Ferral Cats


Feral cats are the 'wild' offspring of domestic cats and are primarily the result of pet owners' abandonment or failure to spay and neuter their animals, allowing them to breed uncontrolled. Feral cat 'colonies' can be found behind shopping areas or businesses, in alleys, parks, abandoned buildings, and rural areas. They are elusive and do not trust humans.

Many people assume their animals will survive when they move away and leave them behind. Contrary to popular belief, domestic animals do not automatically return to their "natural" instincts and cannot fend for themselves! Already, U.S. animal shelters are forced to kill an estimated 15 million homeless cats and dogs annually. The alternative to humane euthanasia for almost every stray is a violent end or slow, painful death. Many "throwaways" die mercilessly outdoors from starvation, disease, abuse --- or as food to a predator.

A pair of breeding cats, which can have two or more litters per year, can exponentially produce 420,000 offspring over a seven-year period, And the overpopulation problem carries a hefty price tag. Statewide, more than $50 million (largely from taxes) is spent by animal control agencies and shelters for cat-related expenses.

Research shows that the socialization stage in kittens is 3 - 9 weeks old, with them becoming progressively harder to tame with every day over about 8 weeks. While kittens up to the age of 12 weeks can be tamed, older kittens often retain a degree of fearfulness and a small percentage of kittens (approx 10%) will not tame at all. There is no magical age at which kittens become untameable. Cat workers must prioritise those kittens which stand a good chance of being homed as pets; this means concentrating on younger, more responsive kittens.

Kittens caught and fostered during the socialization stage may come to view humans as part and parcel of cat life - even if mum (who may be in foster care until her kittens are weaned) tries to teach them otherwise! Orphaned feral kittens and those removed from an over-protective mother before weaning must either be hand-reared or fostered. This is beyond the scope of this paper.

As well as the right environment, the taming process takes time, commitment and patience and there is already a vast surplus of unwanted pet cats. In a shelter situation it is recommended that ferals over the age of 5 months be neutered and returned to the colony otherwise they occupy space needed by more easily homeable kittens. This allows the shelter to concentrate on the younger kittens which stand a better chance of being placed as domestic pets. If you are an individual with the time, space and patience, it is possible to tame older kittens and young adults, but it is a more time consuming process with a higher failure rate.

Older kittens and young cats which 'come round' tend to bond with one person and should be found suitable permanent homes as soon as possible. Even then, the stress of rehoming may cause a completely tame 'feral' to temporarily revert until it bonds with the new owner. It is tempting to keep such "one-person" kittens. Before attempting to tame feral kittens, bear in mind that there will be some which will never tame however much love, effort and attention you lavish upon them.

Unless feral cats have had some exposure to humans during early life, or those in colonies accustomed to human caretakers; their temperament when tamed may be unreliable. Taming adult ferals is traumatic for both parties are time-consuming and often unsuccessful.

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