Feral Cat Program FAQs


What is a feral cat?

A feral cat is any cat that is too poorly socialized to be handled and cannot be placed into a typical home. Most feral cats live in groups known as colonies near homes or businesses where people feed them.

Where do feral cats come from?

Feral cats are the offspring of pet cats who were lost or abandoned and had not previously been spayed or neutered. These kittens, if they survive, will become feral without early socialization with people. Without spay/neuter, they will grow up, reproduce, and continue the cycle. Females can reproduce two to three times a year. Cats can become pregnant as early as four to five months of age, and the number of cats in a colony rapidly increases unless the cats are spayed or neutered.

What should I do about the feral cats in my neighborhood or where I work?

The most effective way of managing feral cats is through a process called TNR or Trap – Neuter – Return. Cats in a colony are trapped in a humane trap, taken to a clinic where they are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and then returned to their colony. This process improves the quality of life for feral cats, reduces their numbers, and reduces the nuisance behaviors associated with mating. Very young kittens that are found in a colony should be removed, tamed and adopted into homes. These kittens should be spayed or neutered, prior to being placed into their new homes, to ensure they will not reproduce.

What’s wrong with just leaving the cats alone?

A colony of unaltered feral cats causes a number of problems; including a growing number of cats, frequent and loud noise from fighting and mating behaviors, strong odors from unneutered male cats spraying to mark their territory, urine and feces, and suffering of sick and injured kittens and adult cats. In addition, large numbers of kittens and adult cats from feral colonies end up in animal shelters, where they are usually euthanized.

What is a managed colony?

Feral cat colonies require ongoing care. A feral colony caregiver monitors the colony for newcomers who are either born into the colony, abandoned, or wander in from nearby. The newcomers and any unsterilized cats are then trapped, neutered and returned to the colony. The colony caregiver also provides continued food, water and shelter to all colony cats. A caregiver will also watch the colony for any new litters of kittens, which should be removed, along with any sick or injured cats.

Why shouldn’t I just trap and remove the cats from an area?

Simply trapping and removing cats rarely works to reduce a feral cat colony population. Feral cats live in a certain location because they have found the food and shelter they need. If feral cats are removed from an area, cats from surrounding colonies move in to take advantage of the newly available resources and start the cycle of reproducing and nuisance behavior all over again. The remaining cats in a colony tend to have more kittens that survive to adulthood because of the reduced competition, and the population rapidly regains its former size, or may actually increase.

Can’t I just move the cats to a different location?

Relocating feral cats is a difficult and time-consuming process. Moving cats from one colony to another is very stressful to the cats and is rarely successful. Furthermore, relocating feral cats is considered abandonment and is illegal, unless it is to your own property, or you have permission from the property owner. Allowing the cats to remain in their home colony through a TNR program is the most humane and simple approach. This enables care for the largest number of cats with the fewest resources.

Will the Sacramento SPCA help me trap feral cats?

No, we don’t have the personnel to assist with trapping. Trapping is done by good-hearted volunteer caregivers.

What happens if I surrender trapped feral cats to the Sacramento SPCA? Will the SPCA find them a home?

Feral, untamed cats cannot be adopted into homes; therefore our only option is to euthanize them. Furthermore, the cats you trap need to be taken to the animal control facility in your jurisdiction. The Sacramento SPCA houses stray animals for the City of Rancho Cordova only. If the cats are from outside these areas, please scroll to the bottom of this page to find where those cats should be taken.

Where do I get humane traps?

Local sources for renting traps include feed stores such as Western Feed or Bradshaw Feed. Traps can be purchased at feed stores and through various online resources, including Tomahawk Live Trap, Havahart Animal Traps, Heart of the Earth Animal Equipment.

The Sacramento SPCA is proud to announce a new trap loan program. Please click here for more information. Traps from the Sacramento SPCA are for TNR purposes only.

How do I go about trapping a feral cat?

Begin by feeding the cats on a regular schedule at a designating feeding site. Test your traps to make sure they work correctly. Make your spay/neuter appointment according to the number of traps you have. Withhold food for 24 hours before trapping, coordinating with other caregivers who may also be feeding in the area. On the date of trapping, line the bottom of the traps with newspaper, label the traps, and bait them with a strong-smelling cat food such as tuna fish or warmed wet cat food. Set the traps, cover with a towel or blanket (leaving the two ends uncovered) and watch them from a distance. When the cat trap has been sprung, and the cat is trapped, cover the rest of the trap and move the cat into a garage or safe place until you transport the cat to the clinic for spay/neuter. Please do not trap cats any sooner than the day before the clinic. For more detailed instructions, visit theCoalition for Community Cats or Alley Cat Allies websites.

What is ear-tipping?

Ear-tipping is the removal of the distal one-quarter of a cat’s left ear. Ear-tipping is the preferred method to identify spayed or neutered feral cats because it is difficult to get close to feral cats, therefore the identification must be visible from a distance. Feral cats may interact with a variety of caregivers, veterinarians and animal control personnel during their lifetimes, therefore immediate visual identification is necessary to prevent an unnecessary second trapping and surgery or possible euthanasia.