How to Help Stray and Feral Cats in Your Neighborhood

February 5, 2016 - Nate Needs

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Outdoor cats can be found in just about every neighborhood in the country.  While farm cats are usually taken good care of, stray and feral cats are not…and their lives are usually difficult and short.  Fortunately, helping these kitties is pretty easy, and by taking these steps, you can help save lots of feline lives.

Stray cats are usually friendly and at least somewhat socialized.  The first thing you should do if you come across one of these unfamiliar kitties is contact your local authorities.  They will be able to tell you if anyone has filed a missing animal report for a cat matching its description.  It’s important to do this first, because someone just might be missing their beloved pet.


This is Twilight von Twinkle Toes.  She was not found as a stray, but isn’t she cute?!  This girl has an infection in her feet, causing them to not develop as they should have.

No owners to be found?  You can try to find the cat a home, contact local shelters to see if they have any suggestions, or take the cat in after having him examined by a vet.  If this is not an option, make sure the stray cat has food, water, and shelter.  In very hot weather, putting a bowl of water outside is an absolute necessity.  Providing shelter to an outside cat is pretty simple:  Do you have a shed or garage?  Maybe you could add a cat door to it to allow the cat inside when it’s too cold or warm.  Shelters can also be made out of boxes or plastic totes.

Once he has had a good meal, you’ll want to consider taking the cat to a veterinarian OR attending a low-cost spay/neuter/vaccine clinic in your area – check out A.P.E.’s program here!  They will check and see if the cat has a microchip – a sure sign that it has/had owners – vaccinate, and spay or neuter the cat.  In doing this, you are adding years to their life, cutting down on the chances of future health problems, and eliminating the chances for pregnancy.  Stray and feral cats are notorious for having litter after litter of kittens, many of whom probably will not survive for very long.


Miss Twinkle Toes will be available for adoption once she has healed a bit more.  If you are able to contribute to her medical funds, please click here!

Feral cats, on the other hand, are not socialized and often very afraid of humans.  They can be very hard to catch, and they are rarely able to be trained to live with humans, unless they are very young kittens.  It is best to not try to handle feral cats unless you have been trained to do so.  Rather than trying to fix a feral cat problem yourself, contact local organizations and rescues who will be able to help you.  Some places even have “barn programs” in place specifically for feral cats.  Turning feral cats in to a shelter is usually a death sentence, since most ferals are considered “unadoptable.”

Here at A.P.E., one of the main things we do is the TNR program, or Trap Neuter Return.  We set up live traps in areas that have an abundancy of feral cats, take the trapped kitties to our vet to have them spayed or neutered and vaccinated, and return them to their original location.  (When trying to trap a cat, we put food in the traps – this is why you should keep the cats you’re feeding on a schedule and take the food away when they’re not eating.  A hungry cat is easier to trap!)  With TNR, even though the cats are still living in the wild, we have prevented countless litters of kittens from being born.  Many well-meaning people put out food and water for these cats, but they don’t realize that unless the cats are fixed, they will eventually have too many hungry mouths to care for!  This is why TNR is so essential.  Feral cats who have been spayed or neutered will often have a notch in the tip of their ear – veterinarians do this so that you can tell which kitties in a feral colony have been fixed and which still need to be.

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Meet Storm.  Originally thought to be feral, Storm was caught in a trap after being spotted shivering outside someone’s house.  She has warmed up a lot and turned out to be very friendly!  However, Storm is very unhealthy – she has multiple wounds, irritated skin, and an infection…we also suspect that she might be pregnant.  🙁  It will be a while until we can put Storm up for adoption; in the meantime, can you help us with her medical care?

Many people in the rescue community get creative with their shelters for feral cats.  Iowa winters can be brutal, and these poor kitties need a place to go during bad weather.  Below is an example of a homemade shelter – a simple Styrofoam cooler (available at Fleet Farm or pretty much any convenience store) duct-taped shut, with a hole cut in it large enough for a cat to get in, filled with straw.  You can do the same thing with boxes, plastic totes, or even a wooden cabinet.  Amazon also sells a small heated house that I have used myself for a stray cat that hangs out around our house – the kitty LOVES it during cold winters and sometimes doesn’t even want to leave it to eat.


There are some who think that relocating the cats will fix the problem – please don’t do this.  If you take the cats somewhere else, they may get hit by cars trying to find their way back; they might also find themselves in a different cat colony’s “territory”, which can cause problems and fights.  Not to mention, a new cat colony will without a doubt take its place, and you’ll just find yourself caring for a new group of cats.  It is best to just leave the cats where they are comfortable.

The most important thing to remember is ALWAYS have your cats spayed and neutered.  Don’t contribute to the problem.  If every cat-owner followed this rule, we would not have the huge amount of overpopulation that we do now.  For more information, please check out these helpful links:  PetFinder, WebMD, Humane Society.




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