Go to any residential neighborhood, drive by a local fast food place, or take a peek behind a supermarket, and you’ll probably see a cat or several cats. Some cats may be members of a cat colony; some may be solo cats. In the case of cats who hang out together, they’re most likely feral, meaning they never had a home and weren’t raised domestically. In the instance of a solo cat, they’re more likely to be a stray cat, meaning a cat who once had a home and left it, got lost, or was abandoned by an irresponsible owner.
What Should You Do About a Feral Cat?
A good rule of thumb is that if you’ve been feeding a cat for a week or more and it won’t eat while you’re present, it’s most likely a feral cat, and you shouldn’t attempt to domesticate it. In such cases, it’s best to connect with a local cat rescue organization that can offer advice and loan out traps to help with trap, neuter, and release (TNR). TNR prevents feral cat colonies from growing due to procreation; thus, TNR helps minimize the homeless cat population.
To Feed or Not to Feed? That is the Question
Let’s weigh the pros and cons of feeding stray cats.
The Pros of Feeding Stray Cats:
- Survival. Food sources can sometimes get scarce, so feeding them supplements their hunting. This is especially the case if you happen upon a cat that looks skinny and malnourished. In some cases, you’re the only thing standing between them and serious illness or death. It’s beneficial even if you only feed them as a short-term measure while you figure out how to help them in the long run. You’re doing a great act of kindness by providing for vulnerable creatures in their unfortunate situation through no fault of their own.
- Protect wildlife. You might be able to protect local wildlife, such as birds, and other prey animals, who might otherwise become dinner if not for you feeding the cats.
- Reduce rodents. On the flip side, cats’ hunting instincts can be a positive. Cats will reduce the rodent population that lives around your area. Rodents could end up in your kitchen or pantry if not for the presence of the cats. Even having a cat on your property can cause rodents to sense them and stay away. This is the primary motive for some people who feed cats, whether in a residential, commercial, or industrial area.
- Affection. Stray cats that aren’t feral will often allow you to get close to them, and they’ll show their appreciation by offering you love and companionship. Many stray cats who once had homes are eager for human affection and will bond with those that feed them. This is a plus for them and you. Receiving the love of a cat is a beautiful thing, and giving love and care to them is a privilege that can warm your heart and nourish your soul.
- Adoption. You may be able to adopt a stray cat and give them a forever home. Cats that aren’t feral and therefore aren’t fearful of humans can get attached to you as their caretaker and food source. They may naturally start to follow you around, and some will even try to follow you inside. If you have room in your home and your heart for a new cat, a stray may just become a cherished addition to your household.
The Cons of Feeding Stray Cats:
- Unwanted guests. Food left out for cats can attract other wildlife. To combat this problem, make sure that all food bowls are empty by dusk, as raccoons and opossums are primarily nocturnal.
- Increased population. You can cause the homeless cat population to increase. This is why TNR programs are so important. If a stray cat has been fixed, it’ll often be ear-tipped. This is a little notch on the left ear to show other cat feeders and rescuers that the cat has already been fixed. If a stray cat hasn’t been fixed, you need to take responsibility to get them fixed; otherwise, you’re contributing to the problem of homeless cats, as they will have more litters.
- Unhappy neighbors. You may risk the ire of your neighbors. Some people don’t see the benefits that cats can provide for rodent control or don’t like cats for some reason. If you encounter any conflicts with your neighbors, stay calm, and do your best to address their concerns. You may have an opportunity to educate them on why stray cats are not harmful to have around and point out that any cats being fed were already in the neighborhood.
- Expensive. It costs money to feed strays, and it’s a responsibility. Once you start feeding a cat, or a colony, you shouldn’t abruptly stop if you can help it. They now rely on you. If you’re not up for the costs involved, and the responsibility, you’re better off notifying a cat rescue group who may be willing to add the cats to their feeding efforts.
- If you choose to feed a stray cat or a colony, the best choice is dry kibble. You can buy it in large bulk bags to save some money. You should also provide fresh water. Check the water bowls regularly for leaves or other debris, empty them, and wipe them clean before filling them up again. Clean the food bowls regularly, or feed in disposable plastic bowls. Or, to cut down on waste, you can buy some large metal or heavy-duty plastic pet food bowls. If you feed multiple cats, opt for dog bowls as they’re larger.
- Cats are carnivores, so if you choose to feed them any human food scraps, make sure it’s meat. Also, don’t feed them raw meat, as unlike prey they hunt in the wild, raw meat intended to be cooked for human consumption contains bacteria that cats can’t process, and it could make them ill.
If you live in NW Wisconsin, Purple Cat Mobile Vet Clinic is here to help you keep your cat healthy and happy. We’re a high-quality, high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter clinic. We see cats exclusively. Find information for scheduling on our www.purplecatvet.com website. You can also look on our Facebook page for more helpful information on all things feline!