So Much Love to Give: How Communities Can Help Feral Cats (and Strays!)
Homeless cats don’t have easy lives. They suffer through weather extremes, dangerous battles over territory, traffic, exposure to contagious diseases or parasites, and terrible mistreatment from people and other animals. They never know exactly where the next meal is coming from, or whether they’ll have a warm, dry place to sleep.
Stray cats are those that were, at one point or another, family pets. Whether they became separated or were abandoned, stray cats can be rehabilitated and re-homed. Feral cats, on the other hand, have never been dependent on human care and rely only on their survival skills. With more than 70 millions homeless cats in the U.S., how can communities help feral cats as well as strays?
The distinctions between stray, semi-wild, and feral cats hinge on their experiences with humans. Stray cats have been around people before and are more likely to depend on them for companionship, food, and possibly shelter.
It can be much harder to help feral cats and semi-wild cats because they are less sociable. Watch their body language: feral cats rarely lift their tails into a vertical position, a trademark signal of a friendly, domesticated cat.
A single mating pair of cats can lead to over 400,000 cats in just 7 years, if their offspring exponentially reproduce. The breeding season may include 2 litters (with an average litter size of 4-7 kittens). Female cats can become pregnant as early as 16 weeks of age, and may be able to reproduce throughout their entire lives.
With ever-growing numbers, it remains a huge priority to trap, neuter, and release (TNR) homeless cats back to their territories. Without TNR programs, these cats are highly susceptible to injury and illness, and can expose domesticated cats to dangerous diseases. Keeping their numbers down, and maintaining the health of existing population, will help feral cats as well as strays.
Other Ways to Help Feral Cats
Many cat lovers want to help feral cats, but don’t know what they should do. Once community cats have been spayed or neutered, you can create safe shelters for them out of plastic tote bins. Fill with newspapers or blankets.
You can also set out food and water for them, but only do so if you can sustain your effort in the long run. They will learn to depend on your supplies, and should continue to receive help in your absence.
When Adoption Makes Sense
It can be incredibly difficult to help feral cats through well-meaning adoptions. Accustomed to living on their own in the great outdoors, feral cats may not always make a graceful transition. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help out other cats that need homes! November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month. It’s a great reminder of the sheer volume of older cats that are still waiting to be taken home with loving owners.
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