to trust the person and allow limited handling.

If found early enough, however, feral kittens can often be easily tamed (socialized) and can make wonderful pets. Unfortunately, this window is very small and ends at about eight to ten weeks of age. After that age it becomes much harder for feral kittens to adjust to and not fear human touch.

If you are caring for a feral cat that has kittens it is important to track the age of the kittens and remove them at about seven or eight weeks so that they can be socialized and placed into homes. See our Resource page for information about socializing feral kittens.

Some local shelters also have feral kitten programs where staff and volunteers will work with kittens eight weeks and under to socialize them and then place them up for adoption.

▼ What is a colony?

Colony is the term used to describe a group of feral cats who live together. A colony caretaker is the individual who cares for the colony by providing food and shelter and making sure that they are spayed or neutered.

▼ Don’t feral cats spread diseases to people and other animals?

Actually, it is a myth that feral cats have higher levels of disease than pet cats. Both groups have an infection rate of about 1-2% for feline leukeumia and 3-4% for FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus).

In Colorado rabies is extremely rare in domestic animals such as dogs and cats. A feral cat that goes through a TNR program, however, does receive a rabies vaccine.

▼ What is “relocation” and can I do it?

“Relocation” is the process of trapping a feral cat and moving it to a different location. This is strongly discouraged except in cases where the cat’s life will be in danger if it remains in its current location. Even then, some feral cat advocates recommend euthanizing the cat over relocating it. Cats are very territorial animals and bond strongly to their homes. A large percentage of the time the relocated cats will run away from their new homes within a couple of days and attempt to find their way back to their old homes. Most often they are not successful and die in the process. If you are going to try to relocate a feral cat or cats please refer to the Resources page for the best way to do it.

▼ Don’t feral cats kill birds?

Both feral cats and pet cats that spend time outdoors are responsible for the deaths of birds, however, birds constitute a relatively small percentage of feral cats’ diets. They are much more likely to rely on rodents and people (either from being fed or scavenging garbage) as their main food source.

For more information about the subject go to http://www.alleycat.org/page.aspx?pid=1012

▼ How does TNR benefit the community?

TNR benefits the community in many ways:

  • It stops the cycle of reproduction thus preventing more feral cats.
  • It reduces nuisance behaviors such as the yowling of cats in heat or loud fighting between male cats (after being neutered male cats have greatly reduced testosterone so the desire to fight is greatly reduced as well).
  • The awful smell of tom cat (unaltered male) urine goes away.
  • All the cats receive a rabies vaccine during the TNR process.
  • Spayed or neutered cats tend to roam less thus reducing the nuisance of cats wandering the neighborhood.
▼ At what age can female cats start having kittens?

A female cat can go into her first heat at five months of age and have her first litter shortly after that.

▼ My neighbor is complaining that the cats I feed are going into her yard. What can I do about this?

There are many options for deterring cats from wandering into yards. It is important to be understanding of your neighbor’s concerns. Keeping relations amicable with your neighbor will make your life easier and will reduce hostility toward the cat. Go to “Keeping cats out of yards” on our resource page for lots of great tips.