How to Help Stray, Feral or Community Cats
Stray, feral and community cats can be found across Canada. Although they live outdoors, there are important distinctions between them.
What is a stray cat?
Stray cats are usually abandoned or lost domestic cats. They may seem aggressive at first but as soon as they get comfortable, they love human touch and companionship. Some will even approach a human for attention.
What is a feral cat?
A feral cat is one that has never lived in a home and has had limited to no positive human interaction. A feral cat will likely remain aggressive and will rarely warm up to the loving gesture of an open human hand. Even feral cats that were adopted as kittens may remain aloof towards humans.
How feral cats live
Feral cats usually live with other cats in a wild or semi-wild state in what is known as a cat colony, but if food is scarce they may roam alone. A colony of cats is typically very territorial and can most often be found where food and shelter are available, such as wooded areas (where there are lots of small prey animals), near dumpsters, restaurants or wherever else they can attain nourishment to survive.
Most feral cats live short lives because of their lack of medical attention and the everyday challenges they face living outdoors. These cats also breed at an alarming rate contributing to overpopulation and threatening native wildlife. Human intervention is crucial to managing feral cat overpopulation and improving their health and welfare.
What is a community cat?
A community cat is a domestic cat that has no clear owner but is being taken care of by locals in the community. They often live in populated areas where they have access to food and can rely on human support. Locals will provide water, food, shelter and even get them vaccinated. They usually travel in pairs, they’re friendly and are at home in their community.
How to help
Before approaching a cat, it’s important to keep your safety in mind first. Injuries, rabies and other transmissible diseases are common for cats left outdoors. If you can’t safely approach a cat, call your local animal control service to handle it safely.
If you find a stray cat
- Call a shelter before trapping or confining a cat
- If its recommended, safely trap or confine the cat
- Immediately take them to an animal shelter or veterinarian to check for a microchip implant that will have their caretakers’ contact information on it.
- If there is no microchip and you cannot find the guardians after a few days of searching, bring them to a cat rescue, sanctuary or animal shelter where they will be looked after until forever homes can be found.
- If you intend to keep the cat, have them examined by a veterinarian, spayed/neutered, vaccinated and microchipped in case they ever get lost again.
If you find a feral cat
If the cat is a feral cat, the most compassionate action you can take is to follow the procedure of trap-neuter-return (TNR):
- Before approaching the cat, call a local shelter or TNR programs to determine if it's safe to trap the cat.
- Bring them to a shelter program that can spay/neuter and vaccinate the cat
- Release them back where you found them
If you find a community cat
- Ask your neighbours or other locals in the area if the cat has been spayed/neutered and vaccinated
- If they have been, leave the cat alone
- If they haven’t, call a local shelter to arrange a check
- The shelter will spay/neuter and vaccinate the cat
- Return the cat to its community
How to Set up a TNR Program in Your Neighbourhood
Anyone can set up a TNR program in their neighbourhood. Speak to your local SPCA or Humane Society, or call a rescue organization in your area that can give you advice about setting up traps for feral cats.
If you have more general questions or concerns about stray or feral cats contact your local animal control or animal welfare organization.