Feral cats are domesticated cats that have returned to the wild. They have learned to survive by finding their own food and shelter and have lost their trust in humans so are no longer tame. Some truly feral cats have been born in the 'wild' and will never have been handled by people. It has been estimated that there are two million stray cats living on the streets of Britain, but many experts agree this is probably a conservative figure.A semi-feral cat is one that will have been owned and lived in a domestic setting at some point in its life, but has strayed and chosen to live apart from humans. These cats can often be returned to a loving home if given time and patient care.Feral cats cause problems as they breed indiscriminately and they can be aggressive towards humans and other animals - protecting their territory with a hostility that belies their size. It's important to remember that a feral cat should not be approached as they can cause serious injury if provoked. That said it's equally important to remember that feral cats often live short, unsettled lives, with males roaming widely, siring many litters and fighting over territory. Female cats or queens, are usually continually pregnant and spend their lives feeding kittens, many of which do not survive. Because of this perilous existence many people choose to feed feral cats and rehome any kittens. Many charities also offer a trap-neuter-return scheme to try and get the number of feral cats in the UK down and to protect the health of animals that are happier living away from humans and reduce the risk of these animals becoming a nuisance.
Experts agree that if you think you may have a problem with a feral cat or cats, it's vital you establish that these are not simply strays. If the animals are comfortable being approached or even handled the chances are they are strays and you should attempt to find their owner.Ask your neighbours, put a card in the local shop window or download a poster from one of the animal charity websites - some newspapers even offer free advertisements for 'found' animals. Before you approach a charity or an animal warden for collection of the cat or cats, you should do your best to establish whether or not it has an owner. After all, if it was your pet you would want to know that someone did their best to get it back to you!
Feral cats have lived alongside humans for tens of thousands of years and despite the harsh reality of their lives, if they have a regular source of food they can enjoy a healthy, happy life in the wild. However, where there is one feral cat, there are bound to be others and because they aren't vaccinated they can carry diseases that are easily passed to the domestic cats that share their territory. They can also fight with pet cats and cause injury to these animals.The continual breeding cycle of feral cats causes problems for homes and businesses near their chosen home. The population of wild animals can expand rapidly causing more mess, aggression and disease if left unchecked, plus the toll taken on queens by repeated pregnancies leaves them weak and prone to illness. A queen and her litter can increase to fifteen or twenty cats in 12 months and 40 cats in just two years.It's a sad fact, but many welfare organisations and wardens will simply destroy colonies of feral cats as they simply do not know what to do with them or lack the resources for trap-neuter-return. However, destruction is usually a pointless exercise as a new family of feral animals will quickly move in and take over the territory. Cats gather around a reliable food source and if that food source remains it will attract more animals.If the cats are causing a nuisance the best course of action is to talk to one of the many animal charities that offer humane solutions to feral cat populations i.e. trap-neuter-return. They will be able to advise on the best course of action and even collect the cats and move them on if necessary. Even if the charity you approach doesn't have the resources to deal with feral populations, and many don't, they will certainly be able to point you in the right direction.You must be prepared for any organisation to recommend returning the cats to where they were found once neutering has taken place. If the cats are healthy they should not be disturbed too much and neutering can stop the annoying behaviours usually associated with mating such as calling, spraying and fighting - as well as rapid population expansion. Any feral cats that have been neutered will have had part of their left ear clipped in a procedure known as 'ear-tipping'. This lets rescuers know which cats, if any, have already been neutered.Feral cats should not be taken to an animal shelter by worried householders or charities as they are not socialised and will find the process very stressful. This may lead them to be destroyed as they cannot live in a rescue centre situation and will not be suitable for adoption in to a family home. Feral kittens on the other hand, may be taken to a shelter as they can be socialised to humans and other animals, providing socialisation is started at an early age.
Many people who live in rural areas encourage feral cats around their homes and businesses as they can help control vermin.Farmers, owners of equestrian operations, estate owners and gamekeepers - all of them need to keep the numbers of mice and rats around their establishments to a minimum and alongside dogs, feral cats can help them keep pest problems to a minimum. This reduces the risk of disease and saves precious crops and animal feed. In return for a little bit of food and a warm bed these cats can become a farmer's best friend!