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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.


Last year, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) published a report entitled Feral Cats and Their Management. No big deal, right? Most of us can agree that a situation where cats have to fend for themselves without adequate veterinary care, nutrition, protection from the elements, etc. is far from ideal.

Feral cats also kill wildlife, leave feces where it can transmit diseases to other animals or people, and some folks simply see the animals as a nuisance. A paper that talks about options for managing feral cats should be a welcome addition to the conversation, but this one has rightfully generated quite a backlash.

The majority of the paper is rather ho-hum. It starts by defining a feral cat as a domestic cat that has "gone wild," differentiating these animals from owned pets that are allowed access to the outdoors. The authors then move on to talk about problems associated with feral cat colonies and their management, albeit with a definite tilt toward the problems that the cats potentially cause versus the difficulties that the cats experience themselves.

We then get into the management options. Some of the information presented here is actually helpful, especially the section on habitat modification. An environment that provides food, water and shelter will attract any of a number of species of animals, not just feral cats. Limiting the availability of these necessities can go a long way toward dispersing unwanted animals and reducing populations in problem areas. So far, so good.

But then things just get weird. The authors move on to talk about trapping as a way to control feral cat populations. The section on the use of cage traps ends by saying, "When a cat is captured … transport it to a local veterinarian for spaying, neutering, vaccination, adoption, or euthanasia. Be aware that these options may cost over $100 per cat."

Excuse me? What about the animal shelter? This is the exact type of situation that they are set up to deal with, and they won’t charge you a dime for bringing in a feral cat.

Things just get worse from here. In talking about proper euthanasia techniques, a gunshot placed "between the eyes" or "a shot through the heart/lung area” are both deemed acceptable. No, no, no!  The American Veterinary Medical Association lists barbiturates, inhalant anesthetics, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and potassium chloride in conjunction with general anesthesia as the only acceptable methods of euthanasia for cats.

The paper then goes on to talk about the benefits of using cruel foothold traps and body-gripping traps and snares before stating that "shooting is an efficient method to reduce populations of cats in specific areas." The authors recommend the use of shot guns, .22-caliber rifles and air rifles, saying that people should "aim shots between the eyes or in the heart/lung area to ensure a humane death."

Humane, eh? I’d consider people taking potshots at cats as anything but humane. Interestingly, the authors mention earlier how microchips are one "solution" to overcoming the concerns that feral cat management could "risk harming someone’s pet by mistake." Yet, I don’t see the authors recommending that cat hunters scan their prey for microchips before taking them out with a .22.

What seems to be lost here is the understanding that people have caused the feral cat problem by letting sexually intact animals roam free. We and not the cats themselves are to blame. The only acceptable methods of dealing with feral cats are those that treat the animals with the compassion that they are due.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Pic of the day: Feral cat by Glynnis McPhee

Comments  4

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  • WTF?
    01/17/2011 07:22am

    How did this paper even get published with recommendations like those?
    In Indianapolis, where I live, we have a great group (IndyFeral) that will help you trap, spay/neuter, vaccinate, then release ferals. I'm sure they'd have something to say about this report!

  • Ack!
    01/17/2011 10:39am

    How horrifying! Animal cruelty at its finest.

    Taking a feral kitty (or one that's thought to be feral) to a shelter is a death sentence.

    Feral colonies are made up of true ferals as well as pets that have been dumped and are trying to fend for themselves. A little love, food, warmth and time will make them wonderful pets again.

    I'm disgusted that this paper was published because cat-haters will no doubt quote it as a scholarly paper.

  • Just what we don't need..
    01/17/2011 11:39am

    I read this as part of my research to submit information to a local suburb about creating an ordinance to protect ferals and colony keepers.

    After sending the information, their response to me was: your numbers are wrong and our methods are working fine. Their methods: try to place friendly cats in homes or at a local shelter. If feral, they are euthanizing or relocating - WITHOUT spay or neuter. When a friend call the animal control on the relocation thing, she was told "they only live 1-2 years out there anyhow so it doesn't make any difference". I was so appalled I couldn't even come up with a response right on the spot. I can't imagine what she would have said had she read this stupid article.

    And TheOldBroad is right - taking a feral to a shelter is a death sentence. Our local shelter at least has a day devoted to free spay/neuter for ferals.

    And until people get completely onboard with TNR and spay/neuter of their own pets, the only blame for ferals and strays should remain where it belongs: on the people who refuse to take responsibility!!!

  • Sponsored research?
    01/18/2011 11:57am

    Reads like it was written by the American Bird Conservancy or some of the other bird groups that advocate slaughtering ferals. Loss of habitat is more responsible for the decline in songbirds than feral predation.

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