Biologists and nature lovers track birds and wildlife to assess their overall health, resiliency, migration patterns and the state of their habitat. While cats usually stay close to their food source, tracking a feral cat colony also provides important information for caretakers and researchers.
Who’s Out There?
Managing a feral cat colony takes more than love and a kind heart. It also requires some record-keeping. In fact, developing a tracking system should be the first step you take when you become a colony caretaker. Begin by getting an accurate count of how many cats are in the colony. Observe the cats, assess their condition and make notes describing their habits. Give them all names, too, and take a picture of each cat, if you can get close enough. Start a journal for your observations and photos.
Time To Trap/Neuter/Return
After you’ve counted noses and know how many cats there are, you’re ready to trap them all, get them neutered/spayed, vaccinated and ear tipped ad return them to their outdoor home. If you trap the entire colony at the same time, there will be no unsterilized cats left to produce more kittens. Ear tipping means the tip of the left ear is removed while the cat is anesthetized for surgery. The ear tip is a universal symbol that the cat has been sterilized and will help you identify the cats in your colony who have already bee vaccinated and “fixed.” If one of your cats is picked up by your animal control agency, that ear tip could save its life!
Tracking Your Cats From Kittenhood Through Old Age
Alley Cat Allies suggests including this information in your tracking system.
- The names, telephone numbers and email addresses of all colony caretakers
- The colony’s exact location and whether anyone has attempted to remove the cats either by euthanasia or relocation
- The date you implemented your colony management plan
- The total number of male cats when you began your management plan and the total number of females.
- The total number of kittens adopted to homes
- The total number of tame cats who were removed
- The total number of cats who were euthanized due to illness
- The number of cats remaining in the colony
- Each cat’s name, gender and markings
- The date each cat was trapped, neutered/spayed and vaccinated
Assess your cats from time to time and make notes on their overall condition and any changes you see. While veterinary care is often impractical or even impossible for feral cats, being aware of differences in the cats’ behavior will help you accommodate their changing needs as they age.
Why Record Keeping Is So Important
In addition to providing valuable information for you as your cats age, keeping complete and accurate records will provide proof of sterilization and vaccinations if a local animal control agency or a neighbor ever questions whether the cats are receiving adequate care.
Be An Advocate For Your Cats
While record-keeping is important, it’s also important to become an advocate for your cats. Be ready to answer people’s questions about your colony and to dispel the many myths about feral cats.
- Myth: Feral cats live short, miserable lives.
- Fact: Studies show that neutered/spayed feral cats in managed colonies generally live as long as house cats do.
- Myth: Feral cats should be adopted to good homes
- Fact: Feral cats are domestic cats who have reverted to a wild state. “Being forced into a house or other structure can be the most frightening experience possible for a feral cat,” says Alley Cat Allies. “While the cat may appear to acclimate, he is never at ease and never stops looking for a way to escape.” The stress of confinement, Alley Cat Allies says, can harm the cat’s health.
- Myth: Feral cats attack people.
- Fact: Like other wild animals, feral cats stay as far from humans as possible. Feral cats do not attack people or other animals unless they’re backed into a corner and feel trapped, and most are too cautious to allow that to happen.
- Myth: Feral cats spread disease.
- Fact: Rabies is the only disease that can be transmitted from cats to humans, and there hasn’t been a confirmed case of cat-to-human rabies transmission in more than 30 years, according to Alley Cat Allies.
Managing a feral cat colony is more than a labor of love. Being able to educate people and keeping your feral cat colony tracking system up to date are two ways to keep your cats healthy and safe.