In honor of Feral Cat Day, October 16th, we wanted to take some time to discuss feral cats. Who are these cats, where do they come from, and how are they different from outdoor cats?
Feral cats are cats that live exclusively outside and fend for themselves. They are both aloof and elusive, staying as far away from humans as they can. They live either on their own or in colonies, hunting or scavenging for food. They are not the cat that comes up to see you when you are sitting in your backyard to rub against you, and they are certainly not the cat that follows you home. They have lived outside all of their lives, many of them for generations. They are truly wild.
The unfortunate reality is that these cats can not be easily rescued because they are truly dangerous to handle. Their fear of humans and lack of socialization make them highly reactive and will attempt anything to escape handling. Even when trapped (in a humane trap) and brought into a clinic, feral cats usually need to be heavily sedated to be worked with safely.
So, what can we do to help these cats?
First and foremost, spay and neuter your own cats so that they cannot go outside and form these feral colonies. One female cat can have approximately 3 liters a year, with each litter producing 5-10 kittens. As these cats mature they further contribute to increasing the population, with on average, 1 female and her offspring producing 225 cats in 2 years. From there the increase is exponential. In addition to responsible ownership of domestic cats, there are many programs that offer low cost spay and neuter programs to help control the colonies growth. Information about one of these programs can be found here: https://www.torontohumanesociety.com/what-we-do/trap-neuter-return.
Outside of spaying and neutering, there are often community groups that help support and care for feral colonies. If there isn't a group in your community, you can form one, or do your best to protect the colony. All animals living outside need shelter and feral colonies are no exception. There are many different low cost shelters that you can build that would greatly help the colony, especially in the colder months. Providing fresh food and water are also vital for the cats health. Most ferals are so scared of people that they will not eat when you are around, so don’t be surprised if they hide and avoid the food until after you leave - it will likely be gone next time you come back to check.
With the help of the public and the members of the Toronto Feral Cat Coalition the hope is to reduce these colonies over time and until then, care of our feral cats as best as we can.