When your pet cat drops a dead mouse at your feet it may seem like he can take care of himself pretty well, but the truth is that cats are domesticated animals that depend on humans. Feeding and caring for stray cats can help them to live longer, healthier lives.
Stray Vs. Feral
While many people use the terms stray and feral interchangeably, according to the Humane Society of the United States there is a difference. A stray cat is one that has lost his human family, but in the past was used to living with people. This type of cat is usually tame and may eventually accept a new family. Feral cats are born to strays or to other feral cats and have an element of wildness to them. These cats may never be able to accept living closely with humans. Both kinds of cats will benefit from human intervention.
Cats need shelter, especially in areas where the winters are cold and harsh. If you aren’t able to move the cat in with you or to find it a good home, make a small shelter from a large plastic storage bin. Cut a hole at least 6 inches across at one end of the bin and line it with reflective material. Cover the bottom with a piece of carpeting and use some black plastic to make an awning to protect the entrance. Place the shelter in a hidden place where nosy neighbors and stray dogs won’t bother it.
Feed strays that aren’t too frightened in a sheltered area of your porch or garage; feral cats will probably keep their distance until you put out the food and step away. It’s up to you whether you want to give the cats dry or canned food, but either will work. In bad weather put food inside the cat’s shelter or another safe spot, but in good weather it’s OK to set it outside. Offer them water at the same time. Pick up the dishes as soon as the cats are done to discourage other animals from moving in and taking over.
Sometimes people advocate simply trapping and removing all of the stray or feral cats in an area, especially if the cats are a nuisance. While this may take care of the immediate problem, it really doesn’t do much good in the long run. When one set of cats is removed, a new batch moves in and the problem continues after a short break. Trapping feral cats, neutering them and then returning them to their territory is not only humane, it also puts the brakes on constant breeding, fighting and wandering. Many trapping programs also vaccinate feral cats against rabies.
Cats who have had human families before will usually adjust to being with people again, with patience on your part. Get him used to the sight and sound of you by spending time with him, especially when he eats. Bring him indoors once he’s accepted you and continue to spend time with him. Provide him with a litter box, food, water and a secure spot to hide in when he feels stressed. Give him a place to perch, a cat post for scratching and toys to play with to make living indoors interesting. Take him to the veterinarian as soon as possible for shots and neutering.
- Feral Cat Caretaker’s Coalition: Shelters and Feeding Stations for Feral Cats
- Feral Cat Caretaker’s Coalition: Instructions for Feeding Feral Cats
- Alley Cat Allies: Colony Care Guide: Providing Food and Water
- The Humane Society of the United States: Feral Cats: Frequently Asked Questions
- The Stray Cat Handbook; Tamara Kruez
- The Humane Society of the United States: Home, Sweet Home: Bringing an Outside Cat In
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