Feeding a feral cat colony too much encourages too many cats and other wildlife

I am interested in the amount of food that volunteers should feed to feral cat colonies. I’ve not been involved in feeding feral cat colonies, but it is well known that volunteers, as part of a TNR program, feed feral cats in a colony. Providing adequate food and water on a regular basis throughout the year is an important part of good feral cat colony care.

However, on a personal basis I realise that the more you feed wild animals, the more animals you attract. And true feral cats are wild animals although in most colonies you will see a variety of feral cat characters from true wild to semi-domesticated.

Feeding a feral cat colony
Feeding a feral cat colony. It needs to be precise. I have doubts about quantity control of this feral cat colony! Image: Photo: Purrfect Hearts Cat Rescue.
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I feed wild birds. I also feed squirrels. And I’m quite generous in the way I feed these wild animals. But I found that my generosity was being abused. It was causing problems for me and my neighbours. The more food I put down the more likelihood there was that pigeons would arrive. And if I continue to feed squirrels and birds generously, more and more pigeons arrived. I am not against pigeons. They survive like any other animal including humans and I’m sensitive to their needs but there comes a point when it affects neighbours, and you don’t want to get into a dispute with neighbours.

And feeding more under any circumstance can encourage more eating. Humans who eat too much then adjust their appetite upwards so that they need to eat more to satisfy their appetite. The reverse happens. If you eat less and less, you gradually suppress your appetite to the point where you don’t need food and then you might become anorexic.

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And the same process occurs in road traffic. If you build more roads or wider highways with more lanes, you accommodate more traffic and in response to that people buy more cars and the manufacturers produce more cars. The vacant space is filled.

And the vacant space is filled when feral cats are removed from a colony. They might be removed because they’ve been killed, or they might be rehomed because they are semi-domesticated. But wild animals fill the gaps and wild animals respond to a source of food and gradually populate that area.

A feral cat colony will become established around a source of food. The question is how much do you feed them? If you feed them too much you attract more cats and if you feed them to little they starve.

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I believe that it has to be a precise amount which is perfect for the colony size. And the food should not be left on the ground after they have fed. This means that the feral cats need to eat all the food that is put down within about 15 or 20 minutes.

In doing this TNR volunteers avoid or minimise the possibility of attracting other wild animals to the area. Attracting wild animals to a TNR colony feeding area is one of the criticisms made of TNR programs by feral cat haters. Operators need to avoid the criticism.

I’m told that you can expect an adult feral cat to eat about 200 calories per day plus or minus about 25 cal. That works out at about 5.5 ounces of canned food, plus 1/8-cup of dry food per day per cat. If you are feeding dry food only it is half a cup every day per cat.

The expert volunteers say that you can gauge whether you are putting down the right amount of food by judging whether it is all eaten within 15 minutes or so. One variable here is that some feral cats are going to be genuinely wild and don’t want to approach the feeding station and therefore you can’t really work out whether all the food is being eaten because a feral cat might come forward later when the volunteers are not around.

I guess that a common sense back up strategy would be to place the food down for a set period of time, say 30 minutes, and then take it up so there’s no food on the ground. Volunteers should know those feral cats who are reclusive and perhaps can feed them separately.

There’s also the question of seasonal variations. In winter the cats will need more compared to summer. And in summer you may need to put down dry cat food only to avoid wet going off, although it is less beneficial in terms of health than dry cat food only. In winter the wet cat food needs to be warmed up slightly to stop it freezing.

The purpose of this article is to make one point, which is that a precise amount of food needs to be put down for feral cats so that all of it is eaten within a reasonably quick time frame, which in turn discourages other animals and wildlife to come around for that food and which in turn helps to keep the citizens of the community where the TNR program operates content and accepting of the programme.

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