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Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, South Orange County, Long Beach Area

What Can You Do About Feral Cats?

    A feral cat is a domestic cat that has gone wild and today, there are an estimated 60 million feral cats in the United States. Feral cats can transmit diseases, such as rabies and toxoplasmosis; cause significant losses to our populations of native birds, reptiles and amphibians; and can be a general nuisance.

What Should You Know About Feral Cats?

    History tells us that in about 5,000 B.C., the European and African wild cat (Felis silvestris) were domesticated in the Fertile Crescent region of the Middle East and Africa. These cats were used to control the populations of mice and rats in areas where people lived. Over the years, these wild cats evolved into a separate species called the domestic or house cat (Felis catus).

    Most domestic cats are under the direct care of an owner. These cats usually have access to residences, receive medical care and are vaccinated.

    Feral cats are born outside and are never socialized in the first 24 weeks of their lives. These cats are not owned and therefore have become wild.

    Feral cats are often aggressive or show avoidance behavior around people. They usually live outside but may occasionally seek food and shelter in abandoned buildings or other structures. While they look the same as an owned cat, feral cats are more likely to have scratches on their faces and torn ears due to fighting.

 These cats are prolific breeders. About 65 days after mating, females will give birth to two to ten kittens and they can produce up to five litters per year. The Humane Society of the U.S. estimates that a pair of breeding cats and their offspring can produce over 400,000 cats in seven years if conditions are ideal

Important Issues And Impacts

    Feral cats pose risks to public health and safety. Cat owners are required by law to have their cats vaccinated for diseases. Feral cats, on the other hand, are rarely vaccinated so they are far more likely to carry and transmit diseases to humans and other cats. Cat scratch fever, plague, rabies, ringworm, salmonellosis and toxoplasmosis are just a few of the diseases they are known to transmit. You should know that in three separate studies, 62 to 80 percent of the feral cats studied were tested positive for toxoplasmosis. Feral cats are hosts of fleas and ticks and these are known carriers of diseases that can be transmitted to humans. 

    Studies have shown that feral cats pose a serious threat to native wildlife. They estimate that 480 million birds are killed by feral cats, annually. The large numbers of small mammals, reptiles and amphibians killed by these predators each year are unknown. Some would argue that well fed cats do not prey on wildlife. However, a study conducted in Sweden showed that the diets of well-fed house cats consisted of 15 to 90 percent native prey, depending on availability.

    When you consider the risks of disease transmission, an ever-growing cat population and the impact of predation by feral cats on wildlife, most scientist, wildlife managers and public health officials will agree that management of feral cats is necessary.

We Need To Be
Responsible Pet Owners

    One of the best ways to avoid problems with feral cats is to become a responsible pet owner. Here are some recommendations:

  • Owners should only keep as many cats as can be fed and provided care.
  • Cats should be kept inside so they will be safe and won’t harm wildlife. If your cats must stay outside, try and limit the amount of time and space. You should also supervise them if possible.
  • Use collars with tags so that your cats won’t be mistaken as strays or feral. Many cats do not like wearing collars and will break them off. If that is the case, you should consider using a “passive integrated transponder” (PIT tag). These tags contain a unique microchip that will allow animal control officials to easily identify the animal and owner.
  • Vaccinate your cats as required by law.
  • Cats should be spayed or neutered to prevent unwanted breeding.
  • If cats are unwanted, you should use legal, humane and ethical actions for control. Please contact your local animal control office or humane society for assistance.
  • Do not release unwanted cats in rural areas or in another neighborhood because this only perpetuates the problem.

Proper Management Of
Feral Cats

     There are a number of methods that can be used to control feral cats. Due to the fact that many people are sensitive about cats, we strongly recommend using these methods for control as your first option:

  1. Make your property less attractive by clearing or thinning thick vegetation. Prune back the lower limbs of shrubs and small trees to a height of at least 2 feet.
  2. Eliminate moisture sources, such as leaking pipes and rain gutter downspouts. Depressions in the ground should be filled so that water cannot pool.
  3. Feed your pets indoors. If you do feed your pets outdoors, remove pet dishes and food after they finish. Store pet food indoors or in sealed heavy-duty containers.
  4. Garbage cans need to be kept covered and sealed.
  5. Close off areas where feral cats can hide and live. This includes areas such as under homes, decks, porches and sheds. Use fencing and netting to exclude cats from gardens and flower beds. You may also want to install ¼-inch cat spikes along ledges to restrict their access.
  6. Use frightening devices to keep cats away. One of the most effective methods is to use motion-activated sprinklers. When a cat walks in front of one of these sensors, the sprinklers will come on and frighten it away. Dogs, in a fenced in area, can also be effective. Other methods would be to use a garden hose, a tennis ball or by clapping and yelling.
  7. Start an effective rodent control program. Mice and rats serve as food for feral cats and by reducing the population of rodents, you will make your property much less attractive.
  8. Use traps to remove feral cats. Trapping is best left to trained professionals. Once trapped, these animals should be taken to an animal shelter or your local humane society. If you are concerned of what may happen to these animals after they have been trapped, you should talk to your local humane society about their “Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release” program. While not everyone agrees that this program will be effective, it is a humane and nonlethal solution that may reduce the population of feral cats.

    The control of feral cats is not an easy task, especially since some of your neighbors may feel sorry for the cats and be feeding them. The problems associated with feral cats are only going to get worse if everyone in you community doesn’t get involved. That is why it is so important for you to talk to your neighbors and work together to solve the problem.