Feral / Community Cat FAQ
“Community cat” is a term for the free-roaming cats in an area. These cats can be feral cats that may never have had an owner or more socialized, stray cats that have been abandoned by an owner or are lost from their homes. Community cats vary in behavior from being socialized with humans to being completely unsocialized and unapproachable.
A feral cat is any cat that is too poorly socialized to be handled and cannot be placed into a typical home. Most feral cats live in groups known as colonies near homes or businesses where people often feed them.
Feral cats are often the offspring of pet cats who were lost or abandoned and had not previously been spayed or neutered. These kittens, if they survive, will become feral without early socialization with people. Without spay/neuter, they will grow up, reproduce, and continue the cycle. Female cats can reproduce two to three times a year. Cats can become pregnant as early as four to five months of age and the number of cats in a colony rapidly increases unless the cats are spayed or neutered.
The most effective way of managing feral cats is through a process called Trap – Neuter – Return (TNR). Cats in a colony are trapped in a humane trap, taken to a clinic where they are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and then returned to their colony. This process improves the quality of life for feral cats, reduces their numbers, and reduces the nuisance behaviors. Very young kittens that are found in a colony should be removed, socialized and adopted into homes. These kittens should be spayed or neutered, prior to being placed into their new homes, to ensure they will not reproduce.
A colony of unaltered, feral cats can cause multiple problems including: an increasing number of cats; frequent and loud noise from fighting and mating behaviors; strong odors from unneutered male cats spraying to mark their territory; urine and feces; and the potential for suffering of sick and injured kittens and adult cats. In addition, large numbers of kittens and adult cats from unsterilized feral colonies end up in animal shelters, where they are usually euthanized, as they are unadoptable into traditional homes.
Feral cat colonies require ongoing care for best results. A feral colony caregiver monitors the colony for newcomers who are either born into the colony, abandoned there, or wander in from nearby. The newcomers and any unsterilized cats are trapped, spayed or neutered and returned to the colony. The colony caregiver also provides continued food, water and shelter to all colony cats. A caregiver will watch the colony for any sick or injured cats and any new litters of kittens, which should be removed for adoption.
Simply trapping and removing cats rarely works to reduce a feral cat colony population. Feral cats live in a certain location because they have found a source of food and shelter. If feral cats are removed from an area, cats from surrounding unmanaged colonies move in to take advantage of the newly available resources and start the cycle of reproducing and nuisance behavior all over again. As the remaining cats in a colony tend to have more kittens that survive to adulthood because of the reduced competition, the population rapidly regains its former size, or may actually increase.
Relocating feral cats is a difficult, time-consuming and often ineffective process. Moving cats from one colony to another is very stressful to the cats and is rarely successful. Allowing the cats to remain in their home colony through a TNR program is the most humane, effective and simple approach. It enables care for the largest number of cats with the fewest resources.
Shelters cannot provide an appropriate environment for feral cats. Feral, unsocialized cats cannot be adopted into conventional homes; therefore our only option is usually to euthanize them. We are sometimes able to locate acceptable “barn” homes but the options are limited due to the challenges of relocation.
We don’t have the personnel to assist with trapping. Trapping is done by good-hearted volunteer caregivers.
Traps can be purchased locally at feed and farm stores and through various online resources. Tomahawk Live Traps and Tru-Catch offer traps designed for use with feral cats. Many local shelters, though this does not include the Winchester SPCA, have traps that are available for rental for a small fee.