They live in sheds under broken down cars and condemned buildings. Their lives are short and harsh as they struggle to find food, water and shelter in an environment filled to the brim with threats of disease, cruelty and predation. In short, they’re abandoned to the wild and they desperately need our help!
The DSPCA recognises the feral cat population in Ireland is a very serious issue and applauds those working responsibly toward finding a solution.
Whether you currently take care of feral cats or wish to begin a feral cat programme, we would like to help you with regard education and resources.
Some points regarding feral cats:.
• Ferals deserve to be taken care of just as much as those cute domestic kitty cats who share our homes. Ferals are usually victims of abandonment, accidental loss and failure by owners to spay/neuter their pets.
• It’s very easy to confuse a feral with a stray cat. Ferals don’t usually adapt, or may never adapt, to living as pets in close contact with people, but they still require our help. Many Ferals don’t survive, if they do, their lives are far from easy without human caretakers.
• Free roaming cats have a huge impact on wildlife and it’s important to acknowledge this as part of the dynamic of dealing with Ferals. There is a growing need for community-wide Trap- Neuter-Return programmes or TNR. This is a programme which helps improve the health and quality of life for feral cats and prevents more from being born into this dangerous and difficult existence. It’s vital to reduce their numbers whether you’re concerned about, indifferent to, or annoyed by them.
How you can help feral cats in your community
Firstly, if you’re feeding feral cats you obviously care about them. Feeders that don’t realise there are or can’t find resources to have the cats spayed and neutered while the numbers are manageable are often overwhelmed by kittens, kittens and even more kittens that arrive during kitten season; i.e. April to October.
What is a Colony Caretaker/Feeder?
This is a person(s) who manages a feral cat colony in a community. They keep an eye on the cats, provide food, water and shelter and if required emergency veterinary care. Some shelters provide affordable spay/neuter services and medical services to such people. In fact the DSPCA provides affordable, low cost spay/neuter facilities to those in charge of feral cat colonies at a cost of €25 per cat. We also provide low cost, affordable veterinary facilities to those in receipt of social welfare payments. This is done through our mobile unit. If you require further information on our TNR programme, please ring us on 01-4994700 and we can make an appointment for you.
For Caretakers/Feeders – a bit of background info
The DSPCA receives thousands of feral cats every year and at least half of them are humanely euthanised. This may occur for many reasons, including illness, injury, temperament, scarcity of homes, etc.,
Ferals are usually the most significant source of our cat population. They produce approximately eighty per cent of the kittens born in Ireland each year. If a feral survives kitten hood, the average lifespan is less than two years if living on its own without the aid of a caretaker. If he is lucky enough to live in a colony that has a caretaker, he could live for ten years.
What is the difference between a feral and a stray cat?
Strays are tame pets that are lost or abandoned. They are accustomed to contact with people and may be reunited with their families or adopted into new homes.
Feral cats are the offspring of lost or abandoned pet cats or other Ferals who are not spayed or neutered. They are unaccustomed to contact with people and are too fearful and will not liked to be handled. Feral cats who have spent their lives outdoors don’t usually adapt to indoor life.
Reducing the number of feral cats and managing their care is the goal of our TNR programme. The basics of TNR involve trapping the cats in a feral colony, having them spayed or neutered, vaccinated and identified by ear tipping and returning them to their original territory where a caretaker provides regular food and shelter and monitors the colony for new comers and any other problems.
Ear tipping is a procedure where a quarter inch off the tip of the left ear is removed in a straight line, done while the cat is under anaesthetic during spays or neuter surgery. It is the only reliable method known for identifying such cats.
Life is difficult for feral cats that aren’t managed through the TNR programme. They are constantly searching for food in bins and hunting birds etc., They may also be fed by well meaning people who don’t realise they really should be spayed or neutered as soon as possible. Others who are interested in getting the cats spayed/neutered cannot find vets who will work with Ferals or can’t find low cost options because they are unable to afford the procedure.
Without spaying/neutering feral cats their numbers will rapidly increase. An unspayed feral cat can become pregnant at 5 months and have a litter per year with an average of 3 to 4 kittens per litter. Up to seventy five per cent of those kittens may die from lack of nutrition, disease, worms/parasites, etc., Those who survive become feral as they have not been socialized with people at a young age. Un-neutered males will roam in search of food and will fight for mates. They can be hit by cars, poisoned or killed by wildlife.
Feral cats usually live in a colony which occupies a specific territory where food is available. Usually a restaurant wheelie bin area or a person who feeds them. They usually live beneath a porch, in a shed, under garden decking or an abandoned building.
So, what are the problems associated with Feral Cats?
If left unaddressed, Ferals create significant challenges to the animal welfare system. Shelters may have to euthanise them because they are unadoptable as domestic pets. There is also an increase on the financial strain associated with caring for and euthanizing these cats.
From a human point of view, people are bothered by feral cats for many reasons, including the pungent odour of unneutered males spraying urine to mark their territory, the loud noise associated with cats fighting and mating, the disturbing presence of sick, injured and dying animals, predation on birds and other wildlife, the unwanted intrusion of cats on their property and concern about cats transmitting diseases to other cats.
When feral cats are not managed and/or there is concern for their safety, people often want the cats to be taken away. However, once the cats are spayed and neutered and the neighborhood is educated about TNR, hostile situations quickly dissipate. In addition, feral cats are intimately tied to their own territory where they were born and have lived their entire lives. Relocating them, even if done properly, should only be considered as a last resort when there is no possibility of allowing them to stay.
Many schools, colleges, parishes, farms, etc., love to have feral cats on their properties. Simply the presence and scent of these animals is usually enough to discourage the presence of rodents and keep animal food supplies safe.
In addition to relocating feral cats to barns and stables, the other reason to consider relocation would be if the cats are in imminent danger, for example, the empty building they are living in is scheduled for demolition. Again, I must stress, relocation should be a last resort because even when it’s done properly, many of the cats will disappear after they are released, in search of their old territory.
Do Ferals Kill Birds?
Some do but so do domestic cats. Cats are hunters and even the best fed cat will always have a hunting instinct to go after birds; however, Ferals prefer to hunt and kill rodents. There are other issues surrounding the death of birds such as the decline of natural habitat and the use of pesticides which have a more negative impact on the bird population.
When the kitten is ready to leave the mother, if we can trap him, foster and socialise him until he is old enough to be adopted by a pet parent, then he has every chance of making a wonderful family pet.
Taming a Feral Kitten
Here are some tips:
• Whenever possible, kittens should continue to nurse until six to eight weeks old—this can be done in captivity.
• Do not let feral kittens run loose—they can hide in tiny spaces and are exceptionally difficult to find and catch.
• Confine the kittens in a dog crate, cat condo or cage with a small litter box, food, water and something snuggly to cuddle in.
• Food is the key to socializing. Give the kitten a small amount of wet food by hand at least twice a day—eventually the kitten will associate your presence with food. For those who are more feral, start by offering baby food or wet food on a spoon through the cage.
• Younger and less feral kittens can be picked up right away. Make a kitty burrito by wrapping the kitten in a towel, allowing her head to stick out.
• Once the kitten no longer runs away from you but instead comes toward you seeking to be fed, held and pet, you can confine her to a small room.
• Be sure to expose the kitten to a variety of people.
• Do not forget about the mum—spaying her is essential.
Issues Revolving Around Ferals
Not everyone wants cats in their gardens. Learn as much as you can about TNR so that you can knowledgably talk to neighbours about its advantages, including that noise, odour and endless litters of kittens are discontinued by neutering/spaying.
If you live in a neighbourhood where your neighbour doesn’t want a feral cat colony, then deterrents to discourage cats from their garden can be put into place. First off, just keep the feeding station away from their garden area and work together with your neighbours to resolve their issues.
Explain the facts about TNR; tell them what it is and how it reduces the number of feral cats. If the cats are walking on your neighbour’s car, offer to buy a car cover. In addition to the deterrents that you can offer your neighbour, you may be able to reduce the cats’ roaming by providing them with shelter and a litter area (not near where you feed them) on your property. One option is to fill a sand box with woodstove pellets. They’re inexpensive and you can see what needs to be removed: i.e. feces and sawdust (the pellets change to sawdust when mixed with urine). Just make sure the pellets you get don't have any toxic additives.
There are many ways to discourage cats from claiming others’ yards or gardens as their own through the use of deterrents. In addition, you may want to consider building or purchasing a ‘cat fence’ or similar enclosure for your property. Make the enclosure escape‐proof and make toxic plants, garden chemicals and other dangerous objects inaccessible.
It may not be possible to satisfy a neighbour who may wish to be rid of the cats. However, it is illegal for them to dump the cats. That’s considered abandonment. It is legal, and required, that people take a cat they’ve trapped to a shelter.
What do you do if you find a stray cat?
• Check with your neighbors to see if their cat is missing.
• Bring the cat to a shelter or veterinary clinic to be scanned for a microchip
• Notify all local veterinary hospitals and shelters so they can post the information in their lost-and-found websites.
• Consider fostering the cat rather than bringing her to the shelter.
• Check classifieds for lost pets and run a ‘found’ ad of your own. Make sure your description is brief so that callers will need to truly identify the cat to make sure they are the rightful owners.
So, do you still want to become a colony caretaker?
Below are a few pointers.
• Offer your help to already established colony caretakers and gain some experience.
• Ring your local animal welfare shelter for advice.
• Care for the cats’ ongoing needs such as feeding, trapping, neutering, and transportation to and from the vet, temporary housing for cats following surgery and fostering and socialising kittens for the purpose of finding them loving homes.
• Start with the cats in your own garden/area and educate yourself about TNR and learn how to humanely trap cats for the purpose of spay/neuter.
For more information contact the DSPCA on 01-4994700