What is a Feral Cat?

The word "feral" is used to define a cat that lives outdoors and it essentially does not belong to anyone.

Feral cats are the result of a domestic cat being abandoned or lost and left to fend for itself. The offspring of the domestic (now considered feral) cat are usually never handled by people and become terrified. Many times, when approached by people, they will hiss out of fright. Given the chance, they will run away and hide. This is misunderstood as being vicious, but that is not true. Almost all feral cats that are trapped will cower to the back of the trap and shake from fright. Some even urinate due to uncontrolled fright. If the trap were to be opened they would not attack, but run away.

Ten to fifteen percent of the cats trapped are tame, abandoned cats. Some are even declawed. Others are elderly, guilty of nothing more than having lived with one person all their life until that person passed, and surviving family members decided to throw the animal out.

abandoned cat

Myth: Feral cats carry diseases such as rabies.

Fact: Cats can occasionally be the victims of rabies, but they are not the cause.  According to the CDC, 93% of reported rabies cases are in wild animals such as bats, racoons, and foxes.  There has not been a human case of rabies transmitted from a cat since 1975.  Please read What You Need to Know about Rabies.  Remember, rabies is a public health victory.  There are currently only about 3 cases of rabies in humans in the United States each year.  Compare this with about 60 people killed each year by lightning and the average of 100 people killed each year in plane crashes.  TNR programs such as those that Forgotten Cats runs vaccinate feral cats against rabies, thus eliminating even the extremely small risk they currently have of contracting rabies.

Others are concerrned about Toxoplasmosis.  A July 15, 2000 British Medical Journal article stated, "contact with cats, kittens, cats' feces, or cats who hunt for food was NOT a risk factor for infection." The article said: "No significant associations were detected between infection and presence of cats (whether adults or kittens), the diet and hunting habits of the cats, or cleaning a cat's litter tray." The study concluded that the primary risk for getting Toxoplasmosis is eating undercooked meat.

The Stanford University Department of Environmental Health and Safety, working with the Stanford University Department of Comparative Medicine and the Santa Clara County Health Department, found that there was a general consensus that feral cats pose virtually no health and safety risk to individuals.

(Thanks to Best Friends Animal Society for most of this information!!!)

euthanized cats and dogs

Myth: Feral cats have a harsh life. The humane solution is to trap and kill them to prevent them from possible future suffering.

Fact: Millions of feral cats are fed by kind people. Others find food for themselves.  The average lifespan for a feral cat is estimated to be 10 years.  Incidence of feline leukemia and FIV is no higher in feral cats than in owned cats.  At Forgotten Cats, we see many outdoor cats.  While a few of them lead hard lives, most of them are pleasantly plump and healthy!  Most feral cats we see are full of life and eager to return to their homes when we release them. 

Myth: Feral Cats Kill Endangered Bird Species.

Fact: Humans are the number one threat to birds. Focusing on the perceived struggle between cats and birds diverts attention from the real cause of declining bird populations: the enormous impact of the human species on birds and their habitats. 

Obviously, cats eat birds.  (And birds eat worms but no one suggests we kill all the birds to save the worms.)  But it is not an issue in wildlife if one species kills another.  The real question is whether one species affects the population of the other.  The studies often quoted to substantiate that cats are affecting the bird population are seriously flawed.  They are extrapolations based on small datasets or outright guesses.  And these studies have completely ignored the fact that the birds that cats eat are usually the weakest birds in the flock--birds that would have probably died due to he natural culling of the flock anyway. 

While it appears that there are no serious studies that prove cats affect the population of birds, there are many studies and articles which demonstrate that they do not.  Check out the bibliography of sources from the Animal Welfare Federation of Connecticut.  These sources show that cats do not have a negative impact on bird populations.

For more information about feral cats, please see the HSUS website.



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