Feral Cat FAQ’s

What is a feral cat?

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Feral cat colony feeding time

Feral cats are outdoor, free-roaming cats that have never been socialized to humans and are living in a “wild” state. This could be a formerly domestic cat that has been abandoned and has reverted back to a wild state or a cat that has been born on the streets and has never had any contact or interaction with humans. Feral cats look like regular domestic housecats, but because they have never been socialized, they are very fearful and distrustful of humans. Some arch their backs and hiss and show aggression; others avoid eye contact and just run. True ferals cannot be picked up or handled. Very often, you can’t even get close to them.

What is a stray cat?

Stray cats are former pets that have either been abandoned or have “strayed” from home and become lost. Stray cats are generally tame and handleable. These cats used to be cared for by an owner, but are now homeless and trying to survive on their own on the streets. Stray cats can be handled and pet, although they still may be skittish or frightened and run away from people. Generally, though, stray cats are friendly and exhibit similar temperaments as pet cats. Stray cats can and should be rescued off the streets and adopted into homes again.

What is a tame cat?

A tame cat is a friendly, domesticated cat. “Tame” refers to the disposition of the cat. Tame cats can either be 1) someone’s owned pet cat or 2) a friendly stray cat making his or her way on the street. Tame cats can generally be picked up, held or pet and they are used to being around or living with people.

What is TNR?

TNR stands for Trap-Neuter-Return. Trap-Neuter-Return is a community-based program. It involves concerned citizens like you trapping feral, free-roaming cats in your neighborhood, bringing them to a clinic like Mountain View Humane to get them spayed or neutered, and then returning the cats to the exact spot where you trapped them so they can live out the rest of their natural lives.

Why does TNR work?

Spaying and neutering the cats will end the cycle of homeless kittens being born so the population stabilizes and, over time, it reduces naturally. Once the cats are fixed, the problematic behaviors of howling, cat fighting and spraying also subside. Trap-Neuter-Return is the only humane way to effectively reduce the feral cat population, so that people and cats can peacefully co-exist.

What is an eartip? Why do I need to eartip a feral cat?

Eartipping is the universal symbol to identify that an outdoor or free-roaming cat has been fixed. This involves clipping off, or “tipping” the upper 1 centimeter of the cat’s left ear so that it’s straight across instead of coming up into a point. This is done while the cat is under anesthesia and it does not significantly alter the appearance or beauty of the cat.  Since feral cats are wild, you cannot get close enough to them or pick them up to tell if they have been fixed before, so the eartip allows you to recognize at a distance whether the cat has been fixed. It is a sign to your neighbors, other trappers and caregivers in the area, veterinarians and vet clinics, and even to Animal Control that the cat has been fixed.

 

Can’t I just trap the cats and remove them?

Trap and remove does not work. Cats are there in the environment because of two main reasons: 1) there is a food source (intended or not) and 2) there is some sort of shelter. When cats are removed from a location, it creates a “vacuum” effect — meaning the surrounding cats breed rapidly to fill in the gap, plus new cats move in to take advantage of the natural food and shelter. This vacuum effect is well documented. Trapping and removing cats often results in having even more unsterilized cats than when you started.

What if I take the cats to the shelter? Can’t the shelter find homes for them?

The shelter is a death sentence for feral cats. If you take feral cats or feral kittens to the shelter, any shelter, the shelter will kill (euthanize) them. Feral cats have never been socialized to humans so they are deemed “unadoptable” by the shelter, and they are not even shown to the public.

I feel bad for the feral cat. Can I just keep it as a pet?

Feral or “wild” cats are not pets. Feral cats already have a home…the outdoors. Feral cats are very fearful and distrustful of humans and therefore are un-adoptable. Confining them inside a home is like keeping them in captivity for life. Feral cats live outdoors just like other wildlife. If you want a pet, please adopt a tame cat from a shelter, as they all desperately need homes.

Feral kittens can often be adopted into homes, but only if they are socialized at an early age. Generally kittens up to around 12 weeks of age can be tamed relatively easily. However, the older the kittens get, the harder it is to tame them. Whether you can tame them or not also depends on the temperament of the kitten; some are more gentle and friendly than others. There is a critical window of time in which kittens must be socialized, and if they aren’t handled in time, they will remain feral and therefore unadoptable.

Stray cats, however, can be taken into homes as pets. Remember, stray cats used to be someone’s pet and were either abandoned or they “strayed” from home and became lost. These are cats that are used to being in homes and are struggling to survive on the street. Tame, friendly stray cats can and should be picked up off the street and adopted into homes again.

I’m way too busy to trap. What happens if I just ignore the cats?

If you ignore the cats, they will continue to breed. Rapidly and prolifically. Cats will start having litters when they’re only five months old. They can have three to four litters a year, usually of five to six kittens per litter. If you just ignore the situation, in a short time you can easily go from three or four cats to 30+. Trap-Neuter-Return is the only humane, effective solution to control the homeless cat population.

What if the cat is pregnant?

It is safe to spay a cat even if she is pregnant. The pregnancy will be ended. While later term pregnancies pose a slightly higher surgical risk, our veterinarians are highly experienced and it is safe to spay your cat at any point during the pregnancy. There are additional charges to spay a pregnant cat.

This female cat just had kittens. When should I get her spayed?

Please try to wait until the kittens are five weeks old before you trap and bring in the mom. Kittens under five weeks need their mom since they have to nurse every few of hours. They also require their mom to be able to keep warm, since they can’t hold in body heat on their own yet. They also need mom to help them go to the bathroom, because they don’t know to go to the bathroom on their own (mom has to lick them to stimulate them to go.) At about five weeks or older, the kittens can survive for a longer period of time without their mom, as they are eating and going to the bathroom on their own by that age.

After mom gets spayed, can she still nurse her kittens?

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Flank spay post-op

 

Yes, the mother cat can still safely nurse her kittens after the spay surgery. She will continue to produce milk and nursing won’t interfere with her ability to heal post surgery. In the case of a nursing mother cat, our veterinarians may opt to perform a “flank spay”. This places the incision on the side/abdomen of the cat about halfway down the left side from the spine and behind the ribs. Please monitor the incision as instructed in our post-operative instructions to ensure proper healing.It is also safe for the kittens to nurse; the milk will be fine. It is safe all around. You’ll just need to keep a close eye on her to make sure she is recovering properly.

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