Why Can’t Animal Shelters Rescue Feral Cats
Animal shelters already care for and try to find homes for untold thousands of lost, injured and abandoned cats, in addition to pet cats whose owners are unable or unwilling to keep them.
Many animal shelters don’t have the staff or money to do TNR. However, shelters that receive calls of complaint or concern from the public may attempt to humanely trap and remove feral cats. Or they may provide information and loan traps to citizens interested in humanely trapping feral cats. If there is a local group helping feral cats, the shelter may refer callers to that group.
Because feral cats are so scared of people and usually cannot be adopted, those who are brought to a shelter, especially cats who cannot be identified as members of a known TNR-ed colony, are likely to be euthanized either right away or after a holding period. It’s a complicated situation: While it’s difficult to accurately identify a feral cat without observing them during a holding period, safely caring for a feral cat in a typical shelter cage is terribly stressful for the cat. In addition, if cage space is limited at the shelter, an adoptable cat may have to be euthanized to make room to hold a feral cat.
Why Are There Feral Cats
If they don’t have early contact with people, the kittens of stray or feral cats will become feral themselves, too fearful to be handled or adopted. Since a female cat can become pregnant as early as five months of age, the number of feral cats in a neighborhood can rapidly increase if cats aren’t spayed or neutered.
What To Do If You Find Older Kittens
Begin looking into spay/neuter options for the kittens immediately. Remember that cats can get pregnant as young as 5 months old so dont wait until they look like adult cats to have them spayed/neutered! FCCO spays and neuters cats as young as 2 months old, as do many other spay/neuter organizations. Even if you dont plan on keeping the kittens, get them spayed or neutered before finding them a new home.
The best option for kittens is to tame them, get them spayed/neutered, and find them forever homes where they are no longer living on the streets. Our Kitten Caboose program can help! Tame kittens brought to our clinic for spay/neuter services can be transferred to the Oregon Humane Society and adopted into homes.
If the kittens are friendly they were probably pets or the offspring of a pet or tame stray. Put up fliers in your neighborhood and call around to the shelters to see if anyone is looking for the kittens. If you suspect that the kittens were abandoned then you can consider getting a police report. Abandoning cats is illegal. They probably wont be able to do much to find out who abandoned the cat but it may help to have a record if more cats are abandoned in the same location.
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Here Are Some Common Scenarios You Might Encounter And How To Deal With Them
If you find kittens that are alone, determine if the mother has abandoned them or if she is just off looking for food. The only way to find this out is to wait. Often times, she will return within a few hours. Observe from a distance or a hidden spot to be sure she is not returning before moving the kittens. Use common sense and be patient.
- If the mother is feral and the kittens are old enough to be separated from her, you have a decision to make: commit to foster, socialize, and adopt out the kittens, or trap, neuter, and return the kittens when they are 8 weeks or two pounds.
What To Do If You Find Stray Kittens
If you find a litter of kittens, first, watch and wait! A kittens best chance of thriving is with its mother.
Momma Cat may be off finding food for herself, or she may be in the process of actively moving her litter to another location. Try to determine if the mother is coming back for them or if they are truly orphaned. Stand far away from the kittens 35 feet or more. If you stand too close, the mom will not approach her kittens. You might need to go away completely before the mother cat returns to attend to the kittens. It could be several hours before the mother cat returns until she no longer senses the presence of humans hovering near her litter.
If you need to leave before the mother cat comes back, carefully evaluate whether the kittens are in immediate danger: Is it raining or snowing on the kittens? Are there wild animals that might harm the kittens in the neighborhood? Does the neighborhood have kids or adults who are likely to harm the kittens? Are the kittens located in an area with heavy foot or car traffic?
To help with your decision, it is important to know that it might take several hours for the mother cat to return, and healthy kittens can survive this period without food as long as they are warm. Neonatal kittens are just as much at risk of hypothermia as they are of starvation. During the spring and summer months, waiting a long time to see if mom will come back is much safer than during frigid winter months.
If the mother cat returns
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How To Determine If A Cat Is Feral Vs Friendly
It can be hard to determine initially if a cat is feral or friendly . Even a friendly cat may be skittish at first until the cat learns to trust you. A friendly cat will usually warm up to a human within a few days if you are providing the cat with food and water and you are patient and non-threatening. It can be harder to determine if a mother cat with kittens is feral because she is likely to hiss and spit if you approach her kittens. So more time and greater caution may be needed when trying to determine if a mother cat is friendly or feral.
Have You Found A Stray Cat Or Litter Of Kittens Here Are Some Resources That May Help
Stray and Feral Kittens are an Epidemic: Between the months of March and September, every shelter in the region will be overrun with kittens, both orphaned litters and those with a mother. Many of these litters are either strays or ferals. Neither one has a legal owner however, the difference between a stray cat or a feral cat is that a stray cat is accustomed to people and a feral cat has lived in the wild and has been self-sufficient with little to no contact with people. For more information on caring for neonatal kittens,
Stray cats can often be socialized and then adopted. Feral cats generally cannot be easily socialized and adopted. However, kittens under four-months old can often be socialized and adopted even if born to feral cats.
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Determine If There Is A Mother Cat
Dont kitten nap! Resist your instinct to scoop up abandoned kittens right away. Even though they are adorable and helpless! It may seem counter-intuitive, but the best thing to do for the kittens is not to move them.
Keep an eye on them and see if a mother cat comes for them. Mom cats move their kittens often and she may be in the midst of moving them and on her way back to these seemingly abandoned kittens. Or she may be out looking for food. It is not unusual for a mom to leave her kittens for several hours looking for food. Stand at least 30 feet or more away from the kittens for a few hours to see if mom will return.
If you move the kittens, she wont be able to find them and continue to care for them.
If there is a mother cat, is she nursing and caring for the kittens? Its best to leave them with mom until theyre weaned.
Kittens begin to nibble at wet food at 4 weeks of age and are fully capable of eating on their own at 6 weeks. . Ideally mother and kittens should be provide with a shelter in a safe environment: a garage, outdoor cat house, or bathroom if the person is able to bring them indoors, until the kittens can eat on their own.
If you see no visible health problems , go ahead and leave food out for the mom and continue to monitor her as she cares for her kittens until they are eating solid food and are 5-6 weeks old.
For help determining the age of the kittens you are looking at, check out kittenlady.org/age.
How You Know Youve Been Adopted By A Stray Cat
When a cat starts coming around your house and looking for attention, begging for food or trying to sneak in your front door, theres a good chance youve been adopted, explains Megan Phillips, BS, ADBC.
Phillips is a cofounder of Train With Trust, a Colorado Springs-based company that offers personalized behavior solutions for owners of all types of animals. And if you start leaving food out, theres no question. That cat will keep coming back.
Phillips does note, however, that not all cats that come around begging are necessarily stray cats. She suggests that some cats may be indoor/outdoor cats that belong to a neighbor something about your yard or area.
Elise Gouge, a certified dog and cat behavior consultant and owner of Pet Behavior Consulting, LLC in Granby, Massachusetts, notes that while you may feel special that a cat has chosen your yard as her new hangout spot, she might have other adoptees in your area. Some cats are good at making the neighborhood rounds and having several friends they like to visit, she says.
Before assuming that a cat wants to adopt you, you should check to see if hes wearing a cat ID tag or bring him to a nearby animal hospital or rescue group to have him scanned for a microchip. If the cat has an owner, it is your responsibility to make a genuine effort to reunite cat and owner.
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What Do I Do If I Find Young Kittens Who Have A Mother
Ask your neighbors and put up fliers to determine if this is a cat who has a home or if this is a stray cat. If this is a stray cat you want to catch the mother cat and her kittens. Kittens benefit from their mother’s milk and attention. Keep them together in a confined area with a box or other shelter inside this area where the mom cat can hide . The kittens will come out to see you and the mom cat will hide in the box/carrier. Handle the kittens daily to get them used to people and then put them back with mom. If you have them confined and you can’t touch the kittens because the mother cat is protecting them, then remove the kittens from her at 5 weeks of age and begin taming them. Read more about taming/socializing kittens.
The most important thing you can do is get the mother spayed so she doesnt get pregnant again. She can be spayed safely while still nursing her kittens and she can also get pregnant while nursing her kittens, so dont wait too long to have the surgery done.
Take The Cat Into Your Home
The first rule of thumb for any animal that hangs around humans is this: animals go wherever the food is. A stray cat that has been hanging out in your neighborhood for an extended amount of time has stayed because it is being fed. Whether you are the primary feeder or someone else is doing it, food is being provided.
This should lead you to ask whether it is appropriate to take this cat into your home. If you own your own home, you dont have to worry about landlord permission. You do have to worry about who owns the cat, though. Taking the cat into your home will pretty much seal the deal as you being its new owner. Are you okay with not reuniting the animal with its original owner?
You also have to consider how taking the cat in will affect everyone else living in your home. You may have children with allergies or a spouse who absolutely abhors cats, or indeed, animals. Then there are frequent visitors to worry about, too. Maybe your primary babysitter is deathly afraid of cats. You never know.
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Try To Find The Cats Owner
In addition to any one of the previously described options, we would heartily suggest you attempt to find the cats owner. This is assuming the cat is really a stray and not a feral cat. There is a significant difference between the two.
A stray cat is a cat that, despite being a pet, has managed to wander away from home. This is a cat that is used to human companionship it is used to being fed by humans. It is not used to fending for itself out in your neighborhood.
A feral cat is a cat that was born outside of human care. It has always lived apart from humans and it knows how to fend for itself. Feral cats rarely make good pets because of their antisocial disposition. Many of them will not hang around for extended lengths of time because they just dont like humans.
With that way, here are some suggestions for locating the cats owner:
- Put an ad in your local newspaper describing when and where you found the cat.
- Post ads on classified sites, like Craigslist for example.
- Create some signs and post them on telephone poles, sign poles, and in the windows of local stores.
In all your efforts to locate the cats owner, also be on the lookout for signs that the owner is looking for you. The owner may create and post his/her own signs. He/she may put his/her own ad in the paper or go door-to-door looking for the animal. The more the two of you look for one another, the greater the chances you will find one another.
Feeding Schedule For Kittens By Weight And Age
Determining the age of the stray kitten right away is imperative. His age will mandate what hell eat as well as how much and how often.
Using a postal scale, heres a quick guide:
- Under 1 week old: kitten weighs less than 4 ounces. Feed formula: every two to three hours.
- 7 to10 days old: kitten weighs 4 to 6 ounces. Feed formula: every two to three hours.
- 10 to14 days old: kitten weighs 6 to 8 ounces. Feed formula: every three hours.
- 14 to21 days old: kitten weighs 8 to 12 ounces. Feed formula: every four hours.
- 4 to5 weeks old: kitten weighs 12 ounces to 1 pound. Feed mix of gruel/formula/kitten kibble: every four hours.
- 6 to7 weeks old: kitten weighs 1 pound to 1 pound and 8 ounces. Feed mix of kitten kibble and wet food four times a day.
- 8 weeks old: kitten weighs one and a half to 2 pounds. Fully weaned.
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What If The Kittens Are Not Tame And Will Not Let Me Handle Them To Bottle Feed
You should be able to handle the kittens even if not tame if they are under 4 weeks of age. Wrapping them in a small towel while feeding will help. If you cannot handle them mix some KMR with canned food and make it available to the kittens every 3 hours or so. The kittens will let you know when they are hungry by meowing. When they are full they will stop eating and then the food dish should be removed.
Trap Neuter Release Program
The best plan is to do something called TNR, which stands for Trap Neuter Release. This means that you work on trapping them, getting them spayed or neutered, and release them back to your area.
Most feral spaying and neutering programs will tip the feral cats ear trim the top of one ear in a straight line as a visual indicator that this cat is fixed and not reproducing.
If you can educate your neighbors about TNR and get all the feral cats in your neighborhood fixed, you will stem the growth of the cat population, and the released cats will keep more cats from moving in to their territory.
Many of the behavioral issues people complain about regarding strays such as fighting and urine marking will be eliminated and you will have free neighborhood rodent control.
TNR is really the only policy that works.
If the cats are feral and absolutely cannot stay in the area, the third choice is to contact your local feed store or horse associations.
Many people with horses and livestock are very happy to have barn cats to keep the rodent population down in their barns.
Once you find a group willing to give homes to ferals, you could trap them and get them to a vet for spaying and neutering, and then the barn owners could pick them up from the veterinarians office, set them up in a safe enclosed area for a couple of week so they can settle in, and then release them to the area.
Together, we took care of all the cats and became really good friends in the process.
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