There’s a stray outside

Although the weather is still a bit cold, soon spring will officially be here and the stray cats will come out of their winter nests and start searching for food in earnest…

Stray and feral cats are described by many labels: doorstep cats, porch kitties, bush dwellers, stray cats, feral cats, fractious cats. Feral cats are commonly thought to be disease-ridden, troublesome, pests, a nuisance something that needs to be eradicated. When truth be told, most “feral cats” are stray cats with feral tendencies.

Cats that lurk around homes and businesses become easy prey for the darker side of humanity. If they are lucky, where they have hidden themselves, they can scrounge daily for food and water. Cats skilled in survival conceal their presence well. Anywhere they can find a space that will not touch the outer tips of their whiskers, they know they can get inside and be safe. So adept are they in hiding, that there is currently no accurate count of how many stray and feral cats there are in the United States. There is just speculation.

Stray cats scavenge for food in dumpsters, behind restaurants and fast food places. If they are lucky, they find a kind soul who will not only feed them, but also trap neuter and rehome or release them into the wild. Without kindly benefactors these cats are left to survive the elements, predators and diseases on their own. Perhaps long abandoned on the streets by clueless owners or dumped out into the middle of nowhere by heartless humans for not being the “perfect cat,” former house cats’ memories of warm houses soon fades, replaced instead by their feral tendencies.

Tomcats roam looking for intact females and submissive males. Slowly, the cats find each other, fighting for dominance the group determines their pecking order, an Alpha takes over as leader, mating begins and the group grows. The cats begin to colonize especially around an easy food source.

Setting dry or wet cat food outside on a regular basis is a sure sign that a cat or two will soon appear. Feeding the stray cat in your yard, though admirable, only creates more of a problem. The cat once realizing that food is plentiful will start to spray your bushes with a pheromone alerting other cats that the house is “safe” for other kitties. This marking of your home or property identifies your home as a easy mark, a place of food.

The cats in the immediate area and over a mile away will pick up on this initial scent by using their Jacobson’s Organ (an organ located inside the mouth just behind the front teeth). As more cats arrive to the feeding bowls, more pheremones are sprayed. Soon, one cat becomes two, then three then ten. Unaltered cats and sadly most strays and feral cats are not neutered will stay near the food source and begin to fight and mate.

If you don’t spay and neuter the cats on your property, soon they will be breeding, fighting for territorial rights. The tomcats will be screaming in the middle of the night as they confront each other and fight for food, the right to mate and challenge the alpha of the group. Alphas are not always surprisingly the males. Females have been known to effectively achieve the level of Alpha in a group.

Cats are fierce predators. Cats teamed with humans when we began the agricultural part of our existence. Farmers feeding livestock grain, soon became overrun with rodents. Cats, realizing that living closely with humans increased their chances of getting a good meal of prey began to seek out human contact, lurking in barns and keeping the rodent population down. The barn cats of today still maintain this predatory role, while their cousins the housecats enjoy a life of being pampered and fed inside the home.

If you feed feral cat, you should also do what is known as TNR (Trap, Neuter and Release). Trapping is not always easy to accomplish. The best way to trap a large colony of cats is to have multiple traps set up all at once to trap as many cats as possible. Once the cats witness other cats being caught in traps, they will begin to steer clear of any trap making trapping difficult.Withholding food 24 hours before setting the traps makes the cats hungry to go in and eat the food that is set out for bait. The traps should be scrubbed out after every capture with an enzyme remover such as urine-off or Zero Odor. Cats, when they are stressed will be spraying the wires with urine. This urine tells other cats to “stay away.”

Some cats do not like the feel of the wire under their paws. Using a thin layer of newspaper to pad the front part of the trap, or once the trap is in place using kitty litter will also work. Just don’t impede the trigger.

For the hard to catch male stray cats, try using a little bit of soiled cat litter. Sprinkle it towards the back of the trap near the trigger to lure them in. They will catch the scent of the strange cat and move in to cover it.

There are several types of traps to use. Hav-A-Heart is a humane trap, they make them in several sizes, including kitten size. The Tomahawk Company out of Wisconsin also makes humane live traps. Traps can sometimes be rented from Animal Control, Animal Shelters, some veterinary clinics, feed stores, and pest control services.

There are drop traps you can build if there are two of you that will be trapping. Alley Cat Allies website has instructions on how to build one.
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You want to place the trap in a secure location that is not out in the open. If you are trapping at a shopping center, your best bet is to place the traps near the dumpster where the cats will typically go to gather food. Please monitor these traps if at all possible, for someone can come along and steal the trap and the cat inside. Have a dark cloth ready to throw over a trap once a cat is caught, as well as something to weight down the top of the trap, for the cat will repeatedly throw himself against the wire in a frantic effort to get out. The blanket or dark cloth you place over the trap, will help to calm the cat quicker than leaving it exposed. It is best, once a cat has been trapped to remove the trap quickly to another area so the other cats don’t become spooked and run away.

Bait: You want smell to bring them into the trap, so mackerel, tuna, stinky cheap fish food, sardines or smelt all create an odor. Dribble the juice of the fish around the inside of the trap and on the trigger, and place a small amount of food in a large jar lid or a plate or a saucer, but not a bowl. The cat needs to see the food, and not just a bowl.

Once you have set the trap in place, carefully place the food at the very back of the trap beyond the trigger, and set your trap. Remove yourself from the immediate area, but check the traps about every two to three hours. Remember patience is key.

You can get creative, and start feeding your cats inside a large cardboard box that is flipped over on its side. Once they get used to going into the box, add a trap and go for the capture. You can also use what nature has provided to camoflague your trap. Pine branches, wood bark, leaves, wedge the trap between two logs, it all depends on where you are trapping.

If you are feeding a large colony of cats, keep a journal (and try to get photographs of each cat) that way you will have a record that you can refer to and be sure that you have trapped all the cats in the group. Record any type of distinguishing mark, color, sex, etc..

Persistence and patience is key here. Once you have the cat in the trap, get the trap to a vet that is familiar with handling feral cats. Don’t call and make an appointment without letting them know that your cat is feral. That is hardly fair to the vet and the vet techs. If you are using a spay day on a spay mobile, make sure you have enough dark cloths to cover each trap while the animal waits for his or her turn. There are a lot of cats on a Spay Day and the more you can reduce the animal’s stress, the better for everyone involved.

According to Lisa Doyle, cat rescuer and volunteer of AzCat the following items are essential to have with you while trapping large colonies:
Humane Traps
Can opener
Cover for each trap
Dish or lid to hold cat food
Tarp or plastic for under traps when transporting in vehicle
Coffee, blanket, radio with earphones (if you are going to stake out the area and watch the traps)

2. Set the traps around the area where the cats are used to being fed. You can also set up in areas where they are seen. In general cats like to be up against walls, etc. so you are more likely to catch them there.

3. Potential Trap problems: Be sure that the trap door has a full, unhindered swing. If you are using the brown traps with the side chain attached to the trip plate (thing that they step on) check to see that the chain is not twisted or jammed when you set the trap.

If your trap is one with a back door look at how it is secured when you get it so you know how to correctly close it. If you do not close it correctly the cat may be able to escape.

4. Put newspaper, folded in half length wise, in the bottom of the trap and put a small amount of smelly food on a lid or other small item in the back of the trap against the door that will remain closed. Sprinkle a very small amount of the food along the newspaper in one or two places. Never put any food outside the trap itself. Suggested food: Tuna fish; sardines; Fancy Feast salmon or other smelly cat food.

5. As you trap the cats and move them be sure to look at the ground. Sometimes the tuna or other food you use for bait will spill onto the ground. Pick it up immediately if you have not yet caught all the cats you are trying to trap. You don’t want it to be eaten by the other cats you are trying to trap.

When a cat is in a trap:

1. Immediately cover the trap completely with a towel or sheet then take the cat away from the area. (Careful as they can move back and forth quickly in the trap and catch you off balance.)

2. Always check to see if the left ear of the cat is ear-tipped. The tip of the left ear is cut straight across so that the tip is removed. That means that the cat was previously trapped, altered, and returned. It can be released. If you have sufficient traps, hold the cat in the trap until you are done trapping, and then release it.

3. It takes a while for other cats to come back in the area after a cat is trapped so be patient. It gets harder to catch the remaining cats with every trap they see or hear go off.

4. Do not feed the cat in the trap you risk escape and the cat is having surgery the following morning and should have nothing in its stomach. (The exception is kittens that are small but big enough to alter. Kittens blood sugar drops when they do not eat causing added risk during surgery so the recommendation is to feed them a small amount of MOIST cat food right up to a few hours before surgery.)

5. Put the trapped cat somewhere where it will not be too adversely affected by the weather and where it will be safe from people and other animals.


1. LEAVE THE TOWEL OR SHEET ON THE TRAP THE CAT IS IN THE ENTIRE TIME THE CAT IS IN THE TRAP. If the cat pulls the cover into the trap get another cover to put on the trap. Cats in traps must be covered.

2. You should put a tarp or other waterproof covering in the vehicle (for example, an old shower curtain.) The cats may urinate or defecate.

3. MAKE CERTAIN THE TRAPS CANNOT ROLL OVER IN YOUR VEHICLE. Gravity-operated (brown) traps will open if turned upside down. If you must stack the traps on top of each other make certain that the handle is not sticking up on the trap that is on the bottom and that the top trap is secure so that it will not tip on either side.

Holding the cat overnight and releasing the cat:

1. Hold the cats in an area where they are safe from predators and protected from the elements. After surgery, cats cannot regulate their body temperatures the way they normally can, so their holding area cannot be too cold in winter or too warm in the summer.

2. You should give the cats water and a little moist food, use extreme caution so the cats cannot escape from their traps. Using the same door you used to put the bait in the trap, lift the door up no more than necessary and never so far up that the cat can fit through the door if it suddenly decided to bolt forward. (The door should come up only a couple inches.) Be sure to secure the door correctly as well. If a cat is very groggy or unsteady, wait. You do not want to risk having the cat drown in the water or choke on the food.

3. Hold the cat a minimum of 24 hours after surgery. If there is continuing bleeding or other problems do not release the cat. Follow the instructions given by the veterinarian.

4. To release take the cat to its usual secure location preferably where there are bushes or other things in which it can hide, open the back door, pull the trap cover back, and stand at the opposite end of the trap to wait for the cat to go out. If it is near an area where there is vehicular traffic wait for a time when there is no traffic because the cat may make a panic run directly into oncoming traffic.

Follow up:

1. Clean the trap with a bleach solution. Bleaching traps helps prevent the spread of any diseases for future trappings.

1 gallon of water to 4 ½ oz. of bleach
2 gallons of water to 8¾ oz. of bleach
3 gallons of water to 13 oz. of bleach
4 gallons of water to 17 1/4 oz. of bleach
5 gallons of water to 21 ½ oz. of bleach

2. Wash the towels or sheets that were used as trap covers. Use bleach.

If you are only trapping one cat, this becomes easier. However, if the cat is older and trap savvy, he may not enter the trap readily.
Once the cat is trapped, transport him to the vet clinic. Be sure and call the clinic first to let them know you have a stray cat in need of a neuter. While the cat is being transported, be sure and keep the trap covered. This calms the cat down, though you may still hear him rush against the sides of the wire in a frantic attempt to get away. This is normal for trapped cats to feel such panic. You also need to prepare yourself for seeing some blood once the trap is uncovered. Many cats slash open their nose or face while attempting to flee captivity. If possible, keep the cat in your car in the covered trap until the vet is ready to see the cat in his treatment room (weather permitting). This decreases the amount of stress the cat is subjected to, shielding it from the other stess pheremones from the other animals waiting to be seen.

Initial Vet Visit

Any cat that isn’t used to being handled is considered feral to the vet and the clinic. This cuts down on the amount of injury to the staff and the cat as well. If the cat is brought into the clinic in a covered trap, the office girl will take down all pertinent information.

The cat should be tested for the prevalent viral diseases in the area. This testing will be undertaken once the cat has been sedated. What tests are taken should be determined by the vet and the owner. The cat is then carried back to the kennel area. His trap is then inverted upright (vertically) instead of horizonally. This minimizes the injuries he can cause himself.

At the clinic, they have an apparatus called “metal fingers.” This is a series of long metal rods that can be inserted into the main trap. The tech’s hands are outside the cage, holding on to the special gripper handle. The metal fingers are then worked through the bars of the trap, forcing the cat down into the bottom of the cage. The fingers, hold the cat securely in place while the vet administers the sedative. Different clinics use different drugs; Telazole, Rompum, Ketamine, Torbugesic or Xylazine are the preferred drugs of choice.

Once the cat has been sedated, he is removed from the trap. If ear tipping has been requested, the vet will surgically remove the bare tip of the left ear. This ear tipping is performed if the cat is being re-released back outside. Then all routine exams are performed, bloodwork taken to test for viral disease. If the cat is healthy, he will then be neutered, returned back to his trap or a waiting cat carrier if the owner provides one.

This type of treatment, no matter how gently it is carried out by the vet and the staff, only proves to terrify a stray cat more. Used to being able to escape in all directions, the cat wakes up in discomfort and on edge. It is imperative that when transporting the cat home, you keep the carrier or the trap covered at all times. Pain patches should be applied to help with the level of pain the cat will experience during the recovery process.

Because you have trapped this cat, cut off all access of freedom for him, you move quickly in the cat’s eyes from “rescuer” to predator. He is not going to trust you for sometime and may even do you great harm. Handling him right off if you don’t know what you are doing must be done minimally, especially if your goal is to just release him back into the outdoors.

90 thoughts on “There’s a stray outside

  1. I have been feeding a female stray for 8 months in my patio. She is tamed and very friendly to me (and to other neighbors too). She never hisses at me, would allow me to touch, nap in my patio and even enter my house! So, I contacted the TNR hotline to arrange her operation as I could so easily catch and take her to a local vet based on the trust I built so far with her…

    But unfortunately she brought three kittens to my patio one day and I didn’t even know she was pregnant! The four began to eat and drink at my patio, which is fine with me. I even cleaned up the dead birds in my patio when the mom cat teaches the babies how to hunt.

    The only issue is that the mom cat always takes the babies along, brings them to my patio, watches while they’re eating, even meowing to find her babies when she doesn’t see them. Basically they are so attached each other and I don’t know if I can take the mom cat away from the kittens even for a couple of days. I know I should do this asap as she will get pregnant again soon but I just like to wait until the kittens get independent and don’t need their mom.

    Do you think I can wait until they get separated? fyi. the kittens are eating dry food now without any more breast-feeding. I am not sure but they are about 2 months old. I wonder if the babies can be fixed now, though I don’t think I can trap all of them…

    Your advice will be appreciated!

  2. This is what I would do in this situation. I would first off enclose the family on the porch in some way. Either shut the door (if there is one) then put the babies in one carrier, the mom in another. If babies are eating on their own, the queen will soon drive them away from her anyway. I would take mom to the vet and first get her tested. If she comes up positive for the nasty diseases, I would have her put down. This would also mean her kittens are at risk for disease so I would discuss all of this with the vet. If negative test results, get mom spayed and if you can afford it- most vets will spay the kittens at 2 pounds. You can sometimes get local groups involved to raise the funds for this or point you to a low-cost spay clinic. I would not let mom outside before she is spayed because she will become pregnant again and yes, even the kittens can be hurt in a over-zealous and immature tomcat decides to mate with them.

    Leave a large carrier on the porch withthe door propped open and feed inside. Once they are comfortable enough to go inside and back out and in again, just shut the door and trap them. It may sound easy and sometimes it is, but sometimes it can get difficult and if it goes wrong, the cat will learn to fear the carrier and it will be necessary to trap with a humane trap

    Good luck

  3. Last Winter I found a cat in my backyard living under my shed. He was out in snow and ice and freezing rain. I started feeding him and along with FURR, trapped him to be neutered. I kept him inside for about two months. He seemed happy and comfortable. He was well behaved and followed commands like he had once been a domesticated cat. He was still a little skittish and howled at night, but even that was getting less. Then one day, I let him outside, thinking that he could play out and get rid of his excess energy and would come back home at night. First day out, when I saw him, he would run from me and back under the shed. That has been about four days now and I don’t see him at all. He doesn’t even come back to get food, so don’t know if he is getting fed or what might have happened to him, I thought we had bonded. I love and miss him and want him to come back.
    What happened here? Did he just revert back to his wild ways? I am heartbroken and grieving. I go to the door many times a day to see if he’s back on my deck, but he’s nowhere to be seen,.

  4. Glynda,

    Some cats just don’t want to be inside cats. Given a chance to roam outside, most would choose to do this. Cats instincts thrive outside. Indoor cats that can’t adjust their instinct is called “behavior issues.”

    I would just keep feeding him on a routine schedule outside somewhere safe. If you set up a regular schedule of feedings, you will soon see him appear right before each feeding. Cats love routine. Strays who have had little first contact with people sometimes won’t bond to you. It’s just not their comfort level. At least you cared enough to bring him out of the cold for a little while and who knows, he might be back once he realizes the pressure is off him to stay inside.

  5. I just wanted to tell you this article helped me tremendously. I have always rescued animals, but now I was injured in the line of duty and forced to retire on it at half my pay (I only worked 18 yrs), and where I can affoed to live are irresponsible people who don’t fix their cats. It updets me so much. My neighbor was evicted and threw out her indoor cats. I have 5 of my own and 2 dogs and the owner wouldn’t let me take anymore, so I put food and water outside for them. It brought other cats. And the spraying began. A neighbor complained. The owner said if I didn’t stop feeding them he would trap them. He did anyway. They were trapping neighbors cats and taking them to them to the pound. I have been so depressed. I have let as many as I can go. I hate it here. But I lost my house when I retired # half my pay. I am stuck. I have taken ad many as I can to be fixed on my good days. I have a spine injury. I am in pain 24/7. Your atricle made me laugh and gave me new hope. Thank you so much, Laurie Lopez from Yucaipa, Calif.

  6. Laurie,

    I am sorry that you are surrounded by such apathy and ignorance when it comes to stray cats. I get calls daily from fed up apartment owners, managers of trailer parks all asking me to take anywhere from three to thirty five cats! I tell each one who calls that TNR is the only successful way to handle a clowder of kitties. Most just want me to take their problem off their hands permanently and get rid of it for them. Doesn’t work that way. Who in their right mind can take more than a few cats at one time and rehome them? Let alone 25-30. The trailer parks are highly attractive to cats especially if it is a low-end park. Mice, rats and rodents converge and bring the cats. Most people don’t notice the mice (until they get inside a trailer) but they do notice the cats. I cry everytime I drive through a trailer park in my town- so many cats wasting away and all I want to do is scoop them up and take them all time. But, I am a rescuer, not a hoarder and as hard as it is to drive away- I do after leaving my fliers about low-cost spay clinics in the area at the managers door. I help when I can, but when there are too many- I have to walk away.

  7. Cats don’t have “Alphas” so that is a very inaccurate term here. Cats are not pack animals.

  8. With all due respect Cynthia, you would be wrong on this one. Although cats are not actually pack animals per se- they do when they are outside (or inside with multiple cats) establish a pecking order. There will be one (or more of these cats) who will eat first before any other cat, they will search for high places in order to sleep and rest and keep an eye out on the other cats. In the wild- the alpha cat will choose who can come into the clowder by fighting off other males (or females) who are dominant. They survive outside by banding together. The queens will hunt and furnish the wild food, the others will find sources of food and leave a pee trail so the others can find it as well. If you have to put to sleep your alpha cat, you will see in the days following a bit of upheaval within the group as they sort through who will take over where the alpha did before. So now you know that they do have a pecking order- they do gather together for survival (which is why there are so many cats out there) and they do take care of each other instinctively. There are also cats known as pariahs. These cats are shy and withdrawn- they live outside the group- they eat any food left over, they hide in the shadows and when they do get into the group- they will get bullied or beat-up.

  9. I have stray cat that I have been looking out for for about 3 years. I can’t have pets in my apartment but he lives in the woods right behind my apartment so we are in pretty close proximity. I used to be a smoker and would go outside pretty much every hour to have a cigarette. I bought him some bowls and food and fed him whenever I saw him, which would usually be about 8pm. I’d sit out there and pet him and talk to him. If he got hurt, I’d take him to the vet. I made sure he had his shots. Made sure he was neutered (he was, so, I didn’t have to get it done myself). The problem is, that now that I quit smoking, I only come out to feed him, say hello, once or twice a night rather than every hour. (I have sleep disorders so usually I’m a nocturnal person). So, he’s taken to yowling and screaming at my doors and windows ALL NIGHT LONG. He is… extremely persistent. This has been going on for about 6 months!! I put tin foil up on the windowsills to keep him off of there but he still sits under my windows and yowls and cries ALL OF THE TIME. The few weeks every few months I actually do sleep at night are invaded with the sounds of a screaming cat. I’m disabled and stress is not good for me at all. The main reason I started hanging out with that cat was because cats are supposed to ease stress and he needed some love and attention. Now he’s just become a stressful pest. He still gets attention, he still gets fed. It just requires him to come at sundown and dusk to get it rather than on his terms at any hour of the day. That’s all. I’ve tried ignoring him. I’ve tried banging on the windows (which scares him off temporarily). I’ve tried throwing a glass of cold water at him. This cat is extremely smart and persistent. I’m at my wits end and this giant cat that I once enjoyed seeing has become a source of frustration and resentment. I still love the damn cat but something has to happen. If this continues I may have no other choice but to take him to a shelter or something, for my health. I have tried ignoring his yowling. It’s not working. I even got head phones and ear plugs, his screams are so loud, high pitched, varied, and constant that it overpowers the earphones and earplugs. It’s like having a baby crying for six months straight. Unbearable. Please help. If I can avoid chasing him off or sending him away, I’d prefer that. I really do love the little guy. If he would just be satisfied with two meals and a part time warm lap we could both be happy, but he wants me constantly and the more time I spend with him the worse he behaves.

  10. Sounds like you have a fan. It’s heartbreaking really when you think of it. Only because of rules and regs and ill-informed landlords keeps this cat where he really wants to be- INSIDE your home! Is there a pet deposit you can pay to have a cat? I think if you put this story (and photos) on social media, you would find people ready to donate to that cause. Other than finding a new home for him or letting him indoors to be with you because he adores you and is probably really friggin tired of being outside- there is little you can do to stop him. I personally love this story and although I appreciate your frustration- can you not see what a positive influence you have been on a cat who has been cast aside in the past like he is garbage? Is his ear tipped? Have you called any local rescues and shared this story to see if they can come and get him?

  11. In July we heard this cute little meow in the back yard it was a feral kitten we have been feeding him since but won’t come near us. Now we have another black cat that comes and he Atracks our first feral cat and we do tnknow how to stop that are they fighting is it ale thing to be scared about. Feel bad for our original cat and don’t want our original cat to get hurt or be scared! Any advice? Thanks

  12. Your best bet is to trap both of the cats and get them neutered to stop the fighting. You can usually borrow traps from a humane society, or rent them for about $10.00 for a few days from a feed store or a wildlife trapper. Check around or ask on Craigslist if someone can help you trap these two and get them in to be neutered quickly. Check also for a local vet near you that might do the neuters cheaply. Best of luck

  13. Feral cat had 5 kittens in my back yard between my husband’s work shop and stone fence. I took about 7 weeks old kittens to the animal shelter the other day. Unfortunately mama cat was watching me from the top of fence when I took her kittens. Of course I was not able to catch her. Since then mama cat still comes back to my back yard, and she even left a dead mouse the other day. The animal shelter does not have a trap, and I don’t feel like spending the money for it. I don’t know anything about the cat. What can I do?

  14. You can either contact a local kitten rescue group in your area, or set up a cat carrier and start feeding mom inside the carrier. Sometimes you can borrow a trap from animal control or a feed store or pet supply store for about $10.00 a day. Chances are strong mom is probably pregnant again so if you set up a feeding station inside the carrier and leave the door opened until she is comfortable eating inside of it- you can then attach a rope and pull it shut when she is in there and keeping great tension on the rope (we always run a screw into a building nearby and tie off the rope until we can get to the carrier and close it) you can more than likely capture her and get her spayed and into a home.

  15. I started a year ago feeding two feral cats in my back yard. I also provided shelter – which they didn’t use. But a year later, I now have 9 feral all cats. I have been talking to the humane society and a local feral cat group and they have helped me a lot. The mother cat of the four other cats had four kittens about 8 weeks ago. I have been trying to trap for a couple of months and working with the cats to where I can pet – just a little – two of the cats. Finally, last Monday, I trapped the mother of the . Other cats and had het spayed. I was elated. I now have to trap the other cats, but that can take a while . I have one other female who is extremely skittish, but I hoe to get her eventually. I am trying to work with the kittens, and it is getting better, but not there yet. I want to get them neutered at 2 lbs. I have a screened in porch that is fairly big. I started leaving the door open and now 8 of the cats come in at night and play and sleep. I feed them at a separate feeding station. My question is, is it okay to let them on my porch? I would like to put warm shelters on the porch and the will be so much more protected on the porch. Some run when I go outside, but that is getting better. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  16. If you have a screened in porch with a stout door- it is possible to trap the cats all at once with someone who rescues ferals and knows what they are doing. You can do it with a dark blanket and extra duty gloves- you can set up cat carriers where you feed them and when they go inside, you can rig the door with a rope- swing it shut- hold it firmly in place while you run to shut the door and lock it. It is also possible to get a drop trap and trap them that way- the sooner you get all of them trapped- the less the population will grow. It’s not easy but it can be done. If you want to send me an email I will send you step-by-step instructions on how to do this BUT you have to be sure that once you trap them you have the means to neuter them. The girls will have to be contained for 48 hours after a spay- the boys only need 10 minutes before they can be let loose in the yard. Contact me at my name is Mary Anne be happy to help you out.

  17. Love this article. I work at a factory site that has a feral cat colony. Some days I feed the cats a small snack. Today there were 6 of the 7 cats eating. Three teenage tabbies eat together (they were from same litter), the tortie I can touch and she eats alone, the black coloured cat eats alone. The short tailed tabby (that only has one eye light up with my car headlights) approached one of the two extra piles of food, sniffed it then went to black kitties food, smacked this kitty over the head until it became submissive and then ate from this pile of food. When I say ate, it appears this cat fills his mouth, then suddenly lets out the most awful screech and bolts away. This has happened before, today I followed him to the area he went and put a few more pellets down, he did not eat them for 5 minutes. I had to then go inside the factory.

    Is this behaviour normal for deep feral cats? Cat first spotted on railway tracks a few years back but only this past winter did I see him join the other cats for food. He has a shorter tail than most, his right eye does not light up in car lights and he appears to be in good health.

  18. Sounds to me like you might have some oral issues going on. Rodent ulcers, stomatitis, infected teeth. Do you notice any piles of returned food anywhere close? It could also be that the cat has a throat obstruction. Does anyone at your work take responsibility over these cats: spaying, neutering, doctoring if need be? If so talk to them and see about getting a cat rescuer in there to trap the kitty and get it some help. Cats can become sickened and even die from oral issues if not addressed quickly. if there is no local to help, or anyone in your work area that takes the responsible path with these cats then call the local humane society and pick their brain about what to do. They are going to tell you they don’t take feral cats except to euthanize them (that is sadly the standard answer). My humane society in this instance would call out to me- so perhaps they know someone who operates a rescue on a smaller scale that will step in and help out. Offering a donation sometimes gets faster results as rescuers are always busy. just have patience.

    Worse case scenario you can’t find anyone to help try to get some antibiotics from your vet or a vet. A feed through powder- the problem with that is you can’t guarantee the cat will get the medicine it needs and some vets won’t go there because they want to see the cat before treating it. I worked for a feral cat vet in Alaska for a few years and I learned all his tricks. But some vets will just tell you sorry- can’t help. best thing to do is google your town/state and then type feral cat rescue and see what comes up- or contact Alley Cat Allies and see if they have someone close who can help you out.

    Good luck- sadly this is a common problem for strays living on the streets.

  19. We care for 2 outdoor cats. They both had the same mother. The one female alpha cat tries to run off her sister daily. They both have good insulated houses for winter (one Kittytube the other a well insulated container with straw bedding). The alpha took over the heated Kittytube but constantly invades the other box and keeps the sister cat out. They share a heated water bowl. Have separate food bowls. Is there anything we can do to stop this behavior. Both cats were spayed years ago.

  20. I am renting a condo here in S. Florida for three months and have a problem with feral cats. They wail on and off throughout the night, seemingly from outside my window. The condo owner asked me to keep her patio storage room door slightly ajar, so they could go into the storage room to avoid bad weather. I think perhaps she feeds them occasionally (which I have not.) I think some of the cats have been neutered, but obviously not all of them. What can I do without the process of trapping them, etc. The condo owner says they are very friendly, but if they were they wouldn’t wail at night (and occasionally during the day)!

  21. Steve Google this and then click on the links and see if one of these folks might help you out.(Google South Florida Feral Cat Rescue) Offering a bit of a donation for their help allows rescues sometimes to answer quicker than they would normally. If you are not feeding them, and the owner of the condo has been- is not going to make the problem go away. If they are indeed wailing as you said, then no, not all of them are Spayed or neutered and perhaps one of these organizations can help with that

  22. Keeping the boxes far enough away from each other will help a lot. Just as if he were a litter pan ambusher- putting distance between the litter pans just makes this behavior tougher for the cat to maintain. he can only be at one bed at a time.

  23. Hello, I have been feeding a cat that was hanging around my house for the last couple of months. She started to like me and now tries to rub against me when I come out to feed her and she starts to purr. I got her a nice big dog house and put it inside my shed surrounded by hay and a blanket. She gets fed and had a warm place to sleep every night. But about 3 nights ago she started yowling and howling all night long. It is so loud and I have come out to her but she does not look at me or the food I put down. She looks all around as if she is calling for someone. I am not sure what is going on but I did recently see another cat near by my house. I think they were howling back and forth to one another. If she does not want me or the food then why does she howl on the doorstep each night? Please help!

  24. Sounds to me like your lovely lady is in heat. The visiting cat is a male and they are talking to get mated up. Chances are he is spraying a trail so she can find him if she gets outside. Please don’t let her out, as cute as new kittens can be, you should really get her into the vet and have her tested, get her spayed and vaccinate her. The howling and distracting behavior stops soon after the females get spayed.

  25. I actually have a question. We have a feral male cat that has been around for about 1-1/2 years that we have been feeding. Recently I saw that he has been injured; appears to have some abscesses on the rear portion of his body to the point that he was having trouble walking. We want to get him to the vets and saw that he had been staying under my porch and we have tried trapping him several times to no avail with a havahart trap. The animal control officer came yesterday and tried to use a net on him and now he has taken off and we have not seen him since yesterday AM. Will he come back since he has been getting food from us?

  26. He will more than likely come back if the abscess doesn’t do him in. Hard to say what will happen if the cat doesn’t have antibiotics on board. I would advise you use a drop trap to catch him. You can go online and get plans and the process on how to make one. Sometimes, if you do it right- you can also use a cat carrier although it is a rather long process of about a week and a half before the cat can actually be caught. you can email me at It is never a good idea to get animal control involved- they smell too much like other cats and dogs and it is a spooky, scary smell for cats to absorb. I would keep putting food out and hope he comes back, trap him and then get him in for a evaluation, testing and a neuter.

  27. Love your site. Please help. Now have 9 ferals coming for food and shelter.I’m elderly and unwell. How do I find vet and help to get cats neutered. Live in Lorain, Ohio. No kittens , all seem healthy. Weather getting warm so females will go in heat. Love animals, want to help and can pay for most of vet care. Bless you for your knowledge and advice. Linda Bennett

  28. There s a stray cat that s been hanging around my house since ive fed it. At night it sits at my door and cries. I feel very bad but there s no way i would be able to take the cat in into my home. I thought about calling animal services to come pick it up and maybe find it a home. But im worried if no one adopts it will it be put to sleep. I don t want that, the cat is so friendly. Does anyone have an idea of what i could or should do?

  29. It really depends on where you are located as to what help might be available to you. I always tell people to google their home town or city in this way- for example” Portland, Oregon feral cat rescue” then follow the links and find local help. Most of the time, you can find help that way. Offering a donation to a rescue group especially during kitten season might elicit a faster response then not offering anything at all. Good luck!

  30. We live on 4 acres and have 2 horses and 2 dogs. We had 2 King Charles Cavelier Spaniels at the time. About 6 years ago my Moulukan Cockatoo of 16 years was eaten by a coyotee which broke my heart of course.

    We got an adorable puppy that came to us which was half huskey half sheppard with the intention of keeping the deer coyotees etc off our property and protect our king Charles Caveliers. It has worked like a charm. As he grew as a puppy he caught a deer. That was a little scary but the vet assured me he was just faster than most dogs. He loves to catch lizards and is so sweet.

    Then our property got over run by rats and they were going in my office and I tried everything until someone said get some career cats in which case I investigated a lot and we decided ok but the only thing was what about the dogs? Yikes! We were assured that everyone would figure it out and the cats had plenty of safe spots.

    Janet from Marin Ferals has been amazing and placed 4 cats on our property that I took in 8 months ago right before they were going to be euthanized and she had them spayed, neutered, chipped and got all of their shots.

    We caged them for 3 weeks in the little barn and I fed them twice a day and went a few times more a day. I followed the directions to a T!
    The first day we let them out, one left immedaitely and never returned.
    The rest have stayed reliably and I would continue the routine and then start playing with them with toys etc. I had 2 eating out of my hand and then I could pet them and my friendliest was letting me hold him and ran towards me and loved the affection purring. He started smelling like colonge and didn’t come home for a week. I put a plea out on one of our community hot lines and within 2 hours he was back and it was like a love fest. Since then he stayed for about 3 nights and now a week later I haven’t a clue where he is. My suspicion is someone is keeping him inside which I guess is ok as long as I know he’s safe, much as I miss him and pray he returns.

    I barely let my dogs out anymore because I’m sure that’s why the cats are climbing the neighbors fences, although they all have dogs as well; unless I’m with them on a leash which is getting hard and I feel bad for them.
    We do have an invisable fence so the dogs cannot go where the cats are at the barn so they are safe there but not sure the cats get that. I finally put break away collars on 2 of them after much debate but I thought the idea of someone knowing they have a home is better than someone taking them. I have semi domesticated them for the purpose of pulling ticks out of them, taking them to the vet if needed etc but not to make them house pets although they are so sweet and cute I’m debating that. I also wanted them to feel safe here and loved and like this is their home.
    I have a remote training dispenser coming to teach the dogs to stay etc which was my next plan so they can all feel safe and the dogs won’t chase them. We also have 2 neighbor cats that come here all the time and I think have terrized our cats because they run and are scared. I’ve tried to talk to the neighbor about keeping them in at night with no success and I fell trying to scare them off which is a daily routine. I cannot keep actiing like a mother cat and this injury has really been bad. Ok, I am now a crazy cat lady which is nuts. I’m walking on egg shells with the dogs and are mad at them for the few times they have chased them up a tree etc with posters everywhere and this whole routine and I work full time.

    In their barn the cats have 3 cat trees and a huge cat condo.
    I want to keep them safe at night and am considering locking them up in the cat condo at night and coveing it. I just started locking it while they go in there and eat until they are done and they explore and didn’t bolt when I reopened it.

    So, Finally, my question is, do you think that’s a good idea so I know they are safe all night or will they leave?

    I know it defeats the rat problem but I don’t care as I love them so much I just want them safe and my husband does NOT want them in the house. My little gray one Fia has made friends with a mouse and I’m just happy that she has a friend. Ok, so I’m nuts I know but why did she give me the cutest cats ever. I said give me the ugliest feral cats you can find. Feral she said they were and she is shocked I have semi domesticated them. I keep building houses etc all over my property so they are happy but then they find their own spots.

    Cats are NOT to be figured out. Thus, the problem with humans.
    Thanks for listening and your kind response.
    Cindy the Cra Cra Cat Lady

  31. Cindy

    It sounds to me like you go the extra mile for cats so kudos to you for that! Dogs can be trained not to chase cats but it takes time and patience and sometimes can result in a cat getting injured. Keeping all the animals is paramount. I will write more later emergency here got to go

  32. Thank you so much.
    I will look forward to your response.
    I actually am starting the dogs on hign vibration collars today to
    help train them NOT to chase the cats and the remote treat dispenser is coming.
    I again locked them in their large kitty condo for a little bit longer last night and
    put up a solar panal curtain on the outside of the barn door. They seem not to mind that and when I opened the doors and left they didn’t leave and follow me like normally. They came this morning…. still no Issy but at least 2 came.
    I’ve ordered a wild life camera so I think when it comes I will lock them in the cage for the night and monitor with the camera.
    I’m leaving to go out of town for 5 days next week and my daughter is coming who they know. My only problem is if they don’t reliably come one night, I can’t lock them in. Anything I’m missing or other suggestions?
    Hope things are ok on your end.
    Thank you so much!

  33. I just started earlier this month to feed a cat that comes to our backyard. She only comes after its dark, so m having trouble taking a closer look/ interact with her. The only time I saw her before dark was the first time I met her (around 8pm). She would rub on my legs and follow me from a distance, but bit me (gently) when I tried to pet her. I put food out everyday at around 7:30pm, but I don’t think she visit it until midnight. Is there anything I can do to make her show up before it gets dark? So that I can observe her better, maybe try to put a collar on with messages in case someone else also feed her, also it would be earlier to trap her for TNR. Also how do I know if this is not a neighbor’s outdoor cat? Does the vet who perform TNR also scan for microchip? Any suggestions are appreciated!

  34. Hello, I am in deep need of someone’s help. I live in a neighborhood full of feral cats. According to my neighbors, they have been to the vet and released back to the neighborhood. My neighbors who live 2 houses down has been feeding around 5 cats for years now and the cats have marked the porch their territory. But they are not the only cats. Unfortunately for the cats little down from my house, a little woods area, there are at least 4 cats that live there. Two of the cats (pumpkin and spooky) recognize my voice and come to me when I come down there to give them dry food. I’ve been giving them dry food for almost a week and half now. Pumpkin even let’s me pet her and purrs. Unfortunately, when I come up the hill and show then where I live so they can come live on my porch (it’s dry and protected and I will provide them with shelter from the cold) but pumpkin will stop following me once im up this little hill where my neighbors house and the other cats territory is. Sadly, the only way to get to my house is to go by their house and the cats down in the wood area are scared of my neighbors cats. What should I do? Please help me. I really want to help these cats stay warm and fed especially with winter coming. I thought about building little shelter and putting it where they usually hangout but my neighbors have a lot of young teenagers that would most likely break it since they try to scare the cats and even throw trash where the cats live.

  35. Is there any possibility you can hide the shelters under the leaves or the forest debris? We do that a lot when we are trapping or feeding feral cats in public places. I am pleased to say that at one park, we have one shelter that has been so successfully hidden that it is yet to be discovered and it is by a major hiking trail! I would look into getting the insulated cat houses or you can google warm homemade feral cat houses and build your own.

    Pumpkin is likely not following you because of the overwhelming stench of tomcat spray on that home of the feeder. Cats have such sensitive noses that they know when danger lurks and they stay away. The are pee-grams that are set out by the alpha toms to warn other cats away and it is quite effective. If the woman is feeding only and not spaying and neutering is there any way you can educate her about locating a spay and neuter clinic and getting the surgeries done? Or is she just blind to what cats do when they are intact? One of the major selling points I have when dealing with out-of-control feeders is I point out how the males and females are prone to cancer if they aren’t fixed and it is a very bad way for the cats to die. I hope I have helped. I know full-well what you are up against. You can also decorate the shelters with artificial leaves and bushes as long as it blends with the rest of the environment.

  36. a cat who was left on my block after tenants were evicted has roamed around for about 5 yrs. and is now hanging around my house and next door. last week he and my outdoor (neutered) feral got into a huge fight. my boy is usually pretty sure of himself and guards his territory but since the fight stays mostly in the garage where he eats and shelters. he’s still got an appetite and he lets me brush and pet him but hisses a lot now when he’s standing at the open garage door. he’s been venturing out a bit but his demeanor is so changed. what can i do for him? not sure i can trap the interloper. can’t get close enough to tell if his ear is clipped of even determine the sex.

  37. You will never know if you can trap him until you try. If they tangled it could mean he is intact, or they are territorial over the food dish. He does need to be trapped and if he is an older cat (over four) you should be able to look at his jowls (cheeks) and tell if he is a tomcat. Toms look like they store nuts in their cheeks for the winter (no pun intended) Plus if he turns on you and walks away, if his tail is up and you see his testicles- well that pretty much says it all. If he is a tom, his days are numbered- they don’t live as long as neutered strays do on the streets and it also leaves them open to develop testicular cancer or die from a disease like FIP or FeLV.

  38. Thanks so much for this article, it helps as do the comments but i would like your advice on my particular situation: I live in a Caribbean Island where feral cats are mistreated and killed often. About a year ago when we had storms and endless rain two feral cats looked for shelter in the parking lot in my apartment building, one of them badly was badly hurt. I took both to the vet where they neutered them and operated on the badly hurt one, that one, a female I adopted, the male didn’t want to stay in my home so, since he was neutered, I took him to the parking lot where I feed him and care for him. As you can imagine now there’s 3 more cats in the parking lot, all female, feral, unneutered. My neighbours are threatening with harming them, I have tried to catch them without succeeding, I am desperate to help them and don’t know how.

  39. Is there a rescue that comes in and helps out or is there absolutely no help for these cats at all? Sometimes, visiting vets will band together and come in and do a low cost spay and neuter program to help alleviate the numbers. I believe the Sunshine Foundation is one of those and you can google them and contact them. Adding photos of the feral cats roaming often gets faster responses. Best of luck! I would Google Sunshine Foundation Tropical Island Feral Cat Rescue and see what comes up

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