Suggested Guidelines for Feral Cat Colony Caretakers

Lew Campbell Photography

Am I ready for this Responsibility?

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.

  1. Are you willing/able to make a long term (lifetime) commitment to these cats?
  2. Do you have the financial means to commit to these cats? (Food, spay/neuter, medical attention, if necessary)
  3. Is this a safe place for a colony of cats to exist?
  4. If you are not the property owner, do you have permission from the property owner to feed/water and maintain the cats on the premises? (Is the property owner aware of this long term commitment?)
  5. If you plan on moving in the future, are you prepared to find someone to take over the care of your colony? (Are they aware of this long term commitment?)
  6. When you're on vacation, would you be able to find a substitute caretaker until you return?

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".

Spay / Neuter

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:

  1. Information about the services we provide
  2. Humane Trapping Instructions
  3. Where to get a trap and how to use it
  4. How to "tame" feral kittens

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.

Food

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:

  1. The cats can eat all day
  2. Less chance for attracting wildlife to feeding station at night
  3. Safer for caretaker

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.

Water

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.

The Site

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.

Feeding Station and Winter Shelter

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.neighborhoodcats.org/info/wintershelter.htm

http://www.spayandstay.org/wintershelter.htm

http://www.alleycat.org/ PDF Instructions for Inexpensive do-it-yourself wooden shelter

http://www.all-creatures.org/ak/feral-shelter.html

Shelters for Sale
The Feral Villa
Spay and Stay winter feral cat lodgings
Or buy pre-made shelters (such as small dog igloos) from local pet supply stores for around $40 to $70.

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.

Ants / Bugs

Some ways to keep your food ant/bug free are as follows:

  1. Feed ONLY dry food - wet food attracts ants more readily
  2. Surround food bowls with a line of "food-grade" (no chemicals added) diatomaceous earth
  3. This will need to be reapplied after rain, but effectively keeps insects away.
  4. Apply cooking oil to the outside of the food bowl - Bugs and ants will not walk on oil.
  5. Place food bowls on a tray, cookie sheet, or plant tray with a 1" lip and fill container with water.
  6. Cats can get to food, but bugs can't.

The Healthy Colony Cat

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.

New Cats and Kittens

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.

Safety

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.

  1. Feed during daylight hours
  2. Wear appropriate shoes
  3. Watch your footing
  4. Be aware of your surroundings
  5. Always use common sense
  6. Do not try to "touch" a feral or sick cat/kitten
  7. Do not try to "catch" a sick cat or feral kitten
  8. Park your car in safe/legal location
  9. Drive safely

See also Feral Cat Terminology.

All Feral Cat Pages

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  1. What is a feral cat?
  2. Spay/Neuter Clinic for feral cats
  3. How to care for a colony
  4. Being a Colony Caretaker (YouTube video)
  5. How to trap humanely
  6. Humane Trap Sources
  7. How to relocate feral cats
  8. The Right Spot
  9. Screening
  10. Preparation
  11. Trapping for Relocation
  12. Follow Up
  13. How to tame feral cats
  14. Total Ferals
  15. Semi Ferals
  16. Reverted Ferals
  17. Foster Kittens
  18. Colony Caretaker's Thoughts
  19. Cats vs. Birds Controversy