WHAT ARE FERAL CATS?
Feral cats are cats who are not owned and are not sufficiently socialized to humans to be candidates for adoption. Feral cats are the end result of owned pets who were not spayed or neutered, and then escaped or were allowed to roam. Feral cats can cause neighbourhood problems as they forage for food, and when they display noisy mating behaviour. Residents are also disturbed by the number of ferals that sometimes congregate together in family or social groups known as “colonies”.
The growth in the number and size of these colonies is due to unrestrained reproduction, which produces litters of kittens for whom homes cannot be found, and who can’t be accommodated in already overcrowded animal shelters.
WHAT ARE STRAY CATS?
Stray cats are cats who were previously owned, and who have sufficient potential for re-socialization, making them suitable candidates for adoption. They are pets who got lost or were abandoned by their owners. While feral cats must be taken in as young kittens if they are to be socialized and adopted, it is often possible to re-socialize mature stray cats, permitting them to live with humans again.
WHAT ARE FERAL COLONIES?
Feral cats often live together in social and family groups called “colonies”. Colonies can be as small as 2-10 cats on residential properties, or as large as 50-100 cats in urban industrial and public areas.
The cats form close bonds with each other and will often defend the colony’s territory from other cats who might seek to access their food and shelter. “Managed” colonies are those that benefit from the attention of caring humans or “caretakers”. Caretakers feed the cats and provide shelter and veterinary care, including spay/neuter surgery, which reduces or eliminates nuisance mating behaviour and prevents more unwanted kittens from being born.
ARE FERAL CATS DANGEROUS?
Feral cats generally avoid humans. If a cat approaches you, it is likely not a feral cat but a stray or a pet. If you decide to trap a feral cat for spay/neutering, make sure the person trapping the cat has educated her/himself about the process. Feral cats are not socialized and may act aggressively if they feel cornered or threatened, and feel the need to escape.
WHAT IS TRAP-NEUTER-RETURN (TNR)?
Trap-Neuter-Return is a caring and non-lethal response to the problem of feral cats. Under a TNR program, cats are trapped, sterilized and returned to their territory. Returning cats to their colony prevents other cats from moving in to occupy the same area, as the established cats will defend it from intruders. At the time of spay/neuter surgery, the cats are also vaccinated and treated for fleas, ear mites, and worms, and any other acute conditions that may require veterinary attention. After spay/neuter surgery, caretakers continue to feed and shelter the cats and monitor their condition.
The “Neuter” in Trap-Neuter-Return is the key to solving the pet overpopulation problem because TNR is, above all, a population control program that reduces and controls feral cat numbers through sterilization. TNR programs have been shown to lower animal shelter intake numbers and euthanasia rates. With GTA shelters full, and rescue groups stretched to capacity, TNR is the most effective and humane strategy for dealing with feral cats.
For some excellent resources on TNR, see the TNR section of our Resources page.
WHY IS THE SPAY/NEUTERING OF FERAL CATS SO IMPORTANT?
Cats can reproduce at an astonishingly rapid rate. Though many feral offspring die due to the harsh conditions into which they are born, others survive and go on to reproduce many times in their lives.
Global warming is also believed to be increasing feral cat numbers by extending the warmer part of each year during which they typically reproduce.
Only the spaying or neutering of owned cats can prevent them from straying into the wild and reproducing as feral cats
Only the spaying or neutering of feral cats can reduce the actual number of kittens and cats living in our gardens and on our streets.
HOW CAN I HELP SPAY/NEUTER THE FERAL CATS IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD?
Implementing a Trap-Neuter-Return program requires careful thought and planning, and specialized equipment. The Resources page of our site will help you learn about these aspects of TNR. If you decide to begin trapping feral cats in order to spay/neuter them, look through these resources well in advance to ensure that you thoroughly understand the TNR process.
If you live in Toronto or the surrounding area, visit this page of our website for details how to access TNR spay/neuter clinics for feral cats.
If you prefer to help out at an existing colony, there are many other tasks aside from trapping. You can:
- help with feeding
- help to build and maintain shelters
- offer to drive cats to/from the spay/neuter clinic
- offer a room in your house to monitor cats recovering from spay/neuter surgery
AREN’T PEOPLE WHO FEED FERAL CATS ONLY MAKING THE PROBLEM WORSE?
It’s true that only feeding feral cats does not address overpopulation and neighborhood nuisance problems. But NOT feeding feral cats isn’t the solution. Even starving cats will mate. And the kittens they produce are not only unwanted; they may also be malnourished and diseased. Spay/neutering is the only effective way to reduce feral cat numbers, but there is no reason that cats should be starved to death while humans get that job done.
In fact, feeding a feral colony is the first step in bringing the colony under control through spay/neutering. Regular feeding puts the cats on a schedule which ensures successful trapping, while a nutritious diet helps them tolerate the stress of surgery and post-operative confinement. Once the cats have been sterilized and returned to the colony, they should continue to be fed, watered and sheltered to keep them healthy. Healthy cats are in everyone’s interest.
I NEVER SEE ANY FERAL CATS IN MY AREA. ARE YOU SURE THEY’RE THERE?
Feral cats generally fear humans and avoid them wherever possible by hiding out of sight. Foraging for food is also easier for cats at night when humans are asleep. It is therefore not surprising if you do not see evidence of feral cats during the day. However, feral cat TNR groups have worked for years late into the night to care for and sterilize feral colonies. These groups report large numbers of cats living in the gardens, streets, abandoned buildings and ravines in the GTA. All these groups believe the number of feral cats is increasing for want of high-volume spaying/neutering.
SHOULD I TRY TO TRAP FERAL CATS AND TAKE THEM TO THE LOCAL HUMANE SOCIETY/ANIMAL SHELTER?
All animal shelters in the GTA are overcrowded. Also, feral cats do not respond well to living in cages. You should be aware that cats who cannot be tamed or adopted may face euthanasia at a shelter. Talk to your local animal shelter about their feral cat policy before surrendering a cat to them. As an alternative, consider how you can improve the lives of feral cats and the health of your neighborhood at the same time, by organizing a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program.
HOW CAN I GET FERAL CAT WINTER SHELTERS:
Visit the following page of our website for details how to get one of our ‘already-made’ shelters. Or visit the following link to see various DIY options (from super easy to more complex versions).
Thank you to Community Cats Toronto for their research which we have shared, above.