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The Good Samaritan’s Guide: How to Help Feral Cats

17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes famously described life outside society as “nasty, brutish, and short”. The same can be said for the lives of feral cats (also called “community cats”). Feral cats generally eat from trash bins and must deal with temperature extremes, traffic, mistreatment from humans and other cats, infections, disease, flea infestations, and more.

Anyone who lives near a population of community cats knows how quickly their numbers can grow, and how susceptible the individuals are to disease and injury. Knowing how to help feral cats is key in reducing their numbers and keeping the population healthy.

Life on the Fringe

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), a feral cat is defined as “any cat who is too poorly socialized to be handled…and who cannot be placed into a typical pet home”. Unlike a stray cat, who has become lost or been abandoned by the owners, feral cats are not used to contact with people and are generally too fearful or aggressive to be handled or adopted.

Feral cats are usually the offspring of lost or abandoned pet cats. There are currently about 70 million feral cats in the United States, roughly the same number as cats who live in homes.

Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)

Trap-Neuter-Return, also known as TNR, is widely accepted by professionals as an acceptable way to reduce the number of feral cats and to improve their quality of life. TNR involves:

  • Humanely trapping feral cats
  • Spaying or neutering them
  • Providing a rabies vaccine
  • Returning the cats

Relocating or euthanizing feral cats does not solve the problem. Feral cats tend to congregate near resources, and removing the existing population simply frees up the resources, which may attract a new feral cat colony.

How You Can Help Feral Cats

As pet owners and animal lovers, it’s natural to want to help a cat who appears homeless. Here’s how to safely and effectively help a stray or feral cat:

  • If a cat is tame, he or she may be a lost pet. If you cannot locate the cat’s owner using traditional means and social media, the next step is to find the cat a new permanent home through a local shelter or rescue organization.
  • If the cat is unapproachable, even after several days of feeding, it’s probably feral. Contact one of the many local organizations that provide or assist with TNR, including the Michigan Humane Society, All About Animals, and Voiceless MI.
  • Helping feral cats doesn’t stop once a cat or colony has been “TNR-ed”. A healthy cat colony should have a human caretaker who provides for the ongoing needs of the cats, including food, fresh water, shelter, monitoring for illness, providing TNRs for any new arrivals, and removing young kittens and tame cats for possible adoption.

Your friends at Oakland Veterinary Referral Services applaud your efforts as a Good Samaritan, and we are happy to help as we can. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with your questions and concerns regarding stray or feral cats.

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