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What Are Feral Cats, And What To Do About Them?

Feb 27, 2008
Feral, or wild cats are descended from domesticated pets. When cats are lost or abandoned, they return to a more primitive wild state, know as feral. Although feral cats may live alone, often they join large groups or colonies of other wild cats. Their lives are hard, and their life expectancies are much lower than their domesticated kin. Disease is rampant in these colonies, and competition for proper nutrition is fierce. Unaltered cats have many kittens, increasing the number of ferals in the group.

There are many rescue groups devoted to saving the increasing population of feral cats in the United States. These organizations rely on pet-loving volunteers to help them bring medical care to feral cats. Individuals catch the cats, often spending weeks feeding them outdoors to gain their trust. Once they've been captured, they are spayed or neutered, inoculated against disease, and treated for any injury or illness. They are then released in the same area in which they were first found. They are now healthy, and because they've been fixed, they will not continue the cycle by bringing more feral cats into the world. Those kind-hearted volunteers who originally saved the cats may be asked to continue to feed and monitor the feral cats they have rescued.

In some cases, feral cats can be rehabilitated and prepared for adoption. Generally, adult feral cats cannot be domesticated. They have lost their ability to bond with other species. Occasionally an adult that was once a pet can be brought back into domestication. Kittens are another story. If they are taken out of the wild early enough, they can make a fairly smooth transition to living in a home.

The best time to remove a feral kitten from its environment is between six and eight weeks. This is a natural time for a kitten to wean from its mother. At this age a kitten can make the transition from the wild to a home very quickly. Older kittens can sometimes be socialized. The older the kitten, the harder it will be to domesticate it. Often older kittens and young cats will bond to one owner and refuse to have anything to do with other humans.

Many cities in America are home to large feral cat populations. Trying to deal with these populations is controversial. Hunting feral cats is illegal in most cities, and has been proposed in others. However this possibility is considered outrageous and cruel to many animal lovers. Feral cats do keep rodents under control, thereby making them valuable. On the other hand, the sharp decline in American songbird populations is due in great part to feral cat communities.

Feral cats are the victims of human irresponsibility. Pets who are abandoned or lost must fend for themselves the best they can. The most important thing a cat owner can do to help end this cycle of misery is have their pet spayed or neutered.
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