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Controlling Feral Cats


Because of their tendency to avoid humans, you may not even notice feral cats in your area. But in some cases these wild-born felines can be a real nuisance for landowners. Read on to learn more about how to identify feral cats, how they are different from cats kept as pets, why they can be a problem and some steps you can take to control them.

What Is A Feral Cat?

Three feral cats feeding on the street.Feral cats are descendants of domesticated housecats but were born in the wild, either as offspring of abandoned or lost pets or offspring of other feral cats. Feral cats often live in groups of up to 25 cats. These groups, also known as colonies, consist primarily of females and their young and a few males, which, if unneutered, will fight other males for females and territory.

A feral cat is not the same as a free-roaming "barn" cat or a cat that has been lost or abandoned by its owner. Feral cats have had little to no interaction with humans at any point in their lives and are most often extremely fearful of people. Feral cats most often cannot be tamed, and when cornered are prone to bite or scratch.

Wildlife and animal specialists estimate that tens of millions of feral cats currently live in the United States. Uncontrolled, feral cats can reproduce quickly, with females having 2 to 3 litters each year. At the same time, the harsh living conditions that feral cats face can reduce their life span, with a life expectancy much lower compared with cats kept as pets.

Why Are Feral Cats A Problem?

Feral cats can prey on native wildlife, and their hunting may pose a threat to wild birds especially. For rural landowners, feral cats may also threaten chickens and other gamebirds such as turkeys, waterfowl, quail and grouse.

Because feral cats usually aren't vaccinated, the possibility exists that feral cat colonies can harbor diseases - including ringworm, toxoplasmosis and rabies - that can harm humans or other animals. Feral cat colonies can also play host to fleas and ticks, causing other disease concerns.

Feral cats may also be a general nuisance. They can dig in gardens and other areas, and males fighting over territory or females may cause unwanted noise disturbances. Un-neutered males may mark their territory with urine, leading to unwanted odors.

How Can I Control Feral Cats?

You can take a number of steps to reduce feral cat populations on your property, but note that opinions vary widely among wildlife, animal control, veterinary and animal advocacy organizations as to which methods are most effective.

Some wildlife specialists recommend that landowners first try physically deterring feral cats through the use of an inexpensive barrier, such as galvanized chicken wire fencing, habitat alteration and methods to frighten the cats away. Tips for physical deterrents include the following.

  • Keep cats out of unwanted areas by installing 6-foot fences (with a 2-foot overhang to prevent cats from climbing over them). A standard Chicken Wire Fence works fine and is fairly cheap.
  • Use wire mesh screening to block access to gaps in buildings or other areas where the cats are seen hiding. Use leftover fencing from your other farm projects or after you build a chicken coop to save time & money.
  • Prevent feral cats' access to food and shelter by securing garbage cans and cleaning up piles of timber, rubbish piles or other areas where cats may hide.
  • Make sure wild bird feeders are installed in open areas, at least 10 feet from overhanging branches or brush where cats could hide and attack visiting birds.
  • Keep areas around barns and other outbuildings mowed and free of brush to reduce the hiding places for feral cats and limit populations of rodents on which they may feed. Find out more about controlling rodent & pest control.
  • To prevent feral cats from digging in your garden, try to lure them away by planting catnip away from the garden area.
  • Frighten feral cats away through the use of motion-sensor activated lawn sprinklers or other frightening devices or by keeping a dog.

For more intensive feral cat problems, another option is to humanely trap cats using live animal traps, like the Advantek Animal Trap. Bait the traps with food such as sardines, cat food or canned fish such as tuna. To avoid trapping other animals, such as skunks, place the trap on an elevated surface 2 to 3 feet off of the ground. For cats wary of stepping on the wire floor of a trap, it may be necessary to line the bottom of the cages with newspaper. Extremely wary cats may also respond better to traps baited several times before the trap is set. Check traps several times daily and remove trapped cats quickly to avoid exposing them to the elements and to prevent other cats from avoiding the trapping area.

When transporting a trapped feral cat, use extreme caution to avoid bites or scratches, and throw a blanket over the trap to help the cat stay calm. Transport the cat to a local veterinarian, animal control facility or other organization that works with feral cats. Some organizations like the ASPCA recommend a program where trapped feral cats are neutered or spayed and released back into their habitat.

If you decide to trap cats on your land, note that local and state laws vary from area to area. Consult animal control experts in your area as to the most effective and safe procedures, and always check with neighbors to make sure a trapped cat is not actually someone's missing pet.

Preventing Future Feral Cat Problems

One of the most effective ways to prevent adding to a feral cat problem in your area is to make sure any cats you may own are properly cared for, identified with collars, tags and I.D. chips and are spayed or neutered.

For more information on traps for feral cats, use our Store Finder to find your local Southern States store. If you have some control methods that have worked or products that you would recommend, please share your story in the comments section below.


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