By Lucy Carter
Cats are beautiful and intelligent creatures which provide love and companionship to people across the UK. However, many domestic cats are being abandoned and left to fend for themselves across many towns, cities and the countryside creating a huge problem for the UK and cats alike.
The History of Our Domestic Cat
Our beloved feline companions can be traced back to the African Wild Cat which began its first steps of domesticity by visiting grain stores in search of mice and rats. Over time cats became natural pest controllers and were considered very useful to us as they began to populate civilized areas keeping rodent problems to a minimum.
In ancient Egypt cats were considered sacred and even worshipped. They were fiercely protected for a long time but were eventually exported to the European market where they were used mainly to help with rodent problems.
Cats were not always respected though; in the middle-ages they were associated with witchcraft and widely blamed for diseases which were ironically spread by the rat problem that cats usually kept at bay. However, by Victorian times cats were pretty much accepted as pets.
So Where Do Feral Cats Come From?
Today thousands of domestic cats are cared for and loved all over the UK but this does not stop cats sometimes going astray. This could be for a number of reasons. Sometimes cats will go off of their own accord especially during March and April when the course of nature springs to life, and it is not unusual for unneutered male cats to wander off to look for a mate.
Unfortunately this can cause problems for many female cats which have litters away from home. These kittens which are born in the wild will become feral cats if they are not introduced to humans at an early stage in their lives and they will go on to produce litters of their own which in turn escalates the problem.
The Fate of the Feral Cat
Feral cats are quite capable of looking after themselves as long as they remain healthy and food and shelter is available. Otherwise many of these poor cats become sick from disease and injuries from fighting and with no intervention from vets many die or suffer unnecessarily.
Most feral cats will avoid human contact altogether although it is possible to re-introduce young feral kittens to humans gradually by building up their confidence and trust.
There are a number of rehoming charities who will take in feral cats which seem to be in danger and they will try to find them new homes but this is not always an easy task. Adult feral cats are more unlikely to want to move into a domestic setting so finding appropriate homes for them is always a challenge.
Rehoming facilities will keep captured feral cats in pens for a few weeks at first so they can’t escape and so treatment and feeding can be provided. A process of trust is gradually built up and after several weeks the cats will be released but it is more than likely they will return for shelter and food.
As you can imagine finding a home for a feral cat is very difficult, especially those which do not want to form bonds with humans. Usual homes for these types of cats are farms, stables and homes with large grounds where the cat can enjoy a more independent lifestyle. Unfortunately these types of homes are scarce so unfortunately many of the rehoming charities have no choice but to re-release them back into the wild after they have been neutered as long as the release area is considered safe. Many vets now clip the top of the ears of neutered feral cats that are released back into the wild so they can be easily identified. This doesn’t hurt or distress the cats at all.
After neutering, feral cats are quite capable of living satisfactorily in the wild and tend not to fight with other cats so eventually numbers will start to decrease.
The Fate of the Feral Kitten
Thankfully the fate of the feral kitten is a happier one if they are caught early enough. In this situation they can eventually be brought happily into a domestic setting but it will take a lot of patience and coaxing.
At first captured feral kittens will be scared and may spit and hiss but it is important that carers approach the kittens in a way that is not threatening and that they have lots of patience with them. Once captured the kittens should be placed in a pen in a room where there is some human interaction so it can get used to noises, smells, sounds and also seeing different people.
Care should be taken when approaching the kitten so as not to scare it and humans should make an effort to speak to it in a low voice and by kneeling down so they are on the same level. Carers should let the kitten sniff their hand before touching it and should stroke it under the chin so it can see what they are doing and don’t feel threatened.
The kitten should be hand-fed food and healthy treats and be allowed to play with toys and given lots of gentle love and attention as it begins to get used to this new relationship.
Once the kitten has been given time to get used to its new environment and it seems more confident it should be gradually released from the pen into the room, but care should be taken to seal any escape routes such as chimneys, open doors and gaps in walls. As you introduce the kitten to the room don’t be disheartened if it becomes shy and frightened again as it is just becoming used to its new space. It is also a good idea to introduce a litter tray at this stage.
Some kittens can become tame within a few days but some will take a bit longer depending on their age.
How Can We Help Feral Cats?
As always prevention is better than the cure. Neutering pet cats can prevent unwanted litters should the cat ever stray or mate with feral cats. Of course this costs money and although most of the feral cat welfare groups don’t have the funds to help with these costs, Cats Protection do offer vouchers to help people on low incomes and can also assist with trapping, neutering and the return of feral cats to the wild if no home is found.
Many of the feral cat charities already have a lot of feral cats and kittens in their care and even if you are not able to offer one of them a permanent home you could foster. With feral kittens this will also involve helping to tame and socialize them so that one day they will be ready to be introduced into a loving home without any distress. Many of these charities are also crying out for help with other duties such as trapping, feeding and transporting to vets.
If you are able to offer a permanent or temporary home or safe place to an ex-feral cat then you should get in touch with your local rescue organization.