Whether you’ve just moved into a new neighbourhood and noticed cats hanging around, or you’ve decided it’s time to do more, there are lots of ways you can help feral cats.
The first step is figuring out what’s what
Before you rush out and buy traps, take some time to observe what’s going on.
- How many cats seem to be hanging around?
- Is it always the same ones, or do new ones keep appearing?
- Can you tell where they’re coming from?
- Are they part of a larger colony close by?
- Is anyone feeding them?
Once you get those answers, you have sufficient information to move on to the next step.
What will you do with kittens you find?
It’s more than likely you’ll find small kittens. They can be socialised, some needing more help than others, and have a good chance of adapting to life in a home. If you find kittens what will you do? Shelters are overrun with them so they likely won’t take them.
Are you willing to foster them in your home? If you do, then what? Do you have the time/desire to find homes? If you have other people helping, is it something they can do? It’s beyond heart breaking leaving them where they are, but sometimes there is no alternative.
At least you can trap them and have them fixed, and you’ll keep an eye on them as you continue to care for the colony. For the sake of reducing feral cat populations, many vets will fix a kitten as young as 2 months or when they weigh 2 lbs.
Read this ⇒ “Can a Feral Cat Become a House Pet”
Speak to those in the community…but listen first
Whether it’s having a conversation with the neighbours who are feeding but not fixing, those who work in/own the shops or businesses where cats hang out, or people who are just plain fed up seeing them pooping in their garden, having a chat will go a long way to easing tensions.
While you may not agree with what you’re hearing, many of these people are frustrated and angry and want someone to listen.
Ask questions such as:
- How long the cats have been hanging around
- Do they feed them/do they know anyone who does
- Are they bothered by the cats
- What issues are they having
- Who owns the property where the cats are hanging out
- Be understanding, address their concerns, then explain about TNR and how you’re planning to help. Ask how they would feel about that. If they own the property would they allow you to feed the cats there? Set up a winter shelter?
Having someone listen to their concerns and offer a solution may be all it takes to get them on board, or at least not hamper your efforts. If the cats are in an industrial area for example, maybe the owner of a factory has an unused outbuilding or shed you can adapt for the cats.
Find vets offering reduced spay/neuter rates
Established groups or individuals often have a vet or two who offer a reduced rate for fixing feral cats. Research if there are any in your city or town, and contact them to find out details.
If you’re the first in your area to be trapping, the easiest place to start is with your own vet. Having 2 or 3 on board increases the chances of appointments when you need them.
Just feeding isn’t enough
Some people feed cats, but don’t do anything else. They may not be familiar with TNR or don’t want to get more involved. Feeding does nothing to reduce numbers, but will attract more unfixed cats who will breed in your neighbourhood.
When I discovered feral cats in a new area I had moved into, I started paying attention to what was going on. I quickly noticed a woman feeding them so I struck up a conversation. She was feeding them but hadn’t fixed them, so I volunteered to take care of that.
As it was my first time I was quite nervous, and after a few calls I found a woman who very reluctantly agreed to help.
When trapping it’s nice to bring a friend along for moral support, and to lend a hand.
You have 3 options when it comes to finding traps
Read this ⇒ “Equipment You Need to Trap Cats for TNR”
It’s helpful to keep track of what’s going on in your colony, not only as a resource for yourself but as a way to demonstrate TNR works!! Using a form created specifically for this task means all the relevant information will be organised and close to hand. Record information such as –
- Number of cats
- Cat’s description
- Name if they have one
- Date trapped
- Date fixed
- Date released
- Any medical issues
- Trapped again for treatment
- Date euthanised (if relevant)
And anything else you feel is relevant to your efforts.
Here is a sample form you can adapt as needed.
Find a spot that is as camouflaged as possible, and always feed them there. One spot definitely makes colony management so much easier.
Feed as much as possible on a schedule – it doesn’t need to be the exact time every day but roughly. It’s likely the cats will remain out of site until they know it’s close to meal time, pleasing those who aren’t happy about their existence.
Whether you decide to feed dry, canned or a combination of both can be up to you, or there may be restrictions on what type of food is allowed. It’s a good thing to find out. I know for example, in Jerusalem they are only allowed to use dry food.
Some put it right on the ground, others use plates or bowls. Keep an eye on the colony for awhile and watch what happens. Do all the cats come at once, eat and leave – are there stragglers – are some shy and will only eat when others have gone. That will help you figure out how best to ensure they all get fed.
It is important to remove all trash and keep the area clean and tidy. You want to discourage wildlife from coming by, and not give your neighbours something/something else to complain about.
If you feed when it’s dark outside, please make personal safety your number one priority. If you’re going to a sketchy area, you may have to stick to morning feeding only. If you have no choice or insist, please bring someone with you.
Always leave water out in a bowl that can’t blow away, and keep it out of site. Again, you don’t want anyone thinking you’re causing a mess.
Build a feeding station
I never built a feeding station, I was much more comfortable putting food in the bushes because of the harassment I was experiencing. Depending on where your cats are hanging out, a feeding station may or may not be an option.
It can be as simple as attaching a domed garbage can lid to 3 or 4 pieces of scrap wood. Adding a base allows you to elevate it to keep insects away. Whatever you do camouflage it as much as possible.
Will a litter box help?
If they’re pooping in peoples’ yards and that’s one of the things driving them nuts, creating one or two sandboxes in an out of the way location may do the trick. It will have to be cleaned out regularly though!
Read this ⇒ “How to Stop Cats From Using Your Garden as a Litterbox”
Create a winter shelter
Cats may have fur coats, but they’ll still feel the cold when the temperature drops and their fur is wet from rain and snow. Feral cats often have lots of hidey holes to get out of the elements, but it’s always a good idea to provide them with a warm shelter. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, complicated or expensive.
This article “How to Keep Feral Cats Warm in the Winter” will show you how.
Read this ⇒ “How to Stop Outside Cats Water From Freezing”
Monitor the colony
You’ve done an amazing job trapping and feeding, but it’s important to monitor how they’re doing, and meal time is the perfect opportunity. Do any seem sick? Lethargic? Sneezing? Infected eyes? If they do, trap them and have them seen by a vet.
One of the cats in my colony didn’t look good – his fur was dry, he had watery eyes and was sneezing. Since he had already been trapped once to be fixed he was wary, and not feeling well meant he wasn’t too motivated by food. After a few tries I finally managed to trap him, but sadly he was very sick and had to be put down. I hate to think how much he would have suffered if no one had been caring for that group.
If you move, find a replacement
The cats have come to rely on you for their care, so if you move and you’ve been doing this on your own, please try and find a replacement.
I had been taking care of a colony alone, so before I moved (I was going to another country), I hung flyers in the area. A wonderful woman offered to take over, and cared for them for years until there were none left. She kept in touch so I knew how they were doing.
So many ways to help
From feeding once a day to driving to a vet appointment, there are so many ways to help feral cats. Some involve more of a time commitment, others not so much, meaning there is something for everyone!
Have you been noticing cats in your neighbourhood? Have you found out anything about them? Will you be starting a TNR initiative or joining an existing one? Sharing helps others so leave your comments below. As always feel free to share images of what you’re doing and I’ll be happy to post them.
Please help support my spay/neuter campaign by donating and sharing. You can find all the details on my GoFundMe page.