Feral Cats Facts
The cat has been the most resistant to
change of all the animals that humans
have domesticated. All members of the
cat family, wild or domesticated, have
a broad, stubby skull, similar facial
characteristics, lithe, stealthy movements,
retractable claws (except the
cheetah), and nocturnal habits.
Feral cats are house cats living
in the wild. They are small in stature,
weighing from 3 to 8 pounds, standing 8 to 12
inches high at the shoulder, and 14 to 24
inches long. The tail
adds another 8 to 12 inches to their length.
Colors range from black to white to orange, and
an amazing variety of combinations in
between. Other hair characteristics
also vary greatly.
PREVENTION AND CONTROL OF WILDLIFE DAMAGE
Cats are found in commensal relationships
wherever people are found. In
some urban and suburban areas, cat
populations equal human populations.
In many suburban and eastern rural
areas, feral house cats are the most
Feral cats prefer areas in and around
human habitation. They use abandoned
buildings, barns, haystacks,
post piles, junked cars, brush piles,
weedy areas, culverts, and other
places that provide cover and protection.
Feral cats are opportunistic predators
and scavengers that feed on rodents,
rabbits, shrews, moles, birds, insects,
reptiles, amphibians, fish, carrion, garbage,
vegetation, and leftover pet food.
General Biology, Reproduction, and Behavior
Feral cats produce 2 to 10 kittens during
any month of the year. An adult
female may produce 3 litters per year
where food and habitat are sufficient.
Cats may be active during the day but
typically are more active during twilight
or night. House cats live up to 27
years. Feral cats, however, probably
average only 3 to 5 years. They are territorial
and move within a home range
of roughly 1.5 square miles (4 km2).
After several generations, feral cats can
be considered to be totally wild in
habits and temperament.
Feral cats feed extensively on songbirds,
game birds, mice and other
rodents, rabbits, and other wildlife. In
doing so, they lower the carrying
capacity of an area for native predators
such as foxes, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats,
weasels, and other animals that
compete for the same food base.
Where documented, their impact on
wildlife populations in suburban and
rural areas—directly by predation and
indirectly by competition for food—
appears enormous. A study under
way at the University of Wisconsin
(Coleman and Temple 1989) may provide
some indication of the extent of
their impact in the United States as
compared to that in the United Kingdom,
where Britain’s five million
house cats may take an annual toll of
some 70 million animals and birds
(Churcher and Lawton 1987). Feral
cats occasionally kill poultry and injure
Feral cats serve as a reservoir for
human and wildlife diseases, including
cat scratch fever, distemper, histoplasmosis,
leptospirosis, mumps, plague,
rabies, ringworm, salmonellosis,
toxoplasmosis, tularemia, and various
endo- and ectoparasites.
Cats are considered personal property
if ownership can be established
through collars, registration tags, tattoos,
brands, or legal description and
proof of ownership. Cats without identification
are considered feral and are
rarely protected under state law. They
become the property of the landowner
upon whose land they exist. Municipal
and county animal control agencies,
humane animal shelters, and various
other public and private “pet” management
agencies exist because of feral
or unwanted house cats and dogs.
These agencies destroy millions of
stray cats annually.
State, county, and municipal laws
related to cats vary. Before lethal control
is undertaken, consult local laws.
If live capture is desired, consult the
local animal control agency for instructions
on disposal of cats.
DAMAGE PREVENTION AND CONTROL METHODS
Exclusion by fencing, repairing windows,
doors, and plugging holes in
buildings is often a practical way of
eliminating cat predation and nuisance.
Provide overhead fencing to
keep cats out of bird or poultry pens.
Wire mesh with openings smaller than
2.5 inches (6.4 cm) should offer adequate
Cat numbers can be reduced by eliminating
their habitat. Old buildings
should be sealed and holes under
foundations plugged. Remove brush
and piles of debris, bale piles, old
machinery, and junked cars. Mow
vegetation in the vicinity of buildings.
Elimination of small rodents and other
foodstuffs will reduce feral cat numbers.
The Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) has registered the following
chemicals individually and in combination
for repelling house cats: anise
oil, methyl nonyl ketone, Ro-pel, and
Thymol. There is little objective evidence,
however, of these chemicals’
effectiveness. Some labels carry the
instructions that when used indoors,
“disciplinary action” must reinforce
the repellent effect. Some repellents
carry warnings about fabric damage
and possible phytotoxicity. When used
outdoors, repellents must be reapplied
frequently. Outdoor repellents can be
used around flower boxes, furniture,
bushes, trees, and other areas where
cats are not welcomed. Pet stores and
garden supply shops carry, or can
order, such repellents. The repellents
are often irritating and repulsive to
humans as well as cats.
Dogs that show aggression to cats provide
an effective deterrent when
placed in fenced yards and buildings
where cats are not welcome.
No toxicants are registered for control
of feral cats.
No fumigants are registered for control
of feral house cats. Live-trapped
cats or cats in holes or culverts can be
euthanized with carbon dioxide gas or
pulverized dry ice (carbon dioxide) at
roughly 1/2 pound per cubic yard (0.3
kg/m3) of space.
Live-trapping cats in
commercial or homemade box traps
is a feasible control alternative,
particularly in areas where uncontrolled
pets are more of a problem
than wild cats. Trap openings should
be 11 to 12 inches (28 to 30 cm) square
and 30 inches (75 cm) or more long.
Double-ended traps should be at least
42 inches (105 cm) long. The cat can be
captured and turned over to animal
control agencies without harm, given
back to the owner with proper warnings,
or euthanized by shooting, lethal
injection, or asphyxiation with carbon
dioxide gas. Sources for commercial
traps are found in Supplies and
Materials. Set live traps in areas of
feral cat activity, such as feeding and
loafing areas, travelways along fences,
tree lines, or creeks, dumps, and garbage
cans. Successful baits include
fresh or canned fish, commercial cat
foods, fresh liver, and chicken or
rodent carcasses. Catnip and rhodium
oil are often effective in attracting cats.
Leghold traps No. 1,
1.5, or 2 are sufficient to catch and hold
feral cats. These traps are particularly
useful on cats that are not susceptible
to box traps. Place the traps in
a shallow hole the size and shape of
the set trap. Cover the pan with waxed
paper and then cover the trap with
sifted soil, sawdust, or potting soil.
Place the bait material far enough
beyond the trap that the cat must step
on the trap to reach it. Traps can be set
at entrances to holes where cats are
hiding, entryways to buildings, or near
garbage cans. Domestic cats caught in
leghold traps should be handled with
care. Cover the cat with a blanket,
sack, or coat; pin it down with body
weight; and release the trap. Catch
poles can also be used to subdue
*The above information was taken from a University of Nebraska Web site with
express permission of Stephen Vatassel, wildlife damage project coordinator.
United Wildlife can coach you over the phone on the best way to handle your feral cat situation, or we can have a technician come out to assess and control the situation personally.
Call us now to solve your feral cat problem!