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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.


Whether you call them feral cats, community cats, stray cats, free-roaming cats, or some other name, these cat populations are a growing problem in many locales. To build awareness in the general public and establish a safe place for these cats, October 16, 2013, has been declared National Feral Cat Day.


Let’s talk a little about these feral cat populations, because there are a lot of misconceptions about their lives and their existence.


It’s important to realize that there are many differences between these feral cats and the pet cat that shares your home. Though it is entirely possible and desirable to capture and socialize kittens from these colonies for placement in homes, it is not easy to deal with the adult cats in the same manner.


When placed in a shelter or rescue environment, these adult cats are all too often euthanized as unadoptable. They don’t interact well with people and don’t adjust well to indoor life as a pet cat. As a result, capturing and rehoming all of them is not a viable option. Capturing and killing them is also not, in my opinion, an acceptable solution.


These feral cat populations, however, do need to be managed. Without proper management, the influx of homeless kittens to shelters and rescues simply continues, leading to higher risk for disease in these facilities, particularly during specific times of the year when breeding activity increases.  Trap-neuter-release (TNR) programs do work to control these populations.


Opponents to TNR frequently claim that the life a feral cat is cruel and inhumane. They claim that these cats are disease-ridden and die young. They also claim these cats have weak immune systems that leave them susceptible to infectious diseases. Further, there is a wide-spread belief that shelters play a large role in returning lost cats to their owners. There is very little truth to these claims in the case of well-managed TNR colonies.


Here are some statistics presented by Dr. Neils Petersen in his presentation entitled What You Should Know About Cats at the 2013 American Animal Hospital Association conference.


  • 30% of cats adopted from shelters will become free-roaming.
  • The survival rate of community cats located in urban areas is 90% per year.
  • Only 2% of cats placed in shelters are actually reunited with their owners.
  • 66% of lost cats are found because they return home on their own. Only 7% are found via a call or a visit to a shelter.
  • Lost cats are 3 times more likely to be returned to their home via non-shelter means (such as a neighbor locating the cat and returning it) than via a shelter.
  • When asked what should be done about free-roaming cats, the majority of people (81%) say they favor leaving the cats alone. Only 14% are in favor of trapping and killing these cats.


Another argument often offered by opponents of TNR programs is that these cats catch and kill native animals and birds. While this is true to some extent, it should be noted that there are many other factors involved in the decline of native species, including the loss of their native habitat to urbanization (i.e., human intrusion). These factors play a much larger role in the decrease of numbers of native bird and animal species than does predation by cats. It is also worth mentioning that these feral populations also prey on rodents. If these cats are removed from the community, an increase in rodent activity can be expected.


What happens when a well-managed TNR colony is removed from a given location? A vacuum is created and other cats quickly move into the area. These cats, unlike the members of a TNR colony, will not be vaccinated and will likely be reproductively active, producing kittens that quickly causes a swell in the population of cats.


How dangerous are the members of a TNR colony to the general public? While there is some risk of zoonotic disease, the risk to the public is minimal. These cats are shy. Though they may form a bond of trust with the caretaker(s) that regularly feed and care for them, they will typically actively avoid contact with other people if at all possible. As a cat lover, you should leave these cats alone if you are not one of their caretakers. Do not attempt to corner, trap, or otherwise interact with them. Teach your children to treat them in the same fashion.


Now that you know a bit more about feral cats, perhaps you’d like to investigate further, or perhaps even to find a way to help. Visit the National Feral Cat Day website to find out more about getting involved or about events taking place in your community.



Dr. Lorie Huston


Image: Thinkstock

Comments  16

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  • Ack!
    10/07/2013 06:01pm

    "30% of cats adopted from shelters will become free-roaming."

    While I was aware of some of the statistics in this post, I was not aware of this one. Ack!

    Are there any statistics as to whether these kitties were abandoned by their humans or if they were allowed to be indoor/outdoor kitties and just never went back home?

  • 10/08/2013 07:02am

    Even if they've had a rabies shot, they can still carry and transmit rabies. This is why the practice of this criminally irresponsible TNR BS is causing rabies outbreaks in so many communities.

    The worst part of TNR, anyone associated with TNR aren't adhering to the mandatory REQUIRED BY LAW SIX-MONTH QUARANTINE for any animal when harvested from the wild and intended for any sector of the pet-trade. This is why rabid cats and kittens are now being adopted direct from shelters that hand-out cats from outdoor cat-colonies. Like this one of hundreds for example, Google for: RABID KITTEN ADOPTED WAKE COUNTY.

    Rabies' incubation period being on average from 21 to 240 days, up to 11 months -- WITHOUT SHOWING ANY SYMPTOMS. One rare case being 6 YEARS. The ONLY other way; aside of quarantining them for this mandatory, lengthy, and costly duration; to be certain an animal is not carrying rabies is to destroy it for the rabies test.

    The 10-14 day quarantine for bite and scratch cases is to see if the animal dies during that time. If the cat dies then the cat was infectious at the time of the bite or scratch and the person must get rabies shots. Rabies can only be transmitted during the last 10-14 days of its incubation period in an animal. If a cat survives after this 10-14 day quarantine they can STILL be carrying rabies until it dies from it many months later, infecting humans and other animals during the 2 weeks before it finally dies.

    Why aren't these feral-cat-lickers paying for rabies shots, treatment costs, lost work-time, and all the suffering after THEIR feral cats bite or scratch someone? They don't carry even ONE PENNY of liability insurance to cover their criminal negligence and stupidity. They all need to be sued so hard and deep for directly violating national and international disease-containment laws that they never recover from it for the rest of their criminally-irresponsible and criminally-negligent lives.

    Or how about this fun one, Google for: RABIES PROMPTS CARLSBAD CAT PROGRAM SUSPENSION TNR

    Rabies Outbreak Caused by TNR! 50+ Pets Euthanized. ALL Stray Cats Destroyed. All livestock destroyed. More than a dozen homeowners pay for their own $3000+ rabies shots.

    Google for: Rabies Outbreak in Westchester County

    Google for: Rabid Kitten Jamestown Exposure

    There's hundreds more like those on the net showing everyone how these phenomenally ignorant and foolish cat-lickers "help" their communities by allowing TNR CAT-HOARDERS to continue their criminally negligent behavior.

    These are just the diseases cats have been spreading to humans, not counting the ones they spread to all wildlife. THERE ARE NO VACCINES against many of these, and are in-fact listed as bio-terrorism agents. They include: Afipia felis, Anthrax, Bartonella (Rochalimaea) henselae, Bergeyella (Weeksella) zoohelcum, Campylobacter Infection, Cat Scratch Disease, Chlamydia psittaci (feline strain), Cowpox, Coxiella burnetti Infection (Q fever), Cryptosporidium Infection, Cutaneous larva migrans, Dermatophytosis, Dipylidium Infection (tapeworm), Hookworm Infection, Leptospira Infection, Giardia, Neisseria canis, Pasteurella multocida, Plague, Poxvirus, Rabies, Rickettsia felis, Ringworm, Salmonella Infection, Scabies, Sporothrix schenckii, Toxocara Infection, Toxoplasmosis, Trichinosis, Visceral larva migrans, Yersinia pseudotuberculosis. [Centers for Disease Control, July 2010] Bovine Tuberculosis, Flea-borne Typhus, Rat-Bite Fever, Sarcosporidiosis, and Tularemia, can now also be added to that list.

    Yes, The Plague is alive and well in the USA, and it is now being spread by CATS. Google for: Cat-Transmitted Fatal Pneumonic Plague, for a fun read. One of hundreds. Totally disproving that oft-spewed manipulation tactic by cat-lickers that more cats could have prevented The Plague in Europe -- cats can CAUSE IT!

    Now add on top of that that anyone who feeds these cats is training them to approach humans for food (contrary to them always claiming feral cats run from humans). What happens to the child or foolish adult that reaches down to pet or try to pick up that now seemingly friendly "cute kitty"? The wild animal lashes out and bites or scratches the hand that has no food for them.


    Don't be surprised at the number of search-hits you get nor the horrendous stories that go with them. The number of suspected rabies cases and the then required mandatory rabies shots for each individual costing them well over $3000 out of their own pockets, has been growing as exponentially fast as cats breed. Ask a vet that released that cat, a cat-feeder, or your local government to pay for your shots and lost work-time and suffering? Neither they, nor shelters, nor the local government who supports TNR carry ONE PENNY of liability insurance for the deadly dangers they are bringing to your communities by allowing them to feed and TNR stray cats. Two reports even document rabid cats entering a home through their pet-door and one even came through their ceiling searching for human-supplied foods -- one attack so bad it required hospitalization for the family.

  • 10/15/2014 10:50am

    You are misinformed. Vaccinated animals are rarely infected or transmit disease.

  • 04/03/2015 05:01pm

    Where did you cut and paste that from? Because you certainly did not come up with it all on your own.

    You are extremely uneducated on the subject.

  • 10/08/2013 07:06am

    I'll celebrate Feral-Cat Day this year because every last one of hundreds of these man-made invasive species vermin is gone from my lands, and NONE have returned -- FOR NEARLY FOUR YEARS NOW! Much to the chagrin of those fools who bought into that manipulative TNR-LIE of the "vacuum effect". Simple reason being, cats attract cats. (The origin and source of the "vacuum effect" LIE.) Get rid of every last one and there's none there to attract more of them. Simple as that.

    You really can't celebrate until you've accomplished getting rid of every last feral-cat. Otherwise there's nothing to celebrate. You're just jumping around like a fool and an idiot, celebrating accomplishing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

    All NATIVE wildlife on my land is now returning to normal. Nature is once again back in balance, as it was, and as it should be. Predators no longer starving to death due to cats destroying their only food sources, no prey animals being tortured to death for disemboweled twitching play-toys for cats. No longer are cats spreading their deadly diseases to all animals and humans. There's much to celebrate.

    On advice of the sheriff I managed to do this by shooting every last one with a good .22 outfitted with a laser-sight and good illuminated scope for precision aim, affording a humane and LEGAL kill each and every time. (Shoot-to-maim is illegal animal cruelty, and rightly so. Shoot-to-kill is perfectly legal. The cat MUST die to make it legal.) This method is as humane as it gets. One moment they are intently stalking some more defenseless animals to torture for play-toys, the next they are dead and don't even know what happened. They don't even have enough time to know they've been shot. This is even more humane than having them suffer the torment of being trapped in cages for days on end.

    I urge everyone to rid their land of this devastating invasive-species this way. It's the only way that can catch up to cats' breeding rates. If not, you'll be trapping them for an eternity as they continue to breed faster than your reach. Then the next generations will have learned to evade traps and won't even be able to be trapped. Don't be stupid.

  • 10/14/2014 03:37pm

    You're a sick little fvcker, aren't you… the true vermin on this planet is man (more specifically people like you) - 7 billion and spreading like a plague. I hope Ebola visits you soon.

  • 10/15/2014 10:51am

    What should be done about the invasive wild horses in the southweat?

  • 10/15/2014 10:55am

    You are just a cat hater and not a population biologist. Cats are territorial and TNR strategies reduce feral cat populations by allowing sterile cats to maintain territories and preventing fertile cats from establishing themselves in those territories and reproducing. Removing cats from a territory simply creates an ecological vacuum that will be refilled with more fertile cats reproducing out of control.

  • 04/03/2015 05:02pm

    Thank you for publicly admitting to being an animal abuser and murderer.

  • 04/03/2015 05:06pm

    I say let's rid the world of a$$ holes like you. Every last one of you.

  • 10/08/2013 07:15am

    Sociopath and Psychopath Veterinarians now in direct violation of the CDC:

    Conclusions on all TNR practices now direct from the CDC
    (URL: onlinelibrary.wiley D0T com SLASH doi/10.1111/zph.12070/abstract )


    Domestic cats are an important part of many Americans' lives, but effective control of the 60-100 million feral cats living throughout the country remains problematic. Although trap-neuter-vaccinate-return (TNVR) programmes are growing in popularity as alternatives to euthanizing feral cats, their ability to adequately address disease threats and population growth within managed cat colonies is dubious. Rabies transmission via feral cats is a particular concern as demonstrated by the significant proportion of rabies post-exposure prophylaxis associated with exposures involving cats. Moreover, TNVR has not been shown to reliably reduce feral cat colony populations because of low implementation rates, inconsistent maintenance, and immigration of unsterilized cats into colonies. For these reasons, TNVR programmes are not effective methods for reducing public health concerns or for controlling feral cat populations. Instead, responsible pet ownership, universal rabies vaccination of pets and removal of strays remain integral components to control rabies and other diseases.

  • 04/03/2015 05:08pm

    [b]Lots of words from you - no substance. I bet you live in a trailer park with no job and have nothing to do all day. So you kill defenseless animals to feel like a big man. [/b]

  • Disagree with Article
    10/14/2014 09:17am

    I have trapped and socialized numerous adult feral cats (and kittens well over six months old) - have four adults in my house right now - one is resistant and still in process but showing signs of becoming tame - taking him a little longer than most - he's been with me a little over two months. Two went to a local shelter and got a home together in 2012 only three weeks after entering the shelter. One of those cats socialized in one week and became a lap cat, the other in two months. I have a 7 year old adult cat who was feral for five years and now is a lap cat and the most mild-mannered, well-behaved cat in my house. These myths that you can't make a house cat out of a feral cat are just not true. One totally feral cat was adopted by a lady who has had her now for almost six years - the cat sleeps on her bed with her. So….. these so-called experts on feral cats are the feral cats' worst enemies. They dissuade people from taking a chance to give a feral cat a chance to live a better and safer life. You just have to know what to do - and they don't.

  • 10/14/2014 11:48am

    You are right that some feral adults can be worked with an viable as pets. You may not realize it but at least some TNR groups do try to socialize adults as well as kittens. For those that cannot be socialized though, TNR is far better than letting the populations explode.

  • Thank you
    10/14/2014 11:45am

    Thank you for this article. TNR is so important to helping these cats!

  • Feral Cats Where I Live
    10/14/2014 05:26pm

    There are a few feral cats that have taken up at the mobile home park where I have lived for 2 & 1/2 years. I used to feed a couple of them but they moved up the hill where they hang around and people feed them. People move away occasionally but someone always feeds them. They come out and meow to me sometimes and I pet them, they are very tame and look healthy. I guess they are the lucky ones.

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