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The Case for Saving Feral Cats

Updated on May 28, 2009

Noferals recently posted a hub stating their opinion on feral cats. This hub refutes theirs, and states the facts about feral cats and feral cat colonies.

4-week-old feral kitten being rescued
4-week-old feral kitten being rescued
Squirrel eating out of cat food bowl
Squirrel eating out of cat food bowl
Feral cat eating
Feral cat eating

The difference between ferals and strays

Not all outside cats are feral (wild). Some are pets that are allowed outside, and can either be fixed or unaltered. Unaltered pets that are allowed outside can create problems of their own, like spraying, digging in flowerbeds, and yowling.

Other outside cats are strays. Stray cats are either lost or abandoned, but they are used to being around humans and will come up to humans eventually if treated kindly. If unaltered, they can cause the same problems as outside pets.

Feral cats are the offspring of unaltered outside cats or of strays, and have had no constant contact with humans. They are often unaltered, scared of humans, and wild by all definitions.

Where ferals live

Feral cats live in colonies: groups of cats in a loose-knit community. These colonies can be anywhere there is food, water, and shelter: backyards, abandoned buildings, a field, a parking lot with bushes, forest. Cats are very resourceful, and will hunt and scavange for what they need.

Sometimes, humans abandon pet cats near feral colonies "because there are already cats there". Cats new to colony areas often are killed in territory wars, but are sometimes accepted into the colony.

Why feed ferals?

Ferals do eat birds and small animals, and can rummage through garbage looking for food scraps. However, if an easier food source is nearby, like a cat food bowl put out by a kind human, they will eat that instead and leave the local wildlife alone. Giving them a water bowl as well provides them with a constant place to come for their needs instead of foraging. Once food and water are provided, it is important to keep refilling the bowls on a consistent basis so the cats know it is there and start to trust the human they connect the food with.

Why not trap and kill or trap and remove?

Trapping animals to kill them or remove them from the area leaves a blank spot in the ecosystem. There is an ample food supply, even if there is not a food bowl. There is shelter. That is why the cats moved there in the first place. If the cats are taken out, other animals will move in to take advantage of these resources. Most often, in the city, the newcomers are rats, mice, raccoons, and opossums. In the country, the newcomers are rats, mice, coyotes, wolves, and skunks. Which is better?

Why trap, neuter, and return?

Trap-neuter-return (or TNR) not only is a humane decision, but keeps the balance of the area. There are still cats, so no other animal population comes in, and no more kittens are being produced. Feral cats without medical care only live about 3 to 4 years on average, but one female can produce up to 6 litters a year. With medical care, ferals can live as long as indoor pet cats.

TNR also reduces unwanted behaviors like spraying, yowling, catfights (mating fights), and marking behavior (piles of cat feces).

Shadow showing off an eartip on her right ear
Shadow showing off an eartip on her right ear
Dot resting after his neuter.  Rori, the feral rescue kitten, has been socialized and is investigating.
Dot resting after his neuter. Rori, the feral rescue kitten, has been socialized and is investigating.
Dot back outside after his neuter and eartip
Dot back outside after his neuter and eartip

What is eartipping?

Eartipping is a universal method of tracking spayed/neutered ferals. This is usually done at the same time the cat is fixed. The eartipping process is painless (done under anesthesia) and does not harm the use of the ear. The vet cuts off the top 1/8 inch of either the left or the right ear (depending on the region of the U.S. or world). This shows which cats are fixed, preventing the need to do surgery to find out if they are already spayed/neutered. In some places in the world, animal control will release an eartipped cat instead of taking it to the pound/shelter, because they know that it is part of a colony that is being fed and watched over. At the shelter or pound, ferals are routinely euthanized.

Can adult ferals be socialized?

Adult feral cats can learn to trust humans, even up to the point of being petted, but will never be totally tame. They will, however, come when called, acknowledge the humans they trust, meow at you when you talk with them, let you know they want food and/or water, and be comfortable in your presence. They might let you trap them again or catch them when they need medical attention. However, socializing adult ferals is a long, slow process, and varies from individual cat to individual cat.

Can feral kittens be socialized?

Feral kittens up to 12 weeks of age can be socialized without much effort. Once socialized, they are as healthy, happy, and outgoing as kittens born indoors.


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    • Lucky Cats profile image

      Kathy 6 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Thank you KT for a very rational and kind hub. Your approach to caring for ferals is easily palatable to those who might question doing this. You've answered questions very thoroughly which also gives excellent information to those who might not feel inclined to help or may even wish to destroy feral cats. You have done a great service for cats and humans. Voted UP and USEFUL and AWESOME and it's BEAUTIFUL, too, because you are a voice for these, otherwise, forgotten and, sometimes, hated animals. (When I have more time, I plan to read all your hubs on this very important topic as well as others!)

    • bwpotman profile image

      bwpotman 8 years ago from England

      A good case and I am in agreement. We practice the same in the UK. I thank you for writing this hub and getting the point across so well. Keep up the good work.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 9 years ago from America

      We don't have any ferals that we know of around here but we have a stray. I can tell you our squirrels and our birds do just fine with the stray cat. He is feed plenty and has a warm place to sleep. We have had two years of blue birds nest here in our yard. We have lots of squirrels, ducks etc.

      You are doing the right thing with the ferals. I'm sure many ferals lose their lives to coyotes, skunks, wolves and fox. Not to mention fishers. eagles etc. So they are also a source of food for wildlife. Sad to say but that is the way of life.

      Our DNR has done more damage to our wildlife by the animals they plant here then any cat could do. They are now going to enhance and increase the pine martens population. The martens love those little bird eggs and baby squirrels, flying squirrels, and they are high up in a tree where they can reach them.

    • KT pdx profile image

      KT pdx 9 years ago from Vancouver, WA, USA

      Thanks for your comment, Anne. You're right on that! Many people who are anti-feral forget this, and those of us who are pro-ferals forget to mention it, so thank you for bringing it up. :)

    • anne.moss profile image

      anne.moss 9 years ago from Israel

      TNR is the only solution that makes sense, and IMO you don't have to like cats or be "pro-cats" to agree to it. It's the only viable method of controlling feral cats overpopulation. The fact that it's also humane is a bonus, but the core of the system is the population control. So if you're "against" feral cats, you should be an avid supporter of TNR. It won't mean no ferals, but it will mean less feral cats compared to the alternatives.

    • KT pdx profile image

      KT pdx 9 years ago from Vancouver, WA, USA

      I am definitely not advocating "letting cats out into the wild as a method of pest control". I am taking care of the cats that other people have abandoned.

      Here is a link to the real threat against birds:

      Also, in my hub I stated that ferals who are fed by humans do not kill the birds. They are well-fed, and prefer their easy bowl food to what they could catch. In the last four years, I have only had two birds killed in my yard.

      As to your last point, what's up with America being the #1 consumer of world resources, and many Americans do not support charities that provide food, shelter, and resources to survive to the rest of the world? The $30 every month that I use to buy food for the ferals is offset by the donations I send to Food for the Poor and Lutheran World Relief every year.

    • profile image

      noferals 9 years ago

      So just give me an estimate as to how many song birds each of the cats you feed will kill in their life time and why the cat's lives are more important than the song birds.

      And before you say anything about mice I think there are more effective and targeted methods of getting rid of mice.

      Letting cats out into the wild as a method of pest controll is about the same as spraying poison like DDT all over a corn field to kill off one certain bug and killing almost every other living thing in the cornfield plus poisoning the river downstream from the cornfield and killing all the fish in the river.

      And while we are at it there are PEOPLE all over the world dying of starvation but you are feeding feral cats. What's up with that.

    • KT pdx profile image

      KT pdx 9 years ago from Vancouver, WA, USA

      Each to his/her own, noferals. You've written your opinion in your hub; I have mine here, along with some pertinent facts. That squirrel in the picture has made it four years, and has had at least two litters of its own that I know of. It takes turns with the cats eating out of the food bowl, and has taught its young ones to do the same.

    • profile image

      noferals 9 years ago

      Which is better ?

      I say coyotes, skunks, wolves, etc? It just mystifies me that people think the lives of Feral cats are more important than the animals that were here for thousands of years before cats were brought here.

      It can not be justified in any way shape or form. How long do you think that squirrel in the picture OR it's children made it in a nest of feral cats ?

    • Stacie L profile image

      Stacie L 9 years ago

      oh this is so imprtant!

      there are so many in the world today