Feral Cats

The importance of sterilizing and spaying Feral Cats and Stray Cats.

A few words about the terms "Feral Cats" and "Stray Cats" that we often use indiscriminately.

A feral cat is known as "an ex-domestic cat which has reverted to being fully wild or the wild-born (never known domesticity)" While the stray cat recognized as "a domestic (tame) cat with no home or owner" (from the GLOSSARY OF BASIC CAT TERMS , Sara Hartwel)

How can we tell the difference?

It's difficult to determine if a cat is a stray cat or a feral cat when you first meet one on the street. A feral cat in most cases will be more wary and not rush to get close if you offer him food. It should be treated gently and carefully. A feral adult cat, one with little socializtion with humans, will rarely become friendly. A cat that comes into contact with humans regularly would be friendlier, which would probably make it a stray cat, but in most cases it will also act suspiciously, at least in the beginning.

Why is it so important to sterilize or spay Feral/Stray Cats?

The importance lies in prevention: to prevent them from breeding even more cats and to prevent a miserable life for their offspring. A cat without an owner is a cat whose life is hard. We can reduce the growth of their population and lessen their multiplicity by sterilizing and neutering them. Furthermore, by stabilizing the population, cats will naturally have more space, shelter and food, and fewer risks of disease. Cats can be surgically sterilized (spayed or castrated) as early as 8 weeks to limit unwanted reproduction.

In many countries, the presence of cats on the streets is routine, In the U.S. alone the number of feral cats is estimated to be in the tens of millions according ASPCA. (American Society for the Protection of Animals, an animal welfare organization in the United States).

Cats are the one of the most fertile animals in our environment. A female cat can be impregnated from more than one male, and a nursing cat can still get pregnant . It’s important to know that a spayed female cat can continue to nurse her kittens immediately after being sterilized - you don’t have to wait until she’s weaned the kittens to sterilize her. Most cats on the street are doomed to a life of suffering, as they must continually scrounge for food and shelter, while continually warding off predators. This is even more difficult when a female has to handle the many kittens that are born each year.

Neutering male cats reduces the risk of injury and infection, since intact males have a natural instinct to fight with other cats. Spaying also means female cats do not go into heat. This surgical treatment also prevents undesirable sex-related behavior, such as aggression, territory marking (spraying urine) in males and yowling (calling) in females.

The mating season is long for cats, beginning in spring and ending in late autumn. Estrus (heat) periods occur about every two weeks and last about 4 to 7 days. Cats, like other animals in the wild, naturally plan the births for warmer weather. It's known that cats in the wild estrus in winter, and give birth to kittens in the spring to summer when it's warm and pleasant and there is potential for having more food. Cats living at home, who have plenty of food and artificial lighting, can estrus all year.

The mating cycle is very hard for the female cat. Usually at the age of five months she begins to go into heat, and if impregnated, gives birth after about 60 days and even while breastfeeding is capable of going into heat again, which means greater likelihood of more pregnancies. This ensures that an unspayed outdoor cat will endure countless pregnancies and births. By simple calculation of three or four kittens on average per litter, we get ian alarming number. Moreover, the female can get pregnant from mating with several males; even after becoming pregnant, heat continues for another few days and the cat mates again and again. Mating with several males is problematic because usually one kitten or more are born before their time, increasing their chances of difficult survival. Often the second set of kittens may be born before the first litter is properly weaned, thus making life even more difficult for the kittens.

One must consider that pregnancy and birthing is tiring for the cat, both physically and mentally, thus more suffering. The cat must get food at a higher level and regularly (a cat during pregnancy and lactation needs food three times as much as it did before, and it must be a higher nutritional value to provide for the cat and her kittens). We often hear that ‘nature takes care of itself’, and will balance out a too high number of cats. But everyone knows from seeing the misery of an overpopulation of cats that we as humans have the privilege and right to prevent such misery.

Sterilizations are performed through veterinarians. These doctors are often the first ones to recommend to you when you should sterilize your cat, as they see first-hand the results of not sterilizing cats. There are also organizations that perform sterilizations at a discounted rate. However, many kittens are still being born to a life of suffering or dying very young, and therefore sterilizations are essential. If cats are sterilized and live in a colony that has someone to look after them, they may live more than 10 years. We would all love to see the day when the number of feral and stray cats is greatly reduced, so that their lives are more enjoyable, and as a result, so will our lives!

If you are interested in guidelines for feral cat sterilization please read the ASPCA protocol.

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