By Jaime Lynn Smith
How can you help the estimated tens of millions of homeless and feral cats around the country — especially when the "dog days" of summer creep in?
First, let's make a distinction: a feral cat is born and raised wild, while a stray cat may have had a home at some point and is now homeless. Therefore, stray cats may seem easier to get along than their wilder counterparts. Feeding feral cats is okay — just don’t expect them to get all lovey-dovey with you in return.
Here, then, are few essentials for helping homeless cats.
Placing bowls or containers of water in areas that will remain cool throughout the day. Water evaporates very quickly in 90- to 100-degree summer heat, so keep bowls out of the sun. Additionally, a bowl with less surface area will reduce the evaporation rate, so use a bowl that is narrow, but deep.
Dry food, wet food, chicken pieces, kibble, tuna, tuna juice leftover from your tuna salad — whatever you opt to put out, it will get surely get eaten. Maintain clean and neat feeding locations, and keep the food dishes in one place to facilitate cleanup by using a feeding station. Check out Alley Cat Allies’s online plans for building one.
Try to provide a cool and shady spot in which the cats can rest. It’s been said that covering an area from the daytime sun can cool it down by over ten degrees. On those blistering summer days and muggy nights, a covered or canopied area will be a great blessing for feral and/or stray cats.
If you can get ahold of the stray or feral cat, it’s important to take it to a veterinarian for spay/neuter, vaccinations, flea treatment, and any other needed medical care — especially if you can afford it. If you cannot afford it, look for help from local non-profits that deal with homeless cats. You can find community non-profits for cats on Petfinder.com.
It is possible for a cat to die from heat stroke when confined in a Trap Neuter Release (TNR) trap for too long. A simple guideline to follow: If it’s hot outside for you, it's hot out for the cats, too. Make sure the stray or feral cats don’t remain in their traps for too long by making their neuter appointments for directly after your trapping.
For more information and more tips on helping stray and feral cats in the summertime, and for guidelines on feeding feral cats, visit the ASPCA’s Feral Cat Information Page.