(Solutions are most effective when several are implemented at the same time!)
Do the cats pose a health risk?
A Stanford study found virtually no risk to human health or safety from feral cats. Similarly, research at the University of Florida found that feral cats and owned cats share similar health status, confirming that the cats do not pose a risk to public health or to other cats. People sometimes worry about rabies, but this is unjustified. Cats are not natural carriers for rabies. There has not been a single human death from rabies attributed to transmission from a cat in the USA in over thirty years. Also, as part of a TNR program, cats are vaccinated against rabies and then provide an immune barrier between humans and wildlife in the community. Furthermore, the British Medical Journal states that: "contact with cats, kittens, cats' feces, or cats who hunt for food was not a risk factor for infection. . . for toxoplasmosis.” The study concludes that eating undercooked meat is the primary risk factor in contracting toxoplasmosis.
Are feral cats dangerous?
Feral cats are naturally wary of people and will not approach humans they do not know. Feral cats will not attack anyone unless they are cornered. Never touch or corner any animal you are not familiar with. Parents and caregivers should teach children to not approach or touch any unknown animal.
The feeding area is messy.
The #1 complaint about cats is actually about the people who feed them! Cat caregivers should keep any cat feeding area neat and free of leftover food and trash. Paper plates cause litter and complaints, so use only plastic or stainless steel bowls that will not tip over or blow away. Never put food directly on the ground. If others are feeding the cats, coordinate a schedule so that the above guidelines are met. If you are unsure of who else is feeding, leave a polite note with your phone number or email address.
The feeding area attracts insects and pests.
Caregivers should feed only dry food since wet food attracts unwanted guests such as raccoons and possums. Food should never be left out overnight. It's best to feed in the morning and remove the food after one hour. Make certain that any leftover food is removed before nightfall. If it is inconvenient to remove any leftover food, feed the cats only what they will eat within an hour or two and no more. Pour out the water bowl, and refill it with fresh water daily to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in it.
There are too many cats around!
Ensuring that all of the cats are neutered will allow the colony to decrease rather quickly. It’s also very important to move any feeding stations and shelters to an area where the cats are not seen. They should be in an inconspicuous place that is easily accessible for the feeder. They should be painted colors that blend in with the environment. The cats should not be fed at peak hours to help them maintain a low profile. The more people see cats, the more people will lodge complaints.
Cats are sleeping under my porch.
If cats are sleeping under a house or in a shed, they are seeking a warm, dry, safe, shelter from the elements. A shelter could be provided (similar to a small doghouse) for the cats. Meanwhile, physically block or seal the location the cats are entering with chicken wire or lattice when you are sure the cats are not there.
Cats are getting into my trash.
Cats and many wild animals are opportunistic scavengers. This behavior can be reduced by providing a regular food source at a set time in an out-of-the-way location, during daylight hours. Keep trash properly covered and secured to avoid attracting raccoons and possums, in addition to cats.
Cats are hanging out in my yard.
There are many ways to make your property less appealing: 1) Neutering cats curtails the urge to roam, 2) Routinely use a repellent to keep cats out of the area, such as Repel Away From My Garden, Havahart Cat Repellent, and Reppers (can be used around the edges of the yard, the top of fences, etc. and can be purchased at garden centers, home improvement stores, pet stores, or online), 3) Use motion-activated water sprinklers, such as The Scarecrow, to repel cats, 4) Ultrasonic devices, such as Cat Stop Automatic Outdoor Cat Deterrent or Yard Control Cat Repeller, Model P7810, emit a high-frequency sound annoying to cats, but not perceptible by people (be sure to match device to size of area to be covered), 5) Household items and herbs that repel cats include cayenne pepper, citrus peels, coffee grounds, pipe tobacco, citrus-scented sprays and oils of lavender, lemon grass, citronella, peppermint, eucalyptus, and mustard.
Cats are digging in my garden.
Use one of the repellents listed above. You can also create a physical barrier to digging: gardens and flowerbeds can be protected with Cat Scat plastic mats that can be purchased online and pressed into the soil. Heavy plastic carpet runner (pointed side up) also works. Cover exposed ground in flower beds with attractive rocks. Branches from a thorny plant, like the rose of Sharon tree; wooden or plastic lattice fencing material; or chicken wire can be placed over the soil. Pinecones, wooden chopsticks, skewers, or plant stakes can be embedded into the soil every eight inches. Place an outdoor litter box for the cats in an inconspicuous place (pine straw and peat moss works well).
I can smell cat urine.
Neutering the cats is the best way to eliminate the offensive smell and their desire to spray-mark. In the meantime, eliminate the smell of cat urine by spraying the area thoroughly with white vinegar.
Cats are making a lot of noise, fighting and yowling.
These are behaviors associated with mating. The solution is to humanely trap and neuter the entire colony. Once cats are neutered, the hormones leave their system within three weeks, and the behaviors almost always stop.
Cats are walking on my car.
Use a car cover to protect the car from cat prints. Shelters and feeding stations should be moved away from the area where cars are parked. The cats will follow the food and shelter. Cats like a high platform from which to view the world. Provide a table, create a platform in a tree, or provide a shelter that cats can lie on top of, as well as inside – anything that gives them a higher vantage point. Sometimes in the winter cats will lie on a car hood for warmth. Provide shelters with outdoor heating pads (available online for doghouses) to keep them warm and away from cars.
The cats might have fleas.
If fleas are a problem in your area, have the clinic treat for fleas when the cats are neutered. Revolution works well and can sometimes be reapplied if you are able to touch the cats while they are eating. Another option for ongoing flea control is Capstar, which can be put into the food. Change the bedding material in the cats’ shelters regularly.
OK, I have spayed and neutered the colony, but new cats have shown up.
The food supply must be decreased so that there is only enough food for the existing members of the colony. Then, as the colony size decreases, so must the food supply. Decreasing the food supply in an unneutered colony will only leave the new kittens without food.