The Detroit Post
Wednesday, 08 December, 2021

Why Are Feral Cats Dangerous

author
Paul Gonzalez
• Thursday, 26 November, 2020
• 24 min read

Feral cats lurk in the high grass behind convenience stores, scrounge for food outside of restaurants, and stealthily survive on the streets. Their colonies are found in countless neighborhoods across the country, but there are a lot of people don’t know about them.

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Contents

Some felines you see skittering across darkened streets are strays and lost pets, but the feral population doesn’t fit into either category. Feral cats are as close to “wild” as a domesticated species can be, and the best way to help them is to understand them.

Here are a few common misconceptions that are clouding the public opinion of feral cat colonies. The word feral describes their behavior, it doesn’t classify them as a separate species.

They may attack if they’re pushed into a corner with no way out, but their responses come from fear, not aggression. The purpose of an animal shelter is to help pets find new homes, but feral cats can rarely adopt.

They lack socialization, and even a short stay in a shelter can cause traumatizing emotional stress. They think that with time, patience, and love, they can unveil a sweet kitty underneath the rough feral exterior.

Adult feral grow up in the wild, and no matter how hard you try, most will always be too fearful of humans to be comfortable around them. Feral cats live on the outskirts of civilization and deserve the same kind of respect and understanding that other wild animals in the area receive.

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You also want to be on the lookout for smelly, pussy or discolored drainage, swelling, redness or an increase in the level of pain. These are all signs of infection that need to be treated as quickly as possible. Sometimes basic, general antibiotics such as amoxicillin or penicillin will work. However, some forms of the bacteria will require other alternatives. Only you can decide when to make the call to get medical treatment, but it’s a good idea to err on the side of caution in order to nip the problem in the bud as soon as possible. During a survival situation, you may need to rely on your first aid kit and your ability to keep the wound clean.

Providing basic antibiotics and giving foods or supplements that can boost the immune system until you can get access to definitive care can also be helpful. Cat scratch fever is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted through a scratch or a bite. Common symptoms that usually begin to develop a few hours after exposure include blistering or bumps around the site of the bite and swollen lymph nodes. Nodes will usually swell near the bite site before spreading throughout the body as the immune system kicks in to try and kill off the bacteria. Fatigue, a low grade fever and sore throat are also common symptoms.

This site, 5 Most Dangerous Cat Diseases,” provides an excellent guide to the most common serious and often fatal diseases to which outdoor cats are susceptible, including Feline Leukemia, FIV, Feline panleukopenia (distemper), renal failure, and rabies. They warn that “a single infected cat can deposit millions of cysts, each of which may survive in moist soil for 18 months.

It is not from a lack of funding or dedication by the “intrepid trappers,” as Dr. W. Marvin Mackie calls TNR devotees. W. Marvin Mackie, DVD, founder/director of two Animal Birth Control spay/neuter clinics in Los Angeles County, was a pioneer in early-age spay/neuter and trained veterinarians worldwide in techniques he called, Quickly.

Dr. Mackie shared his thoughts in the following personal interview, an expanded version of which appeared in the Pet Press, March-April, 2003: “ I was inspired in 2002 by an article by Merritt Clifton , who discussed the application of the Fibonacci 70% rule to spay/neuter of dogs and cats,” Dr. Mackie explained.

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“I realized that this concept is amazingly insightful into success or failure as it relates to ultimate pet overpopulation and deserves to be understood by all who are decision makers in the effort to bring it under control,” he continued. “Leonardo Fibonacci, a preeminent mathematician of his time, created a formula (model) in the early 1200s relating to agriculture productivity.

“It is not a great leap to advance to the notion that pet sterilization is in effect “vaccinating” against the disease of overpopulation. “The outcome at this 70% sterilization level is that the transmission odds (successful breeding encounters) of the remaining 30% are reduced to the point that births then occur at a rate only great enough to replace normal attrition.

“If we follow the logical conclusions of the 70% rule, which is broadly accepted by those who work in epidemiology, we arrive at some interesting answers. For instance, those working so diligently to control pet overpopulation in the greater Los Angeles and Orange County areas are confounded by the fact that, in spite of their tireless efforts, they have not seen the hoped for reduction in euthanasia.

“The more impoverished areas don’t come close to 70% and the shelters serving those communities are the recipients of the hapless victims of too many births and too few homes.” A similar position is presented in an excerpt from comments by Dr. Travis Long core, Science Director, The Urban Wild lands Group, on the Initial Study/Draft Mitigated Negative Declaration for Proposed City of Los Angeles Citywide Cat Program, November 4, 2013.

PS: If you don’t want to read the whole article and just want quick answers, skip to the bottom of the page for a quick summary list and FAQ section! They rely on human settlements for food and shelter, but they are still wild animals.

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Pigeon Pigs Dogs Horses (what Americans call Mustangs or others call ‘wild horses’) and Donkeys Cats Goats Dromedary camels Water buffalo Honey bees Parrots Chickens Plants Wild pigeons are a uniform gray color with a black band around the neck.

Sheep are rarely seen in a feral state as they are severely vulnerable to predation and injury. As they have only been living with humans a relatively short period of time compared to dogs and cattle.

And they don’t display a lot of the signs of domestication that other species do. Things like floppy ears and coat variations and blunter teeth, etc.

These domestic traits were first thought to have been specifically bred by humans, but after an experiment with foxes bred for temperament only, not appearance, scientists believe that it is a side effect of domestication, not a purposeful one. The first actual sign of domestication syndrome in cats was the blotched tabby.

The first actual intentional breeding by humans was less than a 1,000 years ago. Cats have lived among us for thousands of years, and they did so on their own, catching mice and rats that human settlements attracted.

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For this reason, it’s relatively easy for cats to revert to the ‘wild’. So without human contact and socialization, they revert to the state that cats have lived in for thousands of years even while living alongside humans.

Cats are believed to have domesticated themselves around 9,200 thousand years ago. But for the sake of argument, let’s say cats are domesticated because they’ve been selectively bred the past thousand years and are starting to show traits of domestication.

Will meow at humans Will approach humans, usually with the tail high in the air Will be visible in the day Can be eventually touched and accepts petting without confusion Once trapped, strays are more likely to approach the front of the cage. Keep in mind that scared cats may act feral at first but actually settle down once they start to feel safe.

It IS possible for a pet cat to revert to a feral state when lost or abandoned, living wild. For the sake of owned cats, feral usually means unsocialized and not used to human contact.

If you end up taming an adult cat, it likely wasn’t completely feral in the first place. The tell-tale signal of a free-roaming cat that is fixed is that the tip of the left ear is missing.

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It is a fixed, owned cat who may be living in a colony managed by a caretaker. Ear tip simply means an owned community cat.

True feral cats will actively avoid humans to the point of being nearly invisible, except for perhaps their caretaker. Feral cats are similar in size and are in no way about to attack a human being so much bigger than they are.

The only time a feral cat could become a danger to you is if you corner or trap one, and then decide to stick your hand in there. It’ll be purely defensive, but they’re going to be scared and acting aggressively in an effort to make you, the predator, back off.

Feral cats are more likely to be in contact with animals carrying rabies such as raccoons, bats, skunks, foxes, and coyotes in the United States than dogs, but are less likely to interact with people. The US has a lower rate of ownerless free-roaming unvaccinated dogs which is one reason why human rabies is actually rare here.

The most common cause of rabies in dogs and livestock is raccoons, skunks, and foxes. In developing countries where rabies is still prevalent, free-roaming dogs are the most serious threat to people.

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When working with feral cats, it is better to avoid being bitten in the first place, as the virus is transmitted via saliva. You’re more likely to be infected by a bat or by traveling abroad than by taking care of feral.

There are two ways to determine if an animal has transmitted rabies to a victim. Quarantine for 10 days is the other option available when the animal is a domestic pet, like a dog or cat.

Your doctor can help determine if you need rabies vaccinations immediately or not. If the cat who bit you have already been TNR’d, it is unlikely you’ve been exposed to rabies.

Animals that have been vaccinated at some point in their lives very, very rarely contract the virus. Unless you’re planning on playing in feral cat poo, you’re probably fine.

A lot of people’s pets come down with the usual parasites: roundworm and hookworm and heartworm and Cecilia and guardian, too. Especially in shelters, rescues, and foster situations where multiple cats might interact.

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Owning ANY animal comes with a small risk of zoonotic disease. I find it asinine that people use this argument to propose destroying feral cats.

But feral cats aren’t any sicker than pet cats are. If anyone observes a managed colony of owned, free-roaming cats outdoors, they are very happy.

The cats that are miserable, dirty, and sickly are usually lost or abandoned pets. They grew up out there and forcing that cat into a strange indoor environment is stressful and cruel.

You are forcing a wild animal into confinement with a large predator (YOU) when you take feral cats inside. If people lived in bubbles, they wouldn’t be catching the flu or AIDS or getting malaria or dying in a plane accident.

Indoor cats do live in isolation, which does equate less exposure to unhealthy microbes and fewer accidents and injuries. Their lifespan is slightly reduced because of the high kitten mortality rate in feral cats and the higher accident and predation, but it is not rare at all to have colony cats passing away at 15 or 17.

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The more generations of feral cats there are, the wilder and bigger they get. These colonies, in the wild, consist of mostly female cats and kittens.

Otherwise, tomcats (unfixed males) are often roaming and stay on the outskirts of colonies, not a part of them. Feral cats are most active at dawn and dusk.

Encourage your neighbors, friends, family members, coworkers, whoever, to do the same. Report people abandoning their cats and unwanted kittens outside to the proper authorities.

This last option is one that is growing in popularity around the United States: Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). This is a program in which feral cats are trapped, neutered and vaccinated, and then returned to their outdoor homes to live out the rest of their lives, usually under a dedicated colony caretaker.

There are people who oppose Trap Neuter Return (TNR) policies and suggest feral cats should be rounded up and taken to shelters. Before the implementation of TNR in various communities, the feral cats brought into shelters had a euthanasia rate of 100%.

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Feral cats brought into local shelters also increased the total number of cats euthanized to over 95% in some areas. Coming into a shelter was a death sentence for any cat, stray or feral.

Proponents even propose ideas of cat sanctuaries, as if that were a viable alternative. The current shelters in the US don’t have space for the pet cats people abandon.

Overcrowding will cause diseases and upper respiratory infections. If we could safely and effectively create millions of cat sanctuaries, this would already be done.

Because of studies that blame cats for declining bird and animal species. I’ve read the studies and I find it interesting that they are so flawed and yet quoted all the time.

Cats are opportunistic eaters and will hunt or scavenge for meat, definitely. They are obligate carnivores which means they absolutely must eat meat.

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Anti-TNR people just don’t want to admit they’re calling for the deaths of millions of animals that America thinks of as pets. But if it could work, cat lovers would be all for it ages ago.

Feral cats are wild animals and the kindest solution is to bring them back to their outdoor homes. We socialize and adopt kittens out (already fixed, of course), so that is fewer cats in the colony.

WE even fix people’s PET cats and advocate for spay and neuter, so we can stop the cause of feral cats. We try to reduce their reproduction so that feral cats will no longer be born.

We keep our OWN pets indoors (unless you’re like me and adopted a barn cat or two, instead). Also consider that killing feral cats has been the norm for decades, if not centuries, and this has not helped the problem at all.

National Geographic has a nice article that is plenty of unbiased that presents both sides to the equation. I tamed one in seconds before, simply because the little girl was separated from mother and her litter in the middle of a bad thunderstorm.

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When I pet her cheek, and she realized I wasn’t going to hurt her, she bonded, BOOM. Maybe almost a year, and one is not scared of any humans anymore, but he’s not what you’d call friendly to anyone but me.

Feral cats are not socialized to humans and are wild animals that are descended from domestic ones If a cat won’t approach, is rarely around, won’t eat in front of you or meow at you, or similar behavior after months or years, then he likely is feral. Feral are not any more likely to spread disease than your pet cat will, as all animals carry bacteria, prone to rabies and parasites.

Outdoor cats are not sickly or unhappy, though have a higher injury and death rates because of accidents, cars, and predation Reduce feral cats by: fixing your pets and advocating for your neighbors, friends, and family to do so. Report people for abandoning cats and kittens in the wild.

Find homes for friendly cats that are adoptable Donate to locally spay and neuter clinics or feral cat groups. Feral cats are genetically identical to your pet cats and their kittens can be easily tamed and socialized to humans.

A feral cat will avoid or run from humans 100% of the time. They are only dangerous if you corner one who has no way to escape, exactly as any other wild animal would.

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Because they have been our outdoor companions for thousands of years and only recently became pets and even more recently became indoor pets, there are millions of outdoor and feral cats living among us around the world. They have traveled the globe with humans on ships in historical times.

Feral kittens are easily tamed and able to be adopted out of rescues and shelters. If a cat is truly feral, with little to no socialization to humans, it can be done, but it might take years.

Even then, they aren’t going to be the same loving companion you see awaiting adoption at your local shelter. I don’t recommend you attempt to tame a feral adult cat unless you plan on adopting the cat yourself and are willing to take the time and effort to do so.

You may also want to understand cat body language to prevent you from being scratched or bitten while doing this. A stray cat was once a pet, either lost or abandoned, so has had socialization.

As feral cats aren’t socialized to humans, they will not meow. Feral kittens will meow at their mother, but they stop once they become an adult.

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They will chirp, twitter, yowl, growl, and hiss. If a feral cat survives kitten hood, she may live 2-16 years in the wild.

The low average lifespan of feral cats is likely because 75% of kittens born outdoors to feral die. This is the same average lifespan of pet cats with outdoor access.

If you choose to release a feral cat you have trapped into your home, they will hide. If you have years and a lot of patience, you may get the cat to get used to your house and you.

To get a feral cat to trust you, you need two things: food and time. If you feed a feral cat, they will slowly over time start to trust you.

They will come closer to you and may even eat in front of you, eventually. It may take months or years, but as long as you never make the feral cat feel threatened, you may be rewarded with a nose sniff.

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If a cat is actually feral and not just a scared stray, he may not ever allow touch. They know all the best hiding spots, the best places to find food or catch a mouse, they know all the dangerous areas, and they have their fellow cats for companionship.

Feral cats, like our beloved house cats, are opportunistic feeders. For hunting, they prefer ground-dwelling rodents like mice and other types of prey like lizards and insects.

Either they were a pet when they were young or because they were born outside near humans that were kind and handled him. These cats don’t have quite the instinctive fear feral have of humans, so they are more visible and possibly more vocal.

Keep in mind feral cats are already domesticated, they just aren’t tamed or socialized. Kittens, being young, are easily tamed to become beloved house cats.

Feral cats have no socialization to humans and living inside with them is very traumatic. Keep in mind, some community cats just want to be inside with their favorite people sometimes and allowed outside other times.

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Once the cat realizes you are feeding them dummy food regularly, you earn a bit of trust. Once time passes and you don’t hurt the cat, they will trust you more.

Other ways to help you gain a feral cat’s trust is to be sure to offer water, toys, catnip or silver vine, and staying near while the cat is around. They are much easier to convince living inside happily than cats that have never been indoors.

Though some strays may prefer living outside, most are easily adapted to an indoor cat life. They are born that way or have completely forgotten human contact, if they had any.

Feral animals don’t always have great survival instincts either, like sheep. But if set free in the wild, their offspring are considered feral.

Please leave me a comment with your question and I’ll answer it as soon as possible! I’m sure you have heard me mention in some other blog posts about how some of my cats were originally feral.

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These cats typically live outdoors in little groups called colonies. These colonies will normally stick together and help feed, protect, and shelter the group.

There are different levels of feral cats which are classified by a handful of characteristics. Age can tend to play a role in the level of “reality” (I don’t actually think that’s a word but you know what I mean).

An older adult cat can sometimes take years to socialize, if at all. Basically, this means, the more often that feral cats reproduce, the wilder the cats become.

That means that you can have a first-generation kitten, that still has some wild behaviors in them years after being socialized. It requires a lot of patience and effort on our part to work on her being comfortable being held.

Heck, I know some people who find feral cats that are indoor/outdoor cats after nearly a month just based on their personalities. Finally, one thing that can impact the wildness of cats is their history with humans.

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It is important to remember that you have no idea what this feral cat’s past is like. However, when my grandpa found Phoebe, she first off was following him, so the first indicator that she was not a feral cat.

So if they warm up to you almost immediately, probably a stray cat that was lost or dumped. Some of the best things I can recommend for feral cats are patience, shelter, food, and water.

The fastest way to build trust in cats is to feed them. It may take some time, but if you lay food out for the cats, then they will begin to trust you.

Another recommendation that I like to make is providing shelter for them to sleep in at night. Whether that be a makeshift shelter or a shed that they feel comfortable sleeping in, anything is better than nothing.

This kept her safer at night that out in the open, she was warm, and it also started to build the trust even more. Finally, patience and kindness will be the biggest things for feral cats.

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It could take days, weeks, months for them to start to build up trust in you. I remember sleeping on the hardwood floor one night because she didn’t trust us enough to come inside without the door open and for short periods of time.

Eventually, we built up that trust with her that now she climbs into our arms and sleeps belly up in our living room. It all happened because we were patient and willing to put the work in to earn her trust.

So if you see a feral cat that you have fallen in love with, the last thing you want to do is try and force it inside forever. That will only cause the cat to want to run and lose trust in you, with one exception that I will talk about later.

Forcing them into things they are not ready for will add stress and to the negative experiences with humans later on. Patience, trust, and love are the three things that will help feral cats become your family pet.

But for some weird reason, my fiancé thinks it would be “crazy” to have 50 cats …odd right? If there is one outdoor cat in particular that you are wanting to bring into your home, you can work towards that using some steps I have talked about above.

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This causes them to breed babies at an alarming rate, which causes even more feral kittens to be on the street. One thing that we can do to help with this is something called ‘ Trap, Neuter, Release’.

It involves groups of people who trap feral cats, take them to the vet to be neutered, and release them back into the wild. Often, vets will also clip a small section of their ear while they are under as a way of tagging that the cat has been neutered.

Then, humans can work on preventing too many feral kitten births each yet, spend time focusing on helping the outdoor cats, and eventually make sure all the cats have homes. There are so many ways people can help with the feral cat population and oftentimes, it really doesn’t involve too much work.

And then use those tools to allow us to help the cat begin to trust humans, stay safe, and live a long and happy life. While many pet cats are spayed or neutered and up-to-date on life-saving vaccinations, feral cats are unlikely to receive this type of preventative care, allowing them to breed without restriction and to spread scary diseases, including rabies .

If bitten by a rapid animal, humans must undergo a series of shots in order to produce the antibodies required for survival. The odds of catching a feral cat that many times throughout its life is very unlikely, leaving the animal vulnerable to the virus .

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That means feral cats who hang around playgrounds, sandboxes or your garden pose a significant health risk even long after they've moved on. It's also linked to difficulty in school when ingested by children, as well as schizophrenia and other mental health problems in people of all ages .

Though less common, feral cats can also transmit diseases like typhus, cat scratch fever and even the plague . The Humane Society of the United States supports indoor-only living for cats, but some owners remain convinced that life in the “great” outdoors can be beneficial.

Roaming Over Widespread Territories Richard Warner, an emeritus professor of natural resources and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and his colleagues conducted the study, which was recently published in the Journal of Wildlife Management. Using radio transmitters and other high-tech equipment, the researchers tracked every move of 42 owned and owned cats living at the southern edge of Champaign and Urbana, neighboring cities in Central Illinois.

Even the researchers, however, were surprised by one mixed breed male, which had a home range of 1,351 acres, the largest tract of all cats tracked. “That particular male cat was not getting food from humans, to my knowledge, but somehow it survived out there amidst coyotes and foxes,” says co-author Jeff Horn.

The average home range for pet cats was 4.9 acres, but as Horn says, “That’s a lot of backyards.” They ran, stalked prey, slept, rested and often encountered feral cats looking to establish dominance over an area. For example, each morning during the study, one feral cat waited for a particular pet feline to emerge in its garden.

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“For example, Toxoplasma Gandhi, a parasite spread primarily by cats, may cause neurological, reproductive and even respiratory problems in humans, cats and wildlife, depending on the species affected,” says co-author Nora Mateus-Pinilla of the Illinois Natural History Survey. The Solution Adam Golfer, director of the Pets at Risk Program at the Humane Society of the United States, admits that in a perfect world, cats would be able to enjoy the exercise, fresh air, sights, smells and sounds of the outdoors.

The answers then are to help provide your cat with related experiences inside, or to fully control your pet’s time outdoors. Most importantly, spend daily time interacting with your cats, whether that involves playing, training or just sitting on the couch with them.

Just like a satisfied human mate, a healthy and content cat will easily let go of its roaming ways in exchange for a better, safer life indoors with you.

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