Stray Cats Versus Feral Cats: How You Can Help
Though the majority of BaxterBoo.com customers are dog owners, many are animal lovers in general. We hope you'll allow us to focus a bit more on cats this month, and particularly this week, since National Feral Cat Day is observed October 16th.
National Feral Cat Day and Month were established to raise awareness to the plight of the millions of homeless cats that live around us. To understand how to help these abandoned animals, it is helpful to understand what a feral cat is versus a stray.
A stray cat is a formerly-owned cat that has been lost or abandoned. They have had contact with humans and have been socialized, so they have the potential of being reintroduced as a family pet. If a stray cat is not spayed or neutered, they will find other stray or free-roaming cats to reproduce with. Microchipping and sterilizing your pet cat will ensure that, should your cat get lost, they can find their way back to you and not contribute to the out-of-control cat population.
A feral cat is a domesticated cat that has had little to no human contact and have reverted back to their wild behaviors. These cats are the descendants of stray cats. Unless these cats were trapped as kittens, it is unlikely that these cats can be household pets. Occasionally, over time, these cats can learn to trust humans that care for them who provide food, water and shelter.
A feral cat colony is made up of free-roaming cats (strays and feral cats) who live in close proximity to each other. These cats have returned to their wild behaviors, functioning like a lion pride. These groups often consist of feral mother cats and their kittens who have banded together for survival. A few male cats generally roam the perimeter of their territory, looking for mates, fighting each other and chasing off other males. These free-roaming homeless cats have an average lifespan of two to four years (as compared to an average lifespan of 14 years for a household cat.)
Like all wild animals, feral cats deserve to be respected and cared for. Feral cats serve a beneficial purpose, including keeping away pests such as rodents, snakes and scavengers. Traditional campaigns to eradicate cat populations are generally unsuccessful and the void they leave often upset the balance of other animal populations, leaving rodents unchecked. Additionally, the void created by removing cats only encourage more cats to move in to take their place, either by reproducing or migration. This is called a vacuum effect, and the killing cycle simply repeats itself.
In uncontrolled colonies, wild cats will fight, spray, and breed exponentially. If managed properly, feral colonies can benefit an area by controlling diseases found in rodent populations.
Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is the most successful method of decreasing the number of cats in the wild. It also costs local governments and residents the least amount of money and offers the best possible results for the animals and people involved. TNR encourages the public to trap, sterilize, vaccinate, and return feral cats to their territory to live out the rest of their lives. When practiced on a large scale, TNR dramatically reduces the number of kittens and cats impounded at local shelters.
Photos by Mary Dunn, taken at the Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue.