Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Feisty Feral? - we don't think so!

Some of the saddest cases we have to deal with are the cats who have missed human contact at an early age and become feral.

Feral is a term that is often misused, it simply means "domestic gone wild" but people often imply that a domesticated but aggressive cat is feral. This is not the case. Feral cats are hardly ever aggressive, they are simply shy and will avoid most human contact as much as possible. A domestic cat with aggressive tendencies may however strike out.

The picture shows Brucie, a young male cat who turned up in the garden of one of our volunteers. She was unable to find any owners, and we suspect that he may have been born on a farm or in a garden and not had any (or much) human contact when he was a kitten. In the picture Brucie is meowing, not hissing!

We hope you will find the information about feral cats useful and interesting. Remember they are just as much a cat as are the little fluffy cute ball of fluff who sleeps on your toes and kisses your nose. They just didn't get as easy a start in life.

The Nature of the Feral cat: Cats are not genetically feral. They are not wild-cats, they are domestic cats gone wild. Cats normally become feral if they miss out on essential early handling, and if they are not extensively handled by the age of about 8 weeks they can remain feral cats for life. It is possible for a tame cat to have kittens which become feral and for a feral cat to have kittens which become tame. It is as easy for a litter of kittens to become feral when born in a house and ignored, as it is for them to become feral when born totally away from human contact.

Behaviour of a feral cat: The first thing a feral cat will try and do when approached is to flee. The instinct is to run, not attack. A feral cat will only attack if it is cornered and can see no way of escape. Once a way of escape becomes clear, the attack will cease and the cat will flee. The only exception to this is a mother cat who may attack to protect her tiny kittens if she feels that they are threatened.

Offering a home to a feral cat: At Haworth Cat Rescue we normally rehome cats in pairs, as they have less of a tendency to wander if they are situated with a cat of their acquaintance. As circumstances dictate, however, we may also home singly or in groups of three. The first thing that the new owner must do is to ensure that there is an enclosed room on the farm/stables/factory where the cat(s) can spend the first few days. The room must be escape-proof and cleared of any poison put down to discourage vermin (the cat will take care of the vermin!). The cat should be fed twice a day at roughly the same times each day, and a litter tray, water and bed (straw would be fine) should be provided. It also helps if there is a place where the cat can hide (again a couple of bales of straw are fine). After a few days, the door should be left slightly ajar, or a window open, but always allowing the cat easy access and exit. It is best if this is done at a quiet time of day, or even at night, so that unexpected noises do not scare the cat. Food should be put out for the cat when the door is first opened. The cat should not be approached initially, especially when it is first allowed out, as its instinct is to flee, and it may unintentionally get lost. Try not to "eyeball" the cat as cats see this as a threat and will probably flee. In time, the cat should become used to the routine and will expect food at the same time each day. Even if the cat is a prolific hunter, food should always be offered, and water should be available.

The cat should eventually totally ignore humans unless it is approached, but in some cases it may take an interest in the activities of humans and allow itself to be stroked or rubbed. Some cats will become totally tame, but this is the exception.

If you have a stables or a farm and you feel that you could offer a home to a feral cat, or a pair of feral cats, please contact us. They will pay for their keep by keeping your rodent population down, and they will lead a happy and contented life if they have shelter and food.