our feral cats

Caring for Feral Cats: Bitty Kitty and Tom

Seems like we always have a couple feral cats hanging around.  Feral cats, different from stray cats in that they were never owned by anyone, and are wild and untouchable, and not adoptable.  Maybe we only catch them on a trail cam outside, but occasionally we see them.  Right now I have a couple  feral cats that adopted us, and because we feed them, they are ours now.  They spend much of their time on the front porch.  I swear our neighbors just tell them to come over to our house.  Or maybe they tell their friends.  Over the years we have had 3 or 4 stray cats that became wonderful indoor – outdoor house cats.

Feral cats do a couple things here at the homestead.  They are adept at catching mice, chipmunks and other small vermin.  As long as they are not TOO well fed, they will continue to hunt.

They are also indicative of something out of the ordinary – anything unusual that scares them will make them disappear in a shot.

And lastly, they are not fussy eaters, and will make short work of any meat based scraps, as well as any cheap dry cat food.

But since they adopted us, and we feed them, we are obligated to provide some care. This includes any veterinary work, and providing shelter and water.

I paid to have them spayed and neutered – since there is one male and one female, the last thing I needed was a bigger family.  I went on line to a spay/neuter page (Friends of Animals in my area) for a discounted coupon for the surgeries, and found a local vet who participated in the program.  Some places will even handle the surgeries for free under state programs for trap and release/return (TNR) programs.

I used a live animal trap to catch one at a time, and drop them off to the vet in the trap.  As feral cats we are not able to handle them (at least not yet). Then pick them up later  in the day – I left a cat carrier for them to be placed in asleep rather than the trap.  Since I have a small indoor kennel, they stayed inside for a day or two, then I opened the door, and off they went.

If you do have feral cats with kittens, catching the kittens as young as possible and handling them might make them tame  enough to allow them to be adopted.  Forget trying to tame a kitten that is 10 -12 weeks or older.  I find by that time they are hissing, biting and scratching machines.  The wildness is already there, and even if they tolerate human handling, they will not likely become cute cuddly house pets.  AS a child, one of my favorite games was to climb up into the haymow on the farm and try to catch any wild kittens the barn cats had.  it was quite warm in the mow, even in winter, and the mamma’s could hide their litters pretty well!  As a young girl I wasn’t afraid to reach out an grab a hissing, spitting kitten.  Age has taught me to be more careful, though I am still not afraid of grabbing a cat.  In the vet office and kennel I was always the one called to get cats out of a cage when a growling cat made staff nervous.

Now that it’s cold, we have made Bitty Kitty and Tom a house out of scrap plywood, with an exit door front and back (so they feel safe and have an escape route), and a small heating pad inside with bedding.  They are all comfy cozy.  Any kind of shelter will work –  a cardboard box, bales of old hay or straw, a plastic bin.  The main idea is to give them a place to get out of the wind and wet weather. An old building with a hole for entry is great.

Water is just an important, or more important, than food.  Raccoons tend to use our water dish as a hand washing station, so every morning we rinse it out and add fresh water. During winter, I have a heated water bowl to prevent water from freezing solid.

If you have neighbors close by, you might want to talk to them about any feral cat care, so they will understand why the cats are hanging about.  Not all people tolerate cats.  This is especially true for people who feed birds.  Birds are one of the top predatory species for a feral cat, and birds flying around feeders will make a feral cat lay in wait in a hiding spot, just ready to pounce.  Bird feeders should be kept up high and away from the sleeping/hiding/shelter areas of feral cats.

Do you care for feral cats?  What are your tricks for wild cat care?