How to Help Feral Cats

Whenever I see a feral cat, I see the wild, ancestral roots hiding just beneath the surface of every domestic cat. Even the wildest feral cat can be just one generation away from being someone’s pampered, household pet. Feral cats are victims of their own success as efficient hunters and prolific breeders. Although their exact numbers are unknown, the Humane Society of the United States estimates that there are about 50 million feral cats in this country. The problem is not unique to the United States. You are just as likely to find them on the beaches of Phuket or the ruins in Rome as you are in your own neighborhood. If you look carefully, you will see them everywhere. You can see them basking in the sun, hiding under cars, or rummaging through garbage cans in alleys. While feral cats can survive without human assistance, they live a harsh existence and often die prematurely from illness, injury or starvation.

So what is being done to help feral cats?
Unfortunately, there is no simple solution. In the United States, the majority of programs are trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs run by animal shelters and municipalities. These programs help control the feral cat population by humanely trapping feral cats, neutering/spaying them and then returning them to their environment or moving them to a designated location. Some programs will even rent or loan humane traps to the public in order to help trap and neuter/spay feral cats in their neighborhoods. How effective are these programs? cites studies from the University of Florida and the University of Texas A&M, to contend that TNR programs reduce the overall feral cat population significantly and humanely.

How can you help feral cats?
Make sure your own cats are spayed and neutered so they are not contributing to the feral cat problem. Cats are prolific breeders and even someone’s pampered pet can result in another generation of feral cats. Besides being responsible for your own pets, support TNR programs financially. Monetary donations will not only fund operations to keep the program running, but also fund awareness campaigns to educate the public about the feral cat problem and how they can help. These programs also depend on volunteer support and you can help by volunteering your time with trap-neuter-release programs or their educational campaigns.

The problem of pet overpopulation is worldwide. While there is no simple solution, the first step toward tackling the global problem should start in your own backyard.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

1. Do Not Touch or Move the Kittens

The only exception is if a kitten has visible injuries or is in extreme danger (e.g. in the middle of the road in danger of being hit by a car). If mama feels someone is trying to interfere with her or her kittens, she will quickly move to a safer location. She may leave her kittens behind, which significantly decreases their chances of surviving. More importantly, we lose the opportunity to trap and spay mama to prevent her from producing many more litters.

Stray Cat Information & Facts

Feral Cat Appearance: Stray, or Feral cats and domestic cats are the same species. The word feral implies that the cat has either resorted to untamed ways or was born into the world without knowing any trust toward human beings. The variety of feral cats is as numerous as stars in the sky, with cats of every pattern and color making up the population. On average, the cat is around eight pounds and two feet long, with a tail generally three-quarters the length of the body. Feral cats tend to have unkempt coats and scruffy appearances. They are lean and often lanky, their bodies riddled with parasites from a life spent in the outdoors. Male feral cats are often unneutered. This retention of masculinity affords them heavy fat padding around the face, a look affectionately termed ‘pumpkin head’. This excess of fat helps in territory scuffles, as the main areas a male cat will take on wounds are the face, neck, paws and hind quarters.

Feral Cat Habitat and Behavior: Feral cats almost always live in urban settings, relying on the small mammals that frequent human dwellings as a source of food. Because feral cats and housecats are the same species, homeowners often take to feeding the feral animal cat food from the supermarket. Unlike most pests which will leave when a food source diminishes, feral cats are no longer native to any particular terrain within nature. In fact, those few cats that roam the woods are often prey for foxes, coyotes, and owls. The feral cat needs the marginal safety of human settlements, and though feral cats are not friendly, they are not yet adapted to live in a wilderness setting. Cats do not burrow or create their own dens. A feral cat will search for the most opportune spot to live. This location can be under a porch, inside an abandoned building, within drainage pipes, in sewers, and inside the attics and crawlspaces of human homes. A dry, warm environment is ideal.

Like domestic cats, feral cats can vary on their social preferences. Unneutered males are largely solitary, though they may generate acquaintances if particular feedings grounds are visited by the same cats often. Male cats do not always seek a fight with another male unless food or females are involved. Vocalizations often establish a pecking order between feral cats communing around a food source. These animals are not grouped in a social aspect, but to be in close proximity with one another there must be a hierarchy established.

Female feral cats can have litters year round and as often as every four months. The kittens are helpless at birth and will be hidden by the mother until they are old enough to wander on their own. A mother cat will move her litter if she feels the location of the home is compromised.

Feral cats can be taken in by well-meaning people, but it is uncommon to domesticate a feral. It is not impossible, however, and would take significant patience and time.

Feral Cat Diet: Cats are naturally carnivorous, and it is only through processed pet food that they consume a variety of vegetables and fruits. When left on their own, cats will hunt rodents, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. Cats rarely actively hunt fish, though they will not turn down a free meal if one is offered. A desperate cat will eat carrion or steal food remnants from garbage cans.

Feral Cat Nuisance Concerns: Feral cats will accumulate in number if a food source is plentiful and reliable or if a location (like an abandoned warehouse) provides good protection. When these cats gather, fighting is inevitable. When cats fight, they are very loud and very vocal and can often deal a great amount of damage to one another. Intact males will often spray a powerful liquid scent marker around homes and food sources. This smell is potent and hard to eliminate. Housecats can be upset or injured by feral animals, and an attack can result in disease transmission.

Feral Cat Diseases: Fecal cats are a known rabies suspect in most areas of the country. Aside from that deadly disease, cat scratch fever is the other well-known zoonotic disease. Scabies, a skin disease, is also present in the feral population and can be transmitted to humans. Family housecats are at the most risk for disease contraction. Feral cats can carry FeLV virus, otherwise known as feline leukemia. FIV, feline AIDS, is also prevalent in the stray population. Both these illnesses are ultimately fatal.

You're here to learn how to get rid of stray cats in your yard, in or around your home, or under your house. This site is intended to provide stray cat education and information, so that you can make an informed decision if you need to deal with a stray cat problem. This site provides many stray cat control articles and strategies, if you wish to attempt to solve the problem yourself. If you are unable to do so, which is likely with many cases of stray cat removal, please go to the home page and click the USA map, where I have wildlife removal experts listed in over 500 cites and towns, who can properly help you with your nuisance stray cat.

Haydee Mato on July 10, 2020:

One of our yard cats has a serious injury, but I don't know what happened, maybe got into it with a raccoon. Upper skin/fur layer behind her right ear is gone (about 2 1/2 round). She is part of a colony of 4 cats, they are all fixed. She eats every day. hangs out. cleans her injury, and comes back in the afternoon to eat again.

The wound seeps watery and she cleans it when necessary, but I'm sure she also scratches at it. We tried to trap her but since she was trapped for spaying, as soon as she saw the trap, she split like a bolt. Please help! Thank you!

LINDA L TUTTLE on March 19, 2020:


Pat on February 07, 2019:

This cat has a serious injury, but I don't know what happened. Upper skin/fur layer is gone about 2 1/2 inches wide.length and width. happened about 3rd Feb. I can't pick him up this way, but he comes a couple times a day. hangs around. cleans his injury. Eats kibble and turkey lunchmeat and yogurt. Not as much as usual but does have an appetite. He's not limping. The wound seeps watery and he cleans it when necessary. The upper layer of skin with fur is just staying there but not attached around the wound. Please help! Thank you!

Lucy Hightree on August 09, 2018:

Hi! New here. Not new to cats though. I just brought in a very docile stray cat. Scabs all over. I've washed her once, and things seem a little better.

I have her in a bathroom. Is that safe enough to prevent feline him or leukemia from my other cat? I'd like to keep her. I'm poor. I don't know where to start.

Sandra on August 04, 2018:

An outside cat was dumped on me it left come back with a wound on neck hide is gone raw meat showing appears no infection?! How can I treat. He let's me and no one else pet and live him he had beautiful hair I only wish you knew how beautiful this cat once was. He's a msinecoon I believe I'm not a cat person just a lover of animals. Help me please

Hannah on December 26, 2017:

This stray cat is very friendly and is very attacthed to me. He didn't return the whole day and when he came back in the eveneing today, he hada wound on his back leg, with puss in it, i applied vaseline that he licked away but i don't know what to do, small portion of meat is missing from there. Guide me so i can treat him correctly. VET around my neighborhood don't treat strays -.- so do guide me what should i do. Should i put pyodine and wrap it in a cloth or should i leave it open?

Helen C ain on July 13, 2010:

A stray cat has been hanging around and I am feeding him and putting out water. He has lost weight and has some discharge around his mouth. (Now dry) His eye may be infected and ozing inside. What can I give him to help him?

advisor4qb from On New Footing on July 13, 2009:

Yet another helpful and interesting hub! Thanks!

You can't help an animal if you become injured in the process. Look in your rear-view mirror before braking, turn on your signal, pull your car completely off the road, turn off the ignition, set the parking brake, and put on the hazard lights. If you have emergency flares, prepare to use them.

Safety first

A strange, frightened, and possibly sick or injured animal can behave unpredictably. A sudden move on your part, even opening your car door, can spook them and cause them to bolt—possibly right onto the highway. If the animal looks or acts threatening, or if you feel uneasy about the situation, stay in your car.

If possible, restrain the animal. Create a barrier or use a carrier, leash, piece of cloth, or length of rope to keep the animal in the area. Signal approaching vehicles to slow down if you cannot confine the animal, or divert traffic around them if they appear to be injured and is still on the roadway.

Use caution

Use caution when approaching the animal. Should you succeed in getting close enough to capture them, you stand a good chance of being scratched or bitten.

When moving toward the animal, speak calmly to reassure them. Make sure they can see you at all times as you approach, and perhaps entice them to come to you by offering a strong-smelling food such as canned tuna or dried liver.

Lure them into your car

If you are certain you can get help from animal control very soon, try to lure the animal into your car with food, close the door and wait for help. In most cases it isn't a good idea to attempt to drive somewhere with a strange dog unrestrained in your car they may become frantic or aggressive. Cats may do the same, as well as lodge themselves under the car seat, and it can be dangerous trying to extract them.

Call for backup

If you're not able to safely restrain the animal, call the local animal control agency (in rural areas, call the police). Do so whether or not the animal is injured, and whether or not they are wearing an identification tag. Leave your phone number with the dispatcher, and try to get an estimate of how long it may take someone to respond. If possible, stay on the scene to keep an eye on the dog or cat until help arrives. Make sure you report to authorities precisely where the animal is by using road names, mile markers or landmarks.

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Watch the video: Adopting a Stray Cat: Tigers Story (October 2021).

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