“There’s the Buffy cat.” I announced to my cocker spaniel, Buffy, while we sat on the enclosed, heated front porch. My husband and I call this feral cat, the Buffy cat, because it is the same buff color as Buffy.
I’m sure you do that too. Black and white tuxedo cats with a white blaze, I call ‘Skippy cats,’ in honor of a springer mix I used to have. As you may be able tell, I’m a dog person. I’ve never owned a cat.
I started wondering, how do these feral cats stay alive in the winter? I know Buffy would never survive in the cold. I’ve seen this particular cat for at least two years, so somehow it survives.
A few years back, I rarely saw a feral cat by my house. These cats are sometimes called “community cats.” Back then, we had a huge raccoon population living in the attics of houses on both sides of me. Now I rarely see raccoons. Although new people have moved into these homes and they have done some maintenance, still, I wondered if somehow the cats were deterring the coons.
My research unearthed a rat’s nest of information, most of which has sparked debates.
- I knew that feral cats predate on birds and many birding enthusiasts and nature lovers deplore feral cats. According to Ecology Global Network, each cat kills about 34 – 46 birds each year, with pet cats killing fewer than feral cats.
- I had thought that in urban areas, most of the birds would be non-native, so probably not really a problem for cats predating upon them—but I was wrong. Many cities, including Chicago are on a migratory flyway for native birds. Feral cats kill an estimated 1.3 – 4 BILLION birds worldwide each year and 6.3 – 22.3 BILLION mammals. This report by the Smithsonian states that the domestic cat is among the top 100 worst invasive species and has also contributed to animal extinctions.
- Cats do not predate on raccoons or vice versa, although raccoons will sometimes kill cats (and small dogs). Leaving food out for feral cats is the main problem. Raccoons then steal their food. So feeding feral cats may actually help the local raccoon population. Apparently, our raccoon population dropped because of people fixing up their homes and not the presence of feral cats.
- Overpopulation of feral cats is a significant problem. Trap—Neuter–Return Programs (TNR) are can be very effective at bringing down the number of feral cats. In my town, Waukegan, IL, Animal Control started a TNR program and the number of feral cats brought into Animal Control went way down within seven years, from 3,000 to 400.
- Mathematical models predict that TNR would have to reach 75% or more of the cats to be effective. Models also predict reducing the cat population by lethal methods would need to reach 50% of the feral cats. According to this research study:
“Neither untargeted shelter euthanasia nor TNR is well-supported as a method to protect wildlife by eradicating or significantly reducing cat populations on a broad scale. TNR, however, has potential benefits for cat welfare, public health (if vaccination for rabies is included), and nuisance abatement which may still justify its use. “
- The Cats at Work program in Chicago uses feral cats to control rats. One of my friends participates in this popular program. This “green” program eliminates the need to use rat poison, which can harm many other animals. The cats in this program came from Animal Control and likely euthanized. These cats are sterilized, vaccinated, microchipped, and have a clipped ear that indicates that they belong to someone. Several people care for them with regular feedings, water, and a small shelter to keep them warm.
- According to the Cats at Work program, cats prefer to hunt rodents over birds since they are easier to catch.
Back to my question about how do feral cats survive the winter? The best thing to do is provide small shelters for them so that two to three cats can curl up together and keep warm. Do not line the shelter with blankets or towels that can get wet and moldy. Straw will help insulate them from the cold. If snow is not available, provide fresh water. PetMD also offers tips on caring for feral cats in the winter.
So, as you can see, the topic of feral cats is very controversial.
Personally, I think the TNR program is a great way to help reduce the cat population. Although feral cats lead a hard life, they do help control rodents, another nuisance species. In the long run, areas that have TNR programs should be more beneficial to bird populations than areas that don’t have them, since there will be fewer feral cats.
What are your thoughts on the TNR programs or on using feral cats to control rats?
More information is below:
The ASPCA position paper on community cats and programs https://www.aspca.org/about-us/aspca-policy-and-position-statements/position-statement-community-cats-and-community-cat
ASPCA A closer look at community cats https://www.aspca.org/animal-homelessness/shelter-intake-and-surrender/closer-look-community-cats
Is euthanasia at animal shelters an effective tool to decrease the impact of cat predation in the continental United States? https://vetmed-maddie.sites.medinfo.ufl.edu/files/2014/07/Does-cat-euthanasia-save-wildlife.pdf
Smithsonian.com Feral Cats Kill Billions of Small Critters Each Year
Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/feral-cats-kill-billions-of-small-critters-each-year-7814590/
Feral cats weapon of choice for some residents facing influx of rats http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-feral-cats-rats-abatement-met-20160407-story.html
How to Help Outdoor Cats Stay Warm and Safe in Winter Weather http://www.vetstreet.com/dr-marty-becker/how-to-help-outdoor-cats-stay-warm-and-safe-in-winter-weather
Photo by Pixaby https://pixabay.com/en/cat-animal-pet-outdoor-winter-2561120/
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