Feral cats are equally protected in law as domestic cats and are more susceptible to disease. Simply removing feral cats isn't a long-term solution - a new colony will often move in. Despite their wild nature, feral cats still need a level of care. With many ferals living in colonies, the cat population can grow quickly. The best option is to neuter all of the feral cats within as short a time frame as possible, reducing the size of the colony.
How do feral cats survive?
Cats are extremely resourceful creatures and can adapt to many different habitats. They will make sheltered homes for themselves using whatever is available; such as barns, tree hollows, under decking/sheds or even in abandoned cars and buildings. Unlike pet cats which often don’t get on with other felines, feral colonies will often naturally develop. These are usually made up of groups of related females and the territory and size of the colony is directly related to the availability of food, water and shelter. Cats within the colony recognise each other by sharing their scent through rubbing against each other. Although they appear close, they are not completely reliant upon each other and will hunt and eat alone. If an unfamiliar cat intrudes on their territory, they will soon see it off. Feral cats are not always found in colonies – some will live in pairs or have a solitary lifestyle.
Ferals will hunt small rodents and birds and occasionally other creatures such as frogs. While most ferals are resourceful when it comes to finding food, it is a good idea to keep an eye on them during the winter. If you suspect a feral cat is sick or injured, they can be trapped and taken to the vet.
At Evesham Adoption Centre we offer a Trap, Neuter and Return scheme (TNR) for feral cats, which can help to limit disease and get populations under control.
We will conduct a site visit to assess the health status, location and priority of the ferals, and see how many cats need to be neutered. We will ask you to establish a set feeding routine with the cats over the course of a week or two. This is to try and encourage the ferals to be around at a certain time, to increase our chances of trapping them successfully.
On the day of neutering, we will come back to the site to safely capture the ferals in a humane cat-trap - similar to cages. We will then transport the cats to the vets. If the colony is large or the trapping is unsuccessful for any reason, it may take several visits for us to neuter all the cats at the site. Trapping and neutering a large feral colony can take weeks and regular monitoring is needed to make sure that no cats are missed. Ideally, any breeding females will be TNR'd first, to avoid growth in colony size while the process is taking place. Cats Protection will cover the cost of neutering the feral cats however, donations are always appreciated.
Upon arrival, the vet will place the feral cat under anaesthetic immediately, so it doesn't become stressed by being in close contact with people. Once under anaesthetic, the cat will have a full health check, be given flea and worm treatment and a vaccination to protect it from feline diseases. The vet will then neuter the cat and 'ear tip' it. Any other minor health issues will also be addressed, (only minor ailments can be treated in feral cats. If they have significant illness or injury, they may have to be euthanised on welfare grounds). The cat will then be given an injection of long-acting pain relief. In some instances, the vet may also take a blood sample to test the cat for FIV and FeLV. For more information, download our FIV/FeLV guide.
Once the cat is awake and has recovered from the anaesthetic, we will collect it from the vets and return it to it's home territory later that day or, in some cases, the following day.
If you'd like more information on TNR or would like to arrange TNR for a feral colony, please phone 01386 833 343 or email Evesham@cats.org.uk
What is 'ear-tipping'?
Trapping a feral cat to get them to the vets for neutering can be a stressful process – for both the cat and the trapper. As feral cats are particularly scared of humans and don’t like being confined in small spaces, it can take a lot of time and effort.
To make sure an already neutered feral cat isn’t trapped unnecessarily, they will have their ear ‘tipped’ or 'notched'. This is where between a half centimetre and one centimetre of the tip of the left ear is removed while the cat is under anaesthetic. This serves as a permanent visual mark that the feral has been neutered, and it can be seen from a distance. Ear tipping doesn’t harm the cat as it is surgically removed by a veterinary professional while the cat is under anaesthetic. It heals quickly and has no lasting effects.
Why not just remove feral cats?
Catching and removing feral cats may temporarily reduce the numbers, but this leads to what is known as the ‘vacuum effect.’ Any cats left behind will continue to breed and others will move into the area which is clearly a good source of food and shelter. The solution is to trap, neuter and return (TNR) the cats. Over a period of years this will reduce the size of the colony. A controlled, healthy and stable colony will deter other feral cats from moving in and will keep vermin levels down. In very rare instances, relocation may be necessary but should generally be avoided. Relocation of feral cats is extremely stressful for them, as they become very dependent on the familiarity of their own environment. Feral cats should not just be released elsewhere. An appropriate habitat needs to be found and the cats need a period of adjustment while they learn where they can find food and shelter. We will only look to relocate ferals if their current territory puts them at severe risk and danger. We will not relocate ferals just because they are unwanted. Remember, cats are protected by law and killing or harming any cat constitutes an offence.
Cats learn what is normal at a very young age, during what is known as a 'socialisation period.' Between the ages of two to six weeks, kittens can learn to enjoy human contact, forming a bond and becoming great pets. Feral cats are usually the offspring of stray, feral or abandoned cats and have missed out on this early experience, making them likely to be very wary of humans.
Very young feral kittens can sometimes be socialised with humans through gentle handling and positive experiences before they become too fearful of people. However, genetics also plays a role in the confidence and friendliness of cats, and it can sometimes be better for the welfare of feral kittens for them to be neutered and returned to the wild. We will assess any kittens accordingly during the site visit and if we feel they can be socialised, we may bring them back to the Adoption Centre for eventual rehoming.
Some people view feral cats as pests. Thankfully, many more – particularly farmers, stable owners and smallholders – value them for their role as working mousers that protect grain and feed. A healthy feral colony can really help to keep the vermin levels down. Feral cats thrive outdoors and provide excellent pest control for small holdings, farms, liveries and other rural environments. We are always interested to hear from people who would be willing to take on one or more working feral cats. If you think you can offer employment to working cats, please call us on 01386 833 343 or email Evesham@cats.org.uk
All feral cats will come to you neutered, vaccinated, ear-tipped and treated for fleas/worms. There is no adoption fee, although a small donation is always appreciated.
Despite their wild nature, feral cats still benefit from a certain level of care. In return for their mousing services, all they ask for is 1-2 meals a day and some shelter, such as a barn, stable or shed. When they first come to you, the ferals will need to be confined to their new shelter for 2-4 weeks, while they adjust to their new surroundings and routine. After this time, they can be released outside.
Only offer food if the feral cats have been neutered. This is important because feeding unneutered cats increases the number of kittens that are born. It is also not in any cat’s interests to become fat and this is particularly true of feral cats as it affects their agility and chance of survival – so avoid overfeeding. Contrary to popular belief, regularly fed feral cats are better hunters than hungry ones.
Some farmers may be concerned that feral cats could be the source of a parasite called Toxoplasma, which can cause miscarriage in ewes. Although cats can catch Toxoplasmosis, they quickly become immune, just two weeks after being infected. Cats catch Toxoplasmosis from eating infected raw meat or rodents. The only way the disease can be transmitted is if the ewe ingests the infected cat’s faeces in its feed or water – so the risk to sheep is extremely low. Vets agree that there is no risk to non-pregnant, healthy sheep. A healthy, stable colony of neutered cats is at much lower risk of Toxoplasmosis than a breeding colony which continually produces vulnerable kittens. A further risk of Toxoplasma to sheep arises from other cats or kittens moving in. An established feral colony will guard their territory, so instead of trying to maintain a cat-free area, keeping a healthy neutered feral colony around is more likely to naturally keep such outsiders away.