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Humane management of feral cat colonies

by Margaret Nolan PhD

Public opinions of feral cats vastly differ. There are many people who believe that feral cats are a public health concern, many even believe these animals are nuisances. On the other hand, there are those that know that feral cats have just as much right to live as any other animal living in the wild and when managed correctly fulfill an important role in our lives. 

An important component of the management of feral cat colonies is controlling the often high reproductive rates. This is important for the long term health of the colony, the individual animal and the territory. Trapping and removing populations of feral cats does not solve the issue of increased population growth rates, however, as it creates a “vacuum effect” which removes the current population and in turn, creates an open space into which other feral cats will move. Eradication of feral cat populations is, therefore, both inhumane and ineffective. 

One of the most popular programs currently in practice for feral and stray cats is the TRAP-NEUTER-RELEASE program, also referred to as TNR. This program is a non-lethal method to reduce the feral cat population and involves humanely trapping feral cats, having them spayed or neutered and then returning them to their cat colony to live out their lives, receiving ongoing care in the outdoors. 

Langebaan Animal Care promotes and assists with the practice of TNR for the management of feral cat colonies. 

 

Benefits of TNR 

1. TNR SAVES KITTENS: Every time a feral cat has kittens, it significantly lowers the odds that other kittens in shelters will be adopted. With so many cats inundating the shelters, competition for homes is fierce. By spaying and neutering feral cats, we reduce the cat population, which in turn reduces the number of cats that are turned into shelters for adoption. Unfortunately, feral kittens are not adoptable without extensive training first, and if a kitten does not get adopted in a shelter, it is likely to be subject to euthanasia. TNR can help prevent this. 

2. TNR PREVENTS OVERPOPULATION OF FERAL CATS: Getting feral and stray cats spayed or neutered prevents them from reproducing, helping to stop the rising cat overpopulation. This can help the quality of life for feral cats, help reduce the number of cats around your neighbourhood, and reduce the spread of disease and the number of cat deaths. 

 

3. FELINE NUISANCE BEHAVIOR IS REDUCED BY TNR: One major complaint about feral cats is their behaviour. Many cats will participate in excessive fighting, whether it be territorial, food-related, over a female cat, etc. This can lead to loud noise outside of your home. Another behaviour that is common among feral cats is spraying their urine on structures around your property to mark their territory. Nuisance behaviour becomes more rampant when feral cats breed in sheltered areas close to or in homes and it can lead to property destruction. It is a fact that when cats are spayed or neutered, there is a decrease in this kind of behaviour, making living among feral cats much more pleasant. 

4. TNR IS THE MOST COST-EFFECTIVE AND HUMANE WAY TO CONTROL THE FERAL CAT POPULATION: TNR can help save shelters, pounds and animal control agencies a significant amount of money. For one cat to participate in the TNR program, it is half the cost of euthanizing that same cat. 

5. TNR-CATS PROVIDE EXCELLENT RODENT CONTROL: Cats are natural born hunters. Free-roaming or feral cats find many of their meals in rodents that are living around your home and in doing so control rodent populations. Reducing the rodent population protects your family and your pets from coming into contact with them and the diseases they may carry. The presence of feral cats also discourages other rodents from moving into the territory. 

6. TNR-CATS LIVE HEALTHIER, HAPPIER LIVES: There are many forms of cancer and diseases that can be associated with having an excessive amount of pregnancies in cats. Spaying cats is a way to keep cats healthier and prevent premature deaths. Cats that are spayed also do not go into heat, which attracts fewer tomcats, resulting in less fighting and injury. Neutered and spayed cats also live longer, and remain in the same colony for a longer period of time. 

7. HEALTH BENEFITS FOR CAT CARERS: Caring for feral cat colonies provides an outlet to ‘do good’ and with that, an overall sense of well-being from knowing you have done the right thing and helped an animal. 

 

Do the right thing and participate in the Langebaan feral cat colony TNR programme directly or sponsor a sterilisation through Langebaan Animal Care. 

For further information please contact us.

Steps to perform TNR 

If you are thinking about attempting TNR it is important to understand how TNR works and how to properly execute the procedure before attempting it on your own. 

1. Obtain a live feral cat trap: The trickiest part of the TNR program is humanely and safely trapping the feral cat. Live feral cat traps are made for the purpose of this task. Langebaan Animal Care can provide live cat traps as well as advice and assistance. 

2. Inform your neighbours: One thing to keep in mind before you decide on setting your trap is to inform your neighbours that have cats or small dogs when you are going to set the trap. You would not want a pet cat or dog accidentally getting trapped instead of the intended feral cat. 

3. Bait and set the trap: If you regularly feed feral cats, the best time to try and trap a cat is at the cat’s normal feeding time. Using the in-built food hook an enticing piece of meat is positioned inside the trap and will trigger the trap door when the food is removed. Never Leave the Trap Unattended For Long Periods of Time. Once a cat is trapped, it is important to put them in a safe and quiet place afterwards. 

Trapped cats left out in the open can be vulnerable to other wild animals, people and inclement weather. 

4. What to do with a trapped cat: Once the cat is caught, make sure to completely cover the trap; this will help calm the cat. Always check the trapped cat to make sure that they have not previously participated in the TNR program - this can be identified by a notched or tipped left ear. Never try to trap a nursing feline mother. If the mother cat is trapped it is possible that her kittens could starve or be susceptible to predators. Make sure to check the trapped cat to see if it is nursing; indications of this can be enlarged and pinkish nipples and matted fur surrounding them. If you have trapped a lactating female, you have the option of releasing it or taking it to the vet immediately and having it spayed and released the same day. 

5. Caring for the cat before collection or surgery: You may need to hold the cat overnight or until it is collected. If you are holding the cat the evening before the surgery do not feed the cat, an empty stomach is required for anaesthesia, but you may give the cat water inside its trap. To prevent the feral cat from creating a lot of noise, keep the trap covered and in a closed quiet room. Keep any children or other pets away from the cat. It is suggested that you put newspaper under the trap so that the cat can go to the bathroom without making a mess. Make sure to change the dirty newspaper often. 

6. Release the cat: After the successful completion of the sterilisation procedure and appropriate recovery time make sure to release a cat back to the same place that it was trapped. Most feral cats are part of a colony of cats and it is important that they be released back into that colony. The best time to release a cat is very early in the morning or at dusk so that the darkness can provide security and cover for the cat. 

FACTS ABOUT FERAL CATS

1. MOST FERAL CATS ARE IN GOOD HEALTH:

 

Many people believe that feral cats are unhealthy and carry diseases that could potentially put humans and their pets at risk. Comprehensive studies on TNR programmes have shown that out of all of the feral cats that were examined to be spayed or neutered, less than half of one-percent were euthanized due to medical issues. This means that almost the entire feral cat population was healthy and not carrying any diseases that could harm your pets. TNR programs will not release a cat that is too unhealthy, or that is unfit to survive in the wild. In actuality, by participating in the TNR program, cats are likely to be healthier than if left to their own devices. 

2. FERAL CATS ARE NOT SUFFERING WHEN THEY ARE LIVING OUTDOORS:

 

There is a common misconception that the quality of life for free-roaming cats is extremely poor and that they live a life of suffering. This is indeed false. Just like any other wild animal, cats are born with instinctual survival skills and can live comfortably in the wild. They are able to find shelter if they need it and hunt for their food. Feral cats will adapt to their environment. 

3. FEEDING BANS ARE NOT THE SOLUTION:

One belief that people have is that if you take the food away then the cats will go away. That is extremely false. When food sources are scarce, feral cats tend to move closer to human habitations, as they grow hungrier in hopes of finding scraps of food. When cats are malnourished they have a greater risk of developing parasitic infestations and since cats move closer to humans when hungry, this leaves those infections closer to your home and your pets. Cats will also continue to breed despite the lack of food. So the moral of the story is that feeding bans do more harm than good when it comes to trying to control feral cat populations. 

4. SIMPLE CAT RELOCATION DOES NOT SOLVE THE PROBLEM:

It is common to think that the solution to a cat overpopulation problem is to simply relocate the cats. Sure, this method will get rid of the one cat, however, this method is extremely counterproductive. Once a cat is eradicated, this opens up a spot among the colony for another cat to come in and take its place. This method does not provide a solution to the breeding problem and could cause more breeding in other areas to which the cat was relocated. If several cats are removed at one time, this can lead to an influx of rodents around your home and increase the spread of disease that these rodents are carrying.