Feral Cats: King of the Concrete Jungle

This is the first post of a two-part series about community cats.

Cat lovers seem to have risen onto a glorious stage lately. The internet has been awash with cute cat pictures and sassy commentary associated with cats. There are lists upon lists of reasons why one should own or love a cat, yet there is no commentary on the increasing number of feral cats worldwide and how to help them. This lack of awareness is what drove Alley Cat Allies to make October 16th the National Feral Cat day.

What is a feral cat exactly?

It is clearly different from a domesticated cat but did you know it is also not just your regular stray cat? A stray cat is the result of a domesticated pet that has run away from home, been abandoned, or gotten lost. A stray is more likely to let you get near them. They may even let you pet them. A stray is also far more likely to show up near a house, parked car, or garage in the daytime and may look at you directly. They also respond to household sounds such as bags crinkling or maybe a can of food opening. A feral cat, on the other hand, is more likely to come out at night and usually will not approach you or allow you to touch them. Where a stray cat might meow, a feral cat won’t make a sound and they will stay tense as long as you are around. They are also unlikely to show any interest in household sounds or toys.

Why are feral cats so wary of us?

The answer is simple. They haven’t been around humans nearly enough to feel safe. Where a stray was once around humans, a feral was most likely born on the streets with no human contact. They are used to surviving on their own. In fact, this is why a stray cat might have a dirty, ratty coat and a feral cat will have a well-kept coat. Since a stray is an animal that once had a home, it is also more likely to be wandering alone while a feral cat is likely to have grown in a colony with multiple cats. It is possible for a stray cat to become feral if it isn’t in contact with humans for a long time though and many feral cats are the result of a stray cat having kittens on the streets.

How did the problem of feral cats even arise?

Feral cats have been a problem for far longer than we think. There was a point when the rabbit population in the U.S. was too high and in order to control that problem, cats were introduced. They were brought from Europe and into the U.S. since they were well known for their rodent hunting skills. The rabbit problem was controlled but then a new problem arose. The feral cat population began to increase too much. This has happened in different areas of the world and the problem is worldwide now. However, this reminds us that this is a man-made issue.

Why are large populations of feral cats seen as a problem?

Many people worry about the dangers of feral cats. Some think they may carry disease, such as rabies. Others think they are far too aggressive and there is also a belief they are killing off too many other wild animals, specifically birds.

It is true that cats can carry rabies but there haven’t been many reports of this since the seventies. When they do get rabies, it is likely to be due to a bite from a different animal with rabies. Toxoplasmosis is another concern but this is something more likely to be contracted from undercooked meat rather than a cat.

Feral cats may seem aggressive since they are defensive. They are just trying to scare us off. It is a natural instinct for them to defend themselves using a scare tactic and it is more likely for a feral cat to run from us than to decide to attack unless provoked.

Problems that ARE definitely caused by an increase in feral cat populations are:

  • Too many cats entering shelters.
  • Rise in euthanasia rates for cats.
  • Death of adoptable cats in shelters due to lack of space.
  • Costs of trapping feral cats as well as cost of euthanizing them and/or taking care of them
  • Nuisance behaviors:
    • Attacks on domesticated pets by feral cats
    • Urinating and defecating on people’s property (yard, garden, etc.)
    • Digging holes on people’s property
    • Fleas (enough said)
    • Loud noises from fighting or mating, especially after dark
    • Odors left by male cats spraying their territory
    • Visible suffering from injured or dying cats and kittens as well as the suffering from other animals killed by feral cats

So, what is being done to help control the increase in feral cat populations? Next week’s continuation of this post looks at the options and lists links to some great resources.

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Read Part 2 HERE.

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