Management of Colonies
Safety for Feral Cats
Safety of Feral Cats is priority. Not everyone shares a love of cats or has compassion for them. Cruel and hostile people may cause harm to these cats, either directly, or indirectly. Do not put the cats in jeopardy by creating a situation where the cats must be gotten rid of. ALWAYS keep the following in mind:
- Keep Feral Cat colonies hidden.
- Ensure Feral Cats are spayed and neutered. Smaller populations are less noticeable and are less prone to human predators and complaints.
- Do not discuss the location of feeding stations, shelters, or number of cats with anyone.
- Keep shelters and feeding stations out of site. Move them into wooded areas away from buildings, parking lots, and other high-traffic areas to avoid complaints. Camouflage them with tarps, brush, or dark colored paint if necessary to blend in with their surroundings. Shelters and feeding stations that are in sight are unsafe for the cats.
- Feral Cats living near private residences and businesses may roam the immediate area. Pay close attention to cleanliness. Make sure cats are not spraying, using yards for litter boxes, or walking on people’s cars. In these cases, carry a spray bottle with deodorizer, provide hidden and maintained litter boxes using mulch, and if necessary, provide car covers to prevent hostile territory.
- No matter how friendly the area may seem, be discreet. This includes your own property. Keep areas neat, clean, and free of trash.
- Keep Feral Cats as far away from busy roads as possible to minimize injury and death.
Feral Cat Shelters
Here are some important things to keep in mind prior to constructing a Feral Cat Shelter:
Shelter size is important. Because the cats’ body is what warms the interior of the shelter, smaller shelters are better. If a large shelter is used, make sure to pack the interior with insulation to decrease the space that the cats’ body will be heating.
Select Insulation that is comfortable and warm for the cats. The best insulating material is straw because it is dry, loose, and the cats can burrow into it. Straw also repels moisture and is less prone to mold. Shredded newspaper will work as well. In extremely cold temperatures, Mylar thermal safety blankets can be used because they retain body heat (they can also be cut and attached with non-toxic glue or freezer tape to the interiors of shelters to insulate). Mylar blankets are inexpensive and can be purchased at survival and outdoor stores. Do not use anything that would draw and hold moisture such as hay, folded newspaper, regular blankets, towels, carpeting or fake sheepskin. These materials could actually make the cat colder because they lie on top of them.
Re-check insulation materials on a regular basis for wetness and replace when necessary.
Feral Cats can get frostbite on their ears, nose and paws. The effectiveness of a cat’s fur is greatly reduced if it becomes wet or frozen and can often times result in hypothermia. As long as a cat stays dry, it can survive the worst weather.
Provide extra protection by maximizing shelter function:
- Elevate shelters off the ground with 2 X 4’s or skids and place straw underneath of them. This makes it easier for the cats to warm the inside with their body heat. It also decreases the chance of rain and snow getting into entrances.
- Wrap shelters with heavy duty trash bags or tarps for added insulation.
- Make sure that shelter entrances are as small as possible (approximately the width of a cat’s whisker). This deters wildlife and predators from entering. Smaller shelter entrances also keep in more heat.
- Cover shelters with awnings made of storage bin lids to add an extra layer of protection to entrances.
- Raise shelters a small amount in the back to prevent rain and snow from getting into bedding, allow for roof drainage, and discourage predators from sitting on top to stalk the cats.
- Create more protection by facing shelters towards one another and placing a board or storage bin lid on top, spanning the two roofs.
How Do I Construct a Feral Cat Shelter?
Shelters can be constructed easily and inexpensively. Here are two types that can be assembled within minutes:
- A sturdy plastic storage bin with lid
- A styrofoam bin used for perishable food
Directions: Cut a small opening in the front several inches off the ground to allow the cat access. Fill with straw. Secure the lid and if lightweight, weigh down with a paver.
Unconventional Ideas for Feral Cat Shelters
Feral Cats need our help and they need shelter from the elements. Anything you can do to help these cats is nothing short of a miracle for them. Almost anything that is covered and prevents the cat from exposure can be used keeping the exceptions below in mind. Unconventional ideas may include a heavy duty plastic trash can with lid, a wooden barrel or box, a truck cap, or a dog or cat carrier. Garden sheds, garages, barns, lattice-wrapped porches, chicken coops, or even wood piles could also provide shelter.
Cardboard boxes are not recommended as shelters, nor are bedding materials such as blankets, towels or folder/shredded newspaper as they retain wetness and absorb body heat. However, if these are your only supplies, place them in an area that is already sheltered/covered, raised off the ground, and with the opening facing something that will block the elements and air. If possible, wrap and secure the outside of the box with a plastic trash bag to keep the box dry. Remember, Feral Cats will use almost anything to have protection from the elements and shelters do not have to be costly.
How to Construct a Heavy Duty Outdoor Cat Shelter
Outdoor cats need protection from the elements, and what better way to provide it than with these easy-to-follow instructions.
Obtain a 45 gallon Sterilite Storage Bin and a Heavy Duty Styrofoam Cooler used to ship food in
- Begin by cutting a 6” diameter hole in the Heavy Duty Styrofoam Cooler.
- Place the Heavy Duty Styrofoam Cooler inside of the Storage Bin .
- Cut a matching hole in the Storage Bin .
- Add straw to the inside of the Heavy Duty Styrofoam Cooler.
- Add Straw around the Heavy Duty Styrofoam Cooler.
- Add Straw to the top of the Heavy Duty Styrofoam Cooler.
- Complete the shelter by securing the lid on.
- If needed, use duct tape to further secure lid.
Feeding Feral Cats
Providing for Feral Cats is a life-long commitment that is not to be taken lightly. Remember, once you begin feeding, these cats rely on you. There is nothing sadder than people who start feeding Feral Cats and then abandon them. The feeding of Feral Cats is more than dumping food. It is providing daily food and water in a safe and well- managed environment. Many people with good intentions have created difficult situations for Feral Cats due to lack of knowledge about proper care. Many complaints are related to feeding, so becoming familiar with essential information will protect the cats and ensure success.
The following guidelines are to be followed when feeding Feral Cats in order to ensure their safety and well-being:
- Do not draw attention to the cats.
- Be discreet with feeding.
- When cats are being fed without the use of feeding stations, feed in inconspicuous areas. These may include places under bushes, behind trees, behind dumpsters, in alleys with
little or no traffic, behind structures or fences, in abandoned areas, or vacant buildings.
- Feed in containers or bowls that blend in with the surroundings. Do not feed on white
paper plates, out of cat food cans, or dump food on the ground.
- Keep food and water bowls clean.
- Do not create an unsightly mess. Keep the area clean so that anyone viewing it would have no
- Gather all uneaten food on a daily basis to avoid mold and to avoid attracting insects and
- Provide nutritious food daily and consistently. Nutritious food will keep the colony
healthier and less prone to illness.
- Feed at the same time of day/night.
- In areas where there is no place to hide food, use doubled paper bags and put food inside.
It will appear as trash and inconspicuous.
Feeding Stations are an important part of caring for Feral Cats properly. Unless you are feeding Feral Cats in an area that is already covered, they are necessary to protect the food and water from the elements. They also help to ensure that any cats who do not immediately come to eat will have an area where they can come to eat later.
Constructing a Feeding Station
Feeding stations should be large enough to accommodate a few bowls of food and at least one cat. You can construct feeding stations from large rectangular plastic storage bins. There are four ways to do this:
- Place the storage bin on its side and secure the lid on top to make an awning. Electrical tape works best to secure the lid.
- Place the storage bin upright with the lid secured. Cut a hole large enough on one side for the cat to enter.
- Place the storage bin (with the lid on) upside down. Cut a hole large enough on one side for the cat to enter through.
- Construct feeding stations using cat or dog carriers. Remove the door and cover with a tarp since most carriers have holes in the sides.
An effective and easy feeding station that would suffice is two concrete blocks placed far enough apart enough to accommodate food and water bowls. Place a board the same width or wider on the concrete blocks to act as a roof. This also may work in areas where there is no place to hide food.
Remember to place feeding stations out of sight and to camouflage them with tarps, tree limbs, or brush if necessary. Weigh down feeding stations that are lightweight to keep them from getting upset or blown around.
If you are feeding Feral Cats, you must have them spayed and neutered. Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is a humane and effective solution to control the Feral Cat population and decrease numbers over time. Cats are trapped, spayed (females) and neutered (males), vaccinated, ear-tipped (to identify they were spayed/neutered), and returned to the territory where they are being cared for.
What do I need to do prior to trapping?
- Determine how many cats are in need of TNR.
- Make appointments at a low-cost clinic for spay/neuters.
- Obtain humane traps. Humane traps allow cats to be captured in a way that will not harm them. Traps can be purchased at a farm supply store, a pet supply store or you can rent them from many local shelters.
What should I be aware of prior to trapping?
- Establish a feeding area where the cats will come to eat every day at the same time. Early morning or dusk is better, especially with Feral Cats as they are easily frightened. Too much activity or noise in the surrounding area minimizes trapping efforts.
- If possible, feed cats in humane traps that are secured when open. Make sure to place a thin layer of newspaper on the bottom of the trap because most cats do not like walking on the wire. This will get the cat used to going in and out of the trap.
- Prior to trapping, it is advised to withhold food for 24 hours so that cats will be hungry and go into the traps.
- Traps should never be placed in areas where there is public access. They must be kept out of sight. Those unfamiliar with trapping practices could set trapped cats free. It also compromises the safety of the cats as there are people who do not like cats and may harm them.
- Cats should be trapped either the night before or the morning of being spayed or neutered. Cats can be held in their traps overnight providing they have food. You can also provide a small box lid with shredded newspaper as a litter box. Be sure to cover their traps with a sheet to keep them calmer. If you must trap prior to the night before, make sure to prepare alternative holding areas for the cats until their appointment. Large covered cages (such as those used to crate dogs) with opened traps inside will allow the cats to move around until their spay/neuter appointments. Small rooms could also be used for holding areas. Cats can be coaxed back into the traps as needed. Always make sure the cats are kept in a warm, dry place such as a basement, garage, shed, etc.
- If there are a lot of cats to trap, it may be wise to attempt to try to catch all of them at once as cats quickly become trap savvy.
- Kittens can become pregnant at 4 months of age. Therefore, many veterinarians will spay/neuter kittens when they have reached a weight of 2- 3 pounds.
How does a humane trap work?
The trap has a door that is secured open by a latch which activates the trip plate. The trap is baited at the back beyond the trip plate. When the cat steps on the trip plate, it triggers the latch to release and closes the door behind the cat.
What do I use for bait in the trap?
If you have been feeding in the trap, continue to use the same food.
If you have not been feeding in the trap, place a small amount of irresistible food (wet cat food, sardines, tuna, salmon, chicken, etc.) in a small bowl at the far end of the trap past the metal trip plate. To further entice the cat into the trap, place a small trail of bait on the newspaper leading to the bowl.
Can I leave the trap set while I am gone or overnight?
No. A cat could get injured while inside the trap or someone could steal your trap and/or harm the cat. Remember, the safety of the cat is the most important thing.
What if the cat won’t go in the trap?
Conceal the trap to make it look like part of the landscape. Place tree limbs, leaves, or brush around and on the trap, making sure the cat can see through the front and rear. Other methods such as putting the trap in a cardboard box (making sure the cat can see through the front and rear of the trap), leaning a large board against a wall with the trap behind, or placing a sheet over the trap may work.
After spay/neuter surgery, when can I release the cats?
The clinic will give guidelines as to how long to hold the cats prior to release and/or any additional instructions or needs. Typically, male cats can be released back to their territory within 24 hours. Female cats usually need to be held longer because their surgery is more invasive. Normally, it is advised to keep females for a minimum of 3-4 days. Complications decrease in female cats that are given a longer recovery time prior to release. Most importantly, do not release a cat that is not fully alert or appears ill in any way.