They're hungry, they're breeding, they may be ill or injured. This is the scene that many people come upon BEFORE humans intervene in a feral cat "colony". A "colony" is the term used to describe a group of unowned, wild cats. Feeding is the first step in caring for feral cats, but certainly not the ONLY step and not even the most important step!
Video - Being a Colony Caretaker
Before supplying food to feral cats and/or kittens, you should consider the following questions.
If you can answer yes to all of the above questions, then set out the food and prepare for the next step in Colony Management - spay/neuter.
If sustaining this colony is not an option for you, please see "When colony maintenance is not an option".
As stated above, the FIRST step in caring for feral cats is food and water, but the most IMPORTANT step is the spaying and neutering of your colony. If food is provided, yet you neglect to follow through with the spaying and neutering you will double, triple and quadruple your cat population in no time at all. This will be an extra burden to you and the members of your colony, is not necessary, and brings kittens into a world of "wild living" and overpopulation.
Forgotten Felines of Sonoma County assists the public in the spay/neuter of feral cats. Whether you'd like to do the trapping yourself or would like the assistance of FFSC, please contact us before you begin. We have the following information available for you:
Once all the cats in your colony have been altered, then you can settle into the last step of colony management, which is "maintenance". Below are the suggested guidelines for Feral Cat Colony Management.
What to Feed
Dry food is recommended for colony feeding because it can remain out all day and not spoil. If you choose to feed wet food, do so in a separate plate or bowl rather than mixing it in with the dry food. Wet food will spoil if not eaten, attract ants and other insects.
When to Feed
It is recommended that feeding take place first thing in the morning or during the day for the following reasons:
How Much to Feed
One cup of dry food per cat in your colony per day is plenty. You should, if you are able to, monitor the amount of food the cats leave behind to determine the proper portion. If the food is all gone (and it hasn't clearly been eaten by wildlife), then you may want to increase the amount. If there is a substantial amount of food leftover, you should decrease the amount.
Fresh water should be given every day. If water is gone when you visit the colony, increase the number of water bowls or get a bigger one. It is important that water is available at all times.
It is extremely important to keep the feeding station neat and clean. This is vital, not only for the health of the cats, but also for keeping neighbors happy. Keep the food/water dishes clean by having two sets. One at the site, and another clean and available to replace the dirty ones.
Unless there is a covered area where food/water bowls are kept, a feeding station is recommended to keep the food protected from birds and the weather. Feral cat sleeping shelters, designed to protect cats from the winter weather are also a great idea. Feeding station and feral cat shelter plans can be found at the following links:
http://www.alleycat.org/ PDF Instructions for Inexpensive do-it-yourself wooden shelter
Feeding Stations should be kept clean and tidy for the same reasons as stated above. Old blankets and towels (or hay) in the winter shelters should be changed periodically for sanitation purposes.
Some ways to keep your food ant/bug free are as follows:
The general health of the cats should be assessed at every opportunity. Note the condition of their eyes and fur. Eyes should be clear without discharge, coats should be clean. Unkempt fur can be a sign of disease and discharge from eyes could mean upper respiratory infections or a sign of more serious illnesses. At the first sign of injury or illness, contact your veterinarian and/or Forgotten Felines to establish a plan of how to get care for the cat.
Know who your regular/core colony members are versus occasional visitors from the neighborhood. If you have a "newcomer" to the colony it is important to get it altered immediately. Contact Forgotten Felines for date of the upcoming spay/neuter clinic and get signed up for a trap and an appointment. All newcomers need to be trapped, altered, vaccinated and then returned to the colony. This is a VERY important aspect to Colony Management.
Although we tend to focus a great deal on the cats, it is equally important that you stay safe while performing your duties as a Colony Caretaker.
See also Feral Cat Terminology.
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