In the hot summer months, we often put out water for our wild friends who need a little help, like our garden hedgehogs, friendly birds and wandering foxes. Feral cats, however, don’t always get the same level of love, but suffer equally from the extremes of hot summers and freezing winters.
Though some people may be surprised to find out that there are so many feral cats living outdoors, their presence is anything but new. If you look back at our thousands of years of history of living alongside cats, it’s only actually really recently that cats have become domesticated.
We also predict that the London feral cat population is likely to have spiralled this year. During the coronavirus pandemic, many neutering programmes, including our Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) programme, had to be temporarily put on hold. Unneutered female cats are able to reproduce from just four months old and can have two or three litters a year, and so these programmes are vital in controlling and containing the feral cat population in London. As feral cat colonies grow, they will increase the chances of cats coming to harm through fighting, malnutrition and the spread of diseases.
Being so ingrained into London wildlife, we believe it’s important to look out for our feral cat colonies, just like we look out for foxes, birds and other wild animals.
Feral cats are a very misunderstood population, and sadly that misunderstanding prevents people from knowing how to help. Many people mistake feral cats to be simply lost or stray, falsely assuming that they are in need of an indoor home. But feral cats are not lost or homeless; the outdoors is their home. This is the environment that they thrive in and are happiest in.
One of the best things you can do as a Feral AdvoCAT is to spread awareness of what exactly feral cats are, and ensure you have an understanding of their unique characteristics and needs. In a recent survey by Mayhew, we found that only 51% of Londoners* (*Survey of 1,000 adults living within the M25 of London, conducted June 2020) truly understood the term ‘feral cat’ and 9% responded that they didn’t know what they were at all.
Read more about feral cats here and help us to spread awareness by sharing about feral cats on social media using #FeralAdvoCAT.
Another very easy way to help feral cats is to put out bowls of fresh water. Just like our own pet cats and dogs, feral cats need access to a clean water source. In winter, make sure to check the bowls regularly in freezing weather in case the water has frozen over.
Cats are lactose intolerant, and consuming dairy products can lead to diarrhoea and vomiting, so please avoid leaving out milk for the cats.
Feral cats are resourceful animals and it’s very likely that your colony will have one, two or even three food sources! These sources could be local restaurants, bin areas or other neighbours in your community. It’s extremely important that feral cats retain their natural drive and ability to hunt food for themselves, so we would recommend only putting down food once a day. This way the cats won’t become dependent on you, in case you’re ever on holiday or decide to move away from the area. It’s also in the best interests of the cats not to become fat through overfeeding!
When feeding your local feral cats, place the food in a dry, shaded area with a bowl of clean water.
Building a shelter for feral cats can be a fun task to do! It provides a great warm and safe place for feral cats in the winter and a shady spot in the summer. If this is maintained year round, feral cats will always have a secret shelter to call their own.
There are many ways to build a shelter, but here’s a simple guide from us:
You will need: One plastic tub with a lid, one slightly smaller polystyrene tub with a lid (that fits easily into the plastic tub) and some straw for bedding.
Step one: Cut two six inch holes on different sides of the tub for the cat to use as ‘doors’ to get in and out of the shelter. Two doors will allow easy access for the cat.
Step two: Repeat for the polystyrene tub, making sure that the holes line up.
Step three: Place the polystyrene tub into the plastic tub, again making sure that the holes line up.
Step four: Put straw in the gaps between the tubs for insulation, and place more straw in the centre of the polystyrene tub for bedding.
Step five: Cover the polystyrene box with its lid. Place straw on top and cover the plastic tub with it’s lid.
Step six: Your shelter is ready to go! In the summer months, place it in a shady spot and in the winter months try to raise the shelter (i.e. by placing it on some bricks), as this will help to keep it insulated against the cold.
Spy on them
To help control and contain the feral cat population in London, our Animal Welfare Officers run a Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) programme. It’s helpful if you are able to observe your local feral cat colonies and alert our Officers when any new cats appear. This enables our team to promptly trap and neuter them, which prevents the cat numbers from spiralling out of control.
If you are concerned about the health of a feral cat, please call us.
Cats can have kittens from five months old, so it’s important to neuter domestic cats as unwanted pregnancies can lead to larger feral colonies. Neutering is a simple, quick and low-risk procedure – find out more here.
Our Animal Welfare Officers are out in the community every day, providing ongoing support to pet owners and animals in difficulty.Find out more
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