Some Frequently Asked Questions

1.I discovered some cats outside. Who can I call to come and get them?
2.What is the difference between a stray cat and a feral cat?
3.How can I tell if the cats are stray or feral?
4.My neighbors (or the landlord) are complaining about the cats. What can I do?
5.I have been feeding cats for a while and they are reproducing. I can't feed them all. What should I do?
6.I can't touch the cats, so how can I get them to the vet for spay/neutering?
7.I've been told that cats should be indoors only, so isn't it cruel to leave them outside?
8.There are several cats to be trapped, but I only have one trap. Will that do?
9.Where do I get traps and which are the best to use?
10.Where can I find a veterinarian who will treat feral cats, preferably at a reduced rate?
11.Is there anything special my veterinarian should know about working with feral cats?
12.Why should the veterinarian eartip?
13.I took my feral cats to the veterinarian for sterilization. How do I know they are recovering properly?
14.I've been trying to trap a particular cat, but the cat refuses to go into the trap. What should I do?
15.There's a pregnant feral cat outside. What should I do?
16.A female cat had kittens outside. What should I do?
17.I just found a newborn kitten and the mother is nowhere to be seen. What should I do?
18.Do feral cats need shelter?
19.The cats that I feed have a flea problem. Any ideas on how to treat them?
20.Do feral cats attack people? Should I keep my children away from where feral cats live?

1. Q: I discovered some cats outside. Who can I call to come and get them?
A: The first step is to find out if the cats are friendly or unsocial. If the cats are friendly, they may belong to people living in the neighborhood. Observe the cats to determine if this is so. Post "lost cat" flyers throughout the neighborhood. After a day or two, if you get no response and you decide they are lost or otherwise not owned, you can register the cats online at
Pets 911 in the Found Pet section. If you must take the cats to a shelter, be certain it is a "no-kill" shelter.
If the cats are unsocial, animal control or a municipal shelter is the only agency that may come and get them, and the cats will most likely be killed. Even "no-kill" shelters find feral cats impossible to adopt out because they are wild.
Fortunately, there is a solution. Feral cats live in colonies and congregate near food sources. Feral cat colonies can be managed with a nonlethal method called Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), in which cats are humanely (and painlessly) trapped, spayed/neutered, and returned to their colony site where volunteer caretakers provide them with food, water, and shelter.
Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is the only chance feral cats have of living safe, healthy lives, while ceasing their reproduction. But TNR is a hands-on project requiring commitment from one or more volunteer caretakers, often with help from feral cat advocates living in the area.

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2.Q:What is the difference between a stray cat and a feral cat?
A: A stray cat is a domestic cat that has been abandoned or has strayed from home and become lost. A stray cat may be skittish in your presence, but because stray cats once knew human companionship, they can usually be re-socialized and re-homed.
A feral cat is born and raised outside with little or no human contact or is a stray that has lived outside long enough to have become unsocialized. Adult feral cats usually cannot be socialized and are most content living outside. Feral kittens up to eight or ten weeks of age, on the other hand, can often be tamed and placed in homes.

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3. Q: How can I tell if the cats are stray or feral?
A: Observe the cat's appearance and behavior. A stray cat is likely to approach you, although usually not close enough for you to touch him. If you put food down, a stray cat will likely start to eat it right away. A stray cat is often vocal, sometimes talking insistently, and may look disheveled, as if unused to dealing with conditions on the street. A stray cat may be seen at all hours of the day.
A feral cat is silent, will not approach humans, and generally will be seen only from dusk to dawn, unless extraordinarily hungry and foraging for food. A feral cat has adapted to conditions and is likely to appear well groomed. If you put food down for a feral cat, he will wait until you move away from the area before approaching the food.

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4. Q: My neighbors (or the landlord) are complaining about the cats. What can I do?
A: Ask what their specific complaints are and try to resolve them. Making sure that all the cats have been sterilized will reduce or eliminate most objectionable situations and behaviors. If the cats are soiling the neighbors' gardens, place (regularly cleaned) sand or litter boxes at the colony site. Consider building a cat fence that will keep the cats in (or out of) a specific area. If neighbors voice health concerns, make sure that the cats are up to date with their vaccinations and share their medical records with your neighbors.
If the issues cannot be resolved and your neighbors insist that the cats be removed, assure the neighbors that, although removing the cats will not guarantee that new cats won't move right in, you will begin searching for relocation sites, and do it.

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5. Q: I have been feeding cats for a while and they are reproducing. I can't feed them all. What should I do?
A: As soon as possible, you must trap the cats using humane box traps and have them spayed or neutered. Contact local groups involved with feral cat issues to find out if there is a low- or no-cost spay/neuter clinic in your area. (Trapping feral cats sounds complicated; in reality, it's a simple and rewarding process, and it doesn't hurt the cats.) When the cats have been spay/neutered and vaccinated, return them to the place where they were trapped. (Kittens up to eight or ten weeks old can often be tamed, sterilized, and adopted out.) You and other volunteers must then provide ongoing food, shelter, and care to keep the feral cats healthy and safe. Check with local shelters to see if there is a food bank operating in your area that can defray part of the cost of food.
For information about traps, trapping, the Trap-Neuter-Return process, and feral cat colony management,
contact us.

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6. Q: I can't touch the cats, so how can I get them to the vet for spay/neutering?
A: Do not try to touch them! And never attempt to catch a cat by throwing a towel or blanket over just the cat. Never use tranquilizers on outdoor cats. The risk of injury (to you and to the cat) is too great. Many feral cats die when public health officials insist that unvaccinated cats be killed and tested for rabies after an "unprovoked" bite.
As soon as possible, trap the cats using humane box traps and have them spayed/neutered. Don't wait, thinking that the cats will get used to human presence and become social enough to catch. They won't, and while you wait, several litters of kittens will be born.

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7. Q: I've been told that cats should be indoors only, so isn't it cruel to leave them outside?
A: The safest place for your companion cats is indoors, but the best and usually the only environment suitable for feral / homeless cats is outside. Feral cats who have undergone TNR and live in managed colonies can live healthy, content, and long lives-often as long as indoor cats. Finding homes for feral cats is not a realistic option. Humane societies, animal shelters, and other animal organizations rarely accept them for adoption because they cannot be touched or held by people and are, thus, "unadoptable." Shelters usually kill feral cats without a holding period and animal sanctuaries rarely have room for them.

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8. Q: There are several cats to be trapped, but I only have one trap. Will that do?
A: Generally, no. And it is not advisable to trap a cat, then transfer him to a carrier so you can use the trap again right away-the danger of injury (to the cat and to you) or escape is simply too great.
Look for individuals or groups in your area who loan out humane box traps. Ideally, you should have as many traps as there are cats. If this is not possible, aim for trapping all of the cats in two or three sessions. If you repeatedly introduce traps to a colony, the cats will figure it out and become trap-shy. Of course, the number of cats you can trap during each session also depends on how many cats your veterinarian is willing to sterilize at one time.

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9. Q: Where do I get traps and which are the best to use?
A: Humane box traps are available from the following companies:


Our personal choice is the Tomahawk brand.

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10. Q: Where can I find a veterinarian who will treat feral cats, preferably at a reduced rate?
A: First ask your own veterinarian, then ask other vets, rescue groups, and humane societies if they know of a veterinarian or clinic that provides low-cost or free spaying/neutering and will support your TNR plan. Full-fledged spay/neuter programs, some specifically for feral cats, operate in several parts of the country. To find them,
click here.

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11. Q: Is there anything special my veterinarian should know about working with feral cats?
A: Yes! If your vet is new to working with feral cats, be certain to provide him or her with the ACA training video,
Trap, Neuter, and Return: A Humane Approach to Feral Cat Control, which demonstrates techniques and equipment used by veterinarians who frequently treat feral cats.
Read and view this material yourself, as well. Then discuss with your vet what has to be done and establish a protocol to get all of the services you need: spay with dissolvable sutures, neuter with an injectable anesthesia, eartip, full exam, ear cleaning, vaccinations, deworming, and early-age spay/neutering.

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12. Q: Why should the veterinarian eartip? A: Eartipping identifies feral cats who have been sterilized and vaccinated. Eartipping is completely safe and it is painless because the cat is under general anesthetic when the procedure is performed. Eartipping provides immediate visual identification which alerts animal control that a cat is part of a managed colony. It also helps colony caretakers track which cats have been trapped and vetted, and identify newcomers who have not. For more information on eartipping, please see the Eartipping: Feral Cat Identification Protocol factsheet.

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13. Q: I took my feral cats to the veterinarian for sterilization. How do I know they are recovering properly?
A: After surgery, cats need at least an overnight stay in the clinic or in a home where they can be monitored. Keep the cats in their traps with clean newspaper underneath. Keep the traps covered with a sheet or towel and leave the cats alone, except to check on them. Avoid reaching into a cage unless absolutely necessary and then wear protective gear. Even when drugged, feral cats may react fiercely by scratching and/or biting.
Females need a day or two to recover. Males can be released after a night. Normal behaviors during recovery include deep sleep, head bobbing, wobbly movements, fast breathing, and shivering. Bleeding from the left eartip is normal but should stop by the following day. Abnormal behaviors during recovery include continued bleeding from the surgery area, vomiting, difficulty breathing, not waking up, and grogginess 48 hours after surgery. If a cat displays any of these signs, call the veterinarian immediately.

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14. Q: I've been trying to trap a particular cat, but the cat refuses to go into the trap. What should I do?
A: If after repeated attempts a cat will not go into a trap, take a break for a week or two (except in the case of an injured cat). A short break can reduce a cat's fear of the trap. During this time, feed that cat and others in unset traps for several days. Place the food first by the entrance of the trap, then inside, then over a period of days gradually move it closer to the back. Feed in the same place and time as always. The cat will see other cats eating inside the traps and will likely try it, too.
When you are ready to trap again, withhold food for 24 hours up to three days (for a very "trap savvy" cat). Never withhold water. You can make a trap more enticing by dabbing bits of jarred baby food (not containing onions), or catnip on the outside of the trap. Also, cats love the smell of a pungent herb called valerian. Make a strong smelling broth by boiling valerian in water, then douse the trap with it.
If you are still unable to trap a cat or if the cat has learned how to steal bait without springing the trap, consider asking for assistance.

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15. Q: There's a pregnant feral cat outside. What should I do?
A: You have three options to choose from:

  1. Trap the queen and bring her indoors to have the kittens. The kittens are more likely to survive if born indoors although the mother may experience stress from being confined and become less able to care for her kittens. To reduce her stress, provide a warm, secluded, quiet area for her to give birth and nurse her litter.
  2. Provide a warm, outdoor cat shelter and the queen may choose to have her kittens in it. There is no guarantee.
  3. Trap the queen and have your vet determine how far along she is and whether or not to abort the unborn kittens. The mother cat would be spayed at the same time. Some vets will not perform abortions if the mother is close to giving birth, so you should consult your vet, and consider your own feelings, about this possibility ahead of time.

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16. Q: A female cat had kittens outside. What should I do?
A: You should trap and sterilize the whole family. How you proceed depends on the age of the kittens.



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17. Q: I just found a newborn kitten and the mother is nowhere to be seen. What should I do?
A: Do not be too hasty to move a kitten. The mother may be in the process of moving her litter to a safer area. Watch closely for an hour or two, but no more than five, to see if the mother returns. If not, and the mother has abandoned one or more very young (neonatal) kittens, their only chance to survive is bottle-feeding. This is an intensive process not unlike caring for newborn human babies. There's a lot to learn, but once you know it, the process will become second nature. Begin by going to the nearest Veterinarians office and asking for help.

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18. Q: Do feral cats need shelter?
A: Yes, like almost all living creatures, feral cats need warm, dry shelter to protect them from extreme temperatures and wet weather. You can build a shelter from plans or use a strong box or crate insulated with waterproof material thick enough to keep out wind and cold. A large shelter can provide a haven for more than one cat.
Do not use blankets!! If you wish to add some warmth add straw (not hay). This will maintain body heat and resist moisture. Straw, unlike hay, will not become moldy or attract bugs.

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19. Q: The cats that I feed have a flea problem. Any ideas on how to treat them?
A: Ask your vet about Program. You could put that in their food. You'd have to be careful that everyone got the proper dosage, but I think you could arrange that.
If you know where the cats sleep, you could also treat the "beds". Again, ask your vet for something safe if you want to use an insecticide, or use diatomacious earth. Also, Nurseries sell nematodes that kill ants and fleas in the soil.

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20. Q: Do feral cats attack people? An animal control officer told me they sometimes do this. Should I keep my children away from where feral cats live?
A: This was serious misinformation. Feral cats do not "attack" people in the sense that you are thinking.
A feral cat will run the other way the minute it sees a human. Ferals are terrified of people. Did you ever try to get close to one?
If you were to grab a feral cat, the cat would bite and scratch in an attempt to free itself, just as any non-domesticated animal would. Imagine, for instance, trapping a raccoon or a squirrel and then sticking your hand in the cage.
Cats as rabies vectors are quite rare--please consult a veterinarian on this. (Even so, do not corner a cat of unknown vaccination status. If nothing else, you would probably want to get the rabies vaccine as a preventative measure if you are bitten by any cat who hasn't been vaccinated. Raccoons are another issue, unfortunately.)
About the bloody noses--Never leave a cat in a cage unattended for more than 30 minutes or an hour. They will all bash against the side if they are frightened enough--strays, ferals, and owned cats. If you cover the cage, they will settle down, because they feel safer in a dark, enclosed space. When you trap again, please empathize with the terrified animal inside the cage trying to free itself.
Even tame, trapped cats sometimes take a day or two to settle down to the point that you can tell that they are not feral. The realization that it has been trapped frightens any cat, and trapped cats sometimes strike out, domesticated or not. A domesticated cat will often "talk" to you, hoping that you will free it, whereas a feral cat either does not make a sound or growls to scare you off.
Turning the cats over to Animal Control almost surely causes their deaths.
If you want to eliminate cats from your area, then trapping, neutering, vaccinating, and returning them would have been a more permanent solution. If a food source exists there, like cat food left out nearby for owned cats, then new cats will soon move in, and you will have the same problem again. Had you returned the neutered ones to the area, they would have defended the territory against any new cats, and the colony would have remained manageable.
The source of the new cats probably will be irresponsible people who abandon or dump their "pets" in your area. Often these people let their female cats have a litter or two while they think about getting the cat spayed, and then dump the adolescent cats when they too begin having kittens.
The feral problem is extremely pervasive, and we've just learned how to deal with it effectively in the last 10 years or so in the United States. We want to pass on the research and current best practice.


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Many of these questions were copied from the Alley Cat Allies website with their permission, and were minimally edited.