Introduction to the Feral Cat

What is a feral cat?

Feral cats are cats that live on their own in the wild because they were abandoned by their owner, lost their way from their original home, or were born to a feral or stray mother cat.  Feral cats live ‘on the streets’ and have had little to no human contact.   There are varying degrees of being *feral*.  A totally-feral cat has had no human contact or abusive human contact, will be extremely frightened of people, and will avoid people at all costs.   A semi-feral cat is one who has had limited human contact in the past, and may come near people or may even allow themselves to be fed but will still be very timid and skittish near humans.   A slightly-feral cat is one who previously was a pet and either got lost or was abandoned.  This type of cat will revert to feral behaviors once outside, but has had positive human encounters and therefore may approach people or allow themselves to be pet.

Why are there feral cats?

Feral cats are abandoned or lost domesticated cats, or are kittens born to those unspayed/unneutered abandoned or lost domesticated cats.  Unspayed mothers will have litter after litter of feral kittens which will grow up and multiply the problem if they aren’t spayed by watchful cat lovers.  It is estimated that in a ten year time period a single female cat, between her litters and the litters of her offspring, can extend the population by over a quarter of a million cats!   Thus we have come to the situation we face today – overpopulation of cats.  For this reason our shelters are overrun with cats and kittens that are found as ‘strays’.  Millions of these animals are euthanized when there is no person available to adopt them.  In this country, 17,000 cats are euthanized a day. Many of these animals are healthy and adoptable, but there is no one to care for them.  And the ‘homeless’ cats that wander our streets spread disease and usually lead short lives and have slow painful deaths.

How do feral cats survive?

Cats are skilled survivors and adaptable to many environments.  If left on their own in the wild, they will find a way to live, but not necessarily thrive.  A feral cat without any human intervention usually leads a very harsh and short life (however if unspayed/unneutered they will most likely reproduce at least once during this short lifetime). A majority of them die at an early age of disease, malnutrition, or become the victims of malevolent humans or animals.  During their time alive they will usually band together in a feral colony for survival. This colony will work as a team to hunt and protect each other.

What can be done to help decrease the number of feral cats?

First, owners must be convinced that it is unacceptable to abandon their animals.  Many owners feel that cats can survive quite well on their own, and thus when they are tired of them or can no longer take care of them, simply drop them off somewhere or leave them behind when they move.  These cats will revert to feral behaviors, a feral lifestyle, and if not spayed or neutered, will reproduce and contribute to the overpopulation problem.  Second, all cats should be spayed or neutered.  Even if you have an indoor-only cat who never gets outside, remember Murphy’s Law–accidents will happen.  Spayed and neutered cats have a reduced risk of hormonally-related illnesses and they have a lower chance of behavioral problems, so there is never a good reason not to spay or neuter. If you think your cat will miss out on the wonders of mothering, there are plenty of kittens to adopt at shelters, and female cats often make great foster moms.  Third, we need to try to control feral cat breeding and keep population in check.  In the past, feral cats who were trapped or spotted were immediately euthanized.  However today most activists and experts go with the (TNR) approach which stands for Trap-Neuter-Release/Rescue.   This policy is working wonders and is greatly reducing the number of cats euthanized in communities where concerned cat lovers monitor feral cat colonies and abide by the TNR method.