Should You Feed Stray Cats?
The answer, of course, is yes, you should feed strays. Since cats became domesticated they are no longer wild animals that can fend for themselves outside. They don't survive very well outdoors on their own without human intervention.
The best that stray cats can usually do is to eat from garbage cans. Every now and then they may find a mouse to eat, but in general most stray cats are starving. especially during the winter.
A lot of people are reluctant to feed strays for several different reasons. One of these is the idea that strays will breed out of control if you feed them. The truth is that strays can breed out of control whether or not they are fed. Not feeding stray cats will NOT reduce the stray population. Even very hungry cats can still breed and then they will produce starving and unhappy little kittens.
Also, remember that it isn't the cat's fault that he or she is a stray. Often strays are cats that have been abandoned by their owners for some reason. Other times, the strays are born outdoors to other stray cats. In any case, it isn't the cat's fault that they have no home. Also, cats are intelligent animals with feelings and individual personalities and it is cruel to let them go hungry.
A lot of people don't want to feed strays because they worry that if they feed a stray cat then it will hang around looking for more food.
So what! Cat food is fairly inexpensive and it cost very little to feed a cat, however, it will make a huge difference in the life of the cat you are feeding.
Putting out dry food is best, otherwise you may get all of the neighborhood cats looking for a handout - owned or not. If you put out only dry food you will usually only get really hungry cats. However, if you put out dry cat food you will often attract the other local wildlife, such as possums and skunks, which you don't want.
To prevent this you can put out dry food during the day and pick it up at night, however, shy or feral cats will usually only come to eat at night. Canned cat food doesn't typically draw other wildlife like the dry food does and so unless you have a lot of your neighbors' cats that are coming to eat at your house then you should probably put out a few plates or bowls (depending on how many cats you are feeding) of canned food at night. You should also provide a bowl of fresh water every day and each evening.
The biggest drawback to feeding strays is that your neighbors often won't like it. I've fed strays for years and I have often not been too popular among my neighbors for it. I don't really know why they care. The cats don't do anything destructive. In fact, in a few places in the United States, there have even been city ordinances passed to make it a crime to feed strays. This is definitely not right. I often wonder what sort of uncaring people would pass and support these laws and how they'd like it if they were out of the street with no food or shelter.
If you start feeding strays you will find that you will become attached to the cats you feed. If there are a lot of them, of course you can't take them all in, but you may be able to take one or two in as pets.
Some of the cats you feed may be feral. Feral cats are cats that have not been properly socialized toward humans or they are cats that were once pets, but have been outside on their own for so long that they no longer trust humans. If this is the case you can often enlist the help of a local animal shelter in trapping and spaying or neutering the cats. Some animal shelters participate in a program called trap - neuter - return, in which the cats will be caught in a humane trap, and then the shelter will spay or neuter the animal, give them their vaccinations, and then return them to the location where they were originally found. If you don't want to, or can't pay for the spay or neuter of the animals you are feeding then you should check with your local animal shelter to see if they participate in this program.
If you are able to get the outdoor strays neutered or spayed you will help to reduce the stray cat population.
If you capture feral cats don't take them to an animal shelter before checking to find out the shelter's policy on feral cats. Some animal shelters will destroy these cats since they aren't adoptable, while other shelters participate in trap - neuter - return.
This Article Generates Tons of Hate Mail!
I thought I should comment on the amount of hate mail this article generates. Here are the sorts of comments I get from people after they read the above article on feeding strays:
- You are a horrible person for feeding strays.
- You are costing the taxpayers money.
- You are making things worse for the cats.
- How could you say it is okay to feed strays - cats get in my garden.
Now I'm going to discuss some of the above.
1. I'm sorry if you feel that I'm an awful person. It would probably be best if I were like most of the people who send me email and just didn't care about animals at all. But I'm not, so too bad.
2. I seriously doubt I'm costing the taxpayers money if I feed strays (and by the way I'm not currently feeding any). When I feed strays I don't JUST throw out some food. I also catch the cat, get the cat spayed or neutered at my own expense and get the cat its shots or whatever medical care it needs. Then I try to place it in a home or take it to a shelter. This also takes care of complaint number 3. Perhaps the people who write in with their hate mail should know all of the facts before they write to me. Also, I've been paying for other people's children via my taxes for decades now, but you don't see me complaining about that. There has never been any taxpayer dollars spent as a result of my feeding a stray. I pay for it all myself and donate money to the shelters when I take stray cats there.
4. As far as cats getting into someone's garden, I say who cares? (I'm sure this comment will generate even more hate mail.) People are the most destructive animals on the planet, but I don't see these same people whining about that. I can see where it might be annoying if a cat tears up your garden, but there ARE worse things. If this is your only real problem then you are doing very good.
What I DO believe, however, is that if you feed a stray then you become responsible for its overall health and well-being. This means if it needs to go to the vet then you need to find a way to take it there. If it needs shots or other medical care then you are responsible. If you feed a stray you should also make sure that you get it spayed or neutered. The last thing you want is to create a situation where you have several unwanted cats hanging around with a variety of health problems. You can help prevent this situation and cat suffering by getting any stray you feed spayed or neutered and, if possible, finding it a new home.
By feeding strays responsibly you are much less likely to have trouble with your neighbors and it will be best for the cat. Remember, if you feed a stray then it becomes YOUR cat and you are responsible for its health and well-being. If you have trouble catching the cat because it runs away, try using a humane animal trap so you can get it to the vet for spaying or neutering and other medical care.