Care of Feral Cats
Dr. Dawn Ruben
Placement of Colony Cats
While you've been trapping and neutering, some of your feral felines have given birth to new litters. You may be able to find homes for some of these cats. You will have the best chance of doing this with feral kittens than with adults, ideally, those caught before 12 weeks of age. Feral kittens have a pretty good chance of being socialized and becoming house pets, but they may take up to a couple of months to socialize. Those kittens caught before 8 weeks of age have the highest success rate; Some of those over 12 weeks of age may never be completely socialized.
Kittens cannot be socialized if left in the colony. The first thing to do is to bring the kitten indoors and confine him to a small cage, carrier or room to allow frequent access and human interaction. A cage set up with food, water, and litter box in the busiest room of the house is ideal. If you have more than one kitten, it is best to isolate them from each other in neighboring cages. If they stay together, they will bond more closely and find the nerve to "gang up" on whatever frightens them. If split, they will bond more closely with you, their caregiver and "protector".
The key to taming a feral cat lies in food! Baby food, canned kitten food, and cooked meat work well to coax the kitten and get him slowly used to your presence. Feed this special food periodically, but leave the dry kitten food and fresh water out at all times. Slowly begin touching, petting, and holding the kitten (close, wrapped in a towel or sweatshirt works well) for a few minutes each day, gradually increasing the amount of time spent handling the kitten. Exposure to dogs (while confined), children (supervised), other animals and daily household activities such as vacuums, televisions, etc will all help to assist in the kitten's socialization. Within a few days or up to a few months, depending on the kitten's age, it may become more comfortable around you and relaxed and tamed enough to become a pet. Placement of a kitten will require careful screening of potential adopters to ensure they realize what type of personality they are getting and what special care is required (continued confinement during adjustment and socialization stages). Working with your local shelters to find homes for such kittens may be an option. Ideally, the kitten will have been de-wormed, tested, and received first vaccinations prior to joining its new home.
Maintenance of the Colony
If you are up to it, once all the adults are neutered in your colony, you may wish to slowly start taming a few of the adult ferals, acknowledging that it may take years, if ever, for success. Keeping track of who has been neutered and trapping new arrivals is a must for management of the colony. One of the potential downsides to a colony is that the public becomes aware of your efforts and finds the colony an ideal location to deposit their own unwanted felines or newborn litters.
Wildlife is a real concern. Try to limit the number of feeding areas and feed only during the daytime. This makes monitoring of the colony much easier. You can look at each cat and observe whether he is healthy. By not feeding at night, competition with other wild animals can be limited. Be aware that wildlife, especially when raising young, may feed and be active during daylight hours. Make sure the feeding area is clean. Remove any cans or old uneaten food.
Positive public perception is critical. Talking with your nearby landowners may help educate them to the feral cat's plight and allow you easier access to your colony. And, remember, the single most important thing you can do is to make sure those cats are neutered.
Article includes contributions from T. Silvia, Animal Care Technician, SK Pound, RI