Is a new kitty spending time around your place? Do they look sad, hungry and homeless? It is hard to watch poor felines living in those cruel conditions with no warm home to call their own. So how can you help? And what can you do to take care of those kitties?
Is the cat you found stray or feral? What is the difference?
Let’s first explain the difference between strays and ferals. If you’re not familiar with the distinction between those two, this will give you some clarity.
Feral and stray cats are the same domesticated species, but the contrast is in their ‘attitude’ towards humans.
Stray cats were socialized while they were young and they had positive experiences with people in their earliest months. They learned that humans can be trusted. They see us as a source of food and protection. Strays were previously someone’s pet, but they were either abandoned or no longer have an owner for another reason. A stray cat will let you pet them and they will most likely not be hesitant to approach you. Some of them can be a bit reserved. You can bypass that by approaching them in the right way.
Stray cats can become a pet again. They will just need a little bit of adjusting.
Feral cats, on the other hand, never had contact with loving humans while they were kittens. Or they simply lost touch with humans over time so they developed a fear. Stray cats can become feral after living outside for a while, without any kitty to human interaction. Feral kitties are fearful and won’t let you pet them or come near them.
If the cat is not shy and they greet you without hesitation, it might also be someone’s outdoor or lost pet.
You suspect the feline is lost? Here is what you can do:
- visit the vet to see if the kitty is micro-chipped
- check with the neighbors if they, or someone they know, is missing a cat
- put flyers around the neighborhood
- engage in social media and try to track the owner
If the cat is stray or feral after all, continue reading to find some useful tips for helping those felines.
How to care for stray and feral cats
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If you’re anything like me, you’d love to adopt all the kitties in the world. Unfortunately, we are a few billion dollars short but we can at least help stray and feral cats around us. There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to caring for stray cats.
First thing first – Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR)
According to Humane Society, tens of millions of homeless cats live in the USA alone. That’s a lot of cats! Let’s say half of them are girls that will give birth to (most often) 3-5 kittens. The shocking fact is that a cat can have babies 5 times a year! Even if they bring kittens into this world only once a year that is still a lot of newborn babies to care for.
To stop that from happening, the rational thing to do is to trap, neuter and return those stray and feral cats. Don’t have the financial means or a way to take them to the vet? Try finding someone that can do it for you. If nobody in your area is available, animal rescue groups will help you out.
When I was growing up, we were feeding lots of ferals. I think it was up to 15 kitties at one point. I was a youngster then, and I didn’t know better. But today, I’d make sure to spay and neuter those felines. They were breeding like crazy and it gets out of hand pretty quickly.
Learn from our mistakes and do trap, neuter, return strays and ferals that are roaming around your place.
Should you feed stray and feral cats?
It’s tough to resist those cute but sad eyes and hungry meows. But is feeding stray and feral cats really the best for them?
This is one tricky question. Some reputable sites recommend you feed those hungry and lonely homeless cats. On the other hand, many cat websites such as Catster claim that feeding strays and ferals is not a good idea.
Let’s glance at the pros and cons of feeding stray and feral cats:
- The cats will not be as hungry or skinny.
- Their health might improve.
- You’ll save a lot of birds, mice, and other wild animals that those kitties hunt.
- The cats will gather around the food source and a kitty colony might form.
- That cat colony will make babies and due to a limited gene pool, some kittens might be born unhealthy and sick, with physical defects.
- The cats will depend on you for food and they will stay hungry if you suddenly stop feeding them for whatever reason.
I know that feeding strays and ferals is a natural thing to do to most cat lovers. I wouldn’t go that far by saying you should never ever feed the strays and ferals. Although, I definitely agree that you shouldn’t make yourself their primary food source. If you serve them a lot of food every day, they’ll depend on you for their everyday meals. This can lead to the above-mentioned issues.
It is a different story with homeless kittens who were abandoned by their mother. Kittens don’t yet know how to hunt. If you’ve observed long enough and you’re absolutely sure the kitten has no mama, I would encourage you to help the young kitty by feeding and fostering them. Kitten can’t survive on their own so your help is highly appreciated and absolutely required.
As for me, I occasionally feed 2 stray cats that live around my office building. I do, however, make sure I only give them a limited amount of kitty meal from time to time. That way they don’t depend on me for food. They know they have to make an effort to get dinner on their plates by themselves every day.
Fresh supply of water
The hot summer days when the rain is nowhere to be seen can dry out all the water from the ponds, streams, and puddles. When those water sources are not available, kitties can get thirsty and dehydrated. While the summer brings drought, cold winters result in freezing of those water sources.
How can you help thirsty kitties? Put a water bowl outside and change the water regularly (try daily) to prevent it from getting unsanitary. If possible, put the water bowl under some kind of cover (see the feeding station section below) to keep it from the dirt.
During the winter time, use bowls that are deeper and narrower to prevent the water from freezing. You can also use heated water bowls and black bowls that attract the sunbeams and keep the water liquid.
A kitty shelter to hide from the harsh outside elements
Stray and feral cats are used to living outside. But during the winter time, it can be really hard for them to find a suitable shelter and a dry place to hide. With the low winter temperatures, it is extremely important for them to have a shelter that’ll keep them warm.
Why don’t you put your hands to work and make your own homemade shelter? Alternatively, get a heated outdoor cat house that’ll keep felines safe from the excruciating cold.
Popular kitties Cole & Marmelade and their human have their own video that will teach you how to make a DIY cat shelter.
Keep the following factors in mind while making feline safety department:
- Shelter entrance should be large enough to fit a cat but not too large. This way the coyotes and other dangerous wild animals can’t get inside.
- Try raising the shelter off the ground to keep it warmer in winter.
- Place the shelter in a safe place with no traffic or people.
- Put the shelter away from busy paths and, if possible, under some kind of cover to keep it dry.
- A spot that is protected from the winds during the winter and a shady area away from the direct sunlight during the hot summer days would be best.
Feeding and hydrating stations
If you want to treat strays and ferals with a bit of food, I suggest you find a dry and safe place for them to enjoy the meal. To prevent the food from getting wet from the rain and keep the water clean, make a simple DIY feeding station. The station will conveniently protect the food and water bowls from the outside elements.
The DIY feeding station is pretty easy to make and you only need a plastic container.
Don’t put the food and water bowls inside the cat shelter. These can easily get spilled so your furry friend will have to sleep in a messy, wet shelter. Always keep those two separate.
Adopt or foster stray cats and kittens
If a wandering cat you’re feeding is people-friendly and not afraid of humans, finding a home for them is possible.
On the other hand, feral cats are most often not suitable for adoption because of their timid nature. Additionally, they are used to living outside their whole lives so keeping them indoors would be too stressful for them.
But even if their mommas’ can’t, kittens of feral cats can be socialized and adopted into a loving home. Keep in mind that you should not take the kittens away from their mother before they are at least 10 weeks old, or even better, 12 weeks old. If you separate them too soon, they would likely develop behavioral issues. Additionally, the kitten would not get enough nutrients from the cat momma’s milk which encourages proper growth and development.
Want to help? Open up your home to foster adoptable cats until they find their forever family. Or adopt one for yourself and experience a deep love from a furry family member. If you already have a cat, they might even enjoy a company (assuming you introduce them slowly and carefully).
I hope you found a few interesting ideas and useful tips for helping stray and feral cats. There are so many cats out there that need our help, so thank you for participating!
Do you have any tips on taking care of and helping stray and feral cats?
Let me know in the comments!