Feral Cats

Feral cats are a big problem in the Valley because of our mild climate enabling cats to breed all year long, found kittens added to an already over-surplus of homeless animals, particularly during the summer.  That is why the TNR (trap neuter return) method is so much more effective as a way of controlling the population.  It is also more humane than catching and killing and is better for the cats health and quality of life.

Unless you are a feral cat "caretaker" you have probably never encountered a feral cat unless it was desperate for food or injured.  You've probably seen homeless cats and maybe even adopted a few, but not every homeless cat is feral.  Some strays are lost or recently abandoned house pets.  "Feral" refers to a cat who is one or more generations removed from human contact and generally fears people.  They are a direct result of human irresponsibility and deserve our help and compassion.  What often happens is a pet cat reaches sexual maturity and the owners, instead of spaying or neutering the animal, put the cat out or abandon the animal when he or she becomes aggressive, howls, or sprays.  When these cats have kittens, feral colonies are born.  

With TNR, feral cats are humanely trapped and sterilized and tame cats and kittens young enough to be socialized are removed from the colony for adoption.  After recovering from surgery, the feral cats are returned to their original environment under the care of a caretaker who feeds and otherwise tends to the colony.  A "controlled" colony reduces the possibility of newcomers moving in, spraying, fighting, health problems and unwanted litters of kittens.  If you are feeding ferals or have them in the neighborhood and need help, contact AzCats/Altered Tails (numbers on Resouce Page) or one of the other groups listed under "Feral Cat Help" on our resource page.  Do not take feral cats or kittens to the county pound or Humane Society -- they will be put down immediately.  Their philosophy is that there are already too many "adoptable" animals needing homes and ferals' behavior make them unadoptable.

Additional information and answers to questions can be found on the following websites:





If you are able to catch the cats easily and have them spayed or neutered yourself, there are a number of clinics that offer low cost spay and neuter services (see Resouce page).


      Many people do not realize how many un-neutered stray and feral cats populate our area.  Ferals are not that visible because generally only come out at night and they have a longer breeding season here due to our mild climate resulting in a flood of kittens being born and found through the spring and summer months.  Thus, it is very possible that you could come upon a litter of recently born kittens somewhere in your yard or neighborhood during the next several months.  What do you do?  Who can you call for help? 

First try contacting a no-kill rescue organization.  Our “Resource Page" contains a comprehensive list of various rescue groups and shelters, among other things.  Most of these organizations rely on kind-hearted volunteers who open up their homes to foster kittens and other animals until homes can be found, and do regular adoptions at various locations throughout the Valley.  Unfortunately, this time of year, most rescuers and shelters get filled up because of the overabundance of kittens being born.  If you are unable to find someone or place to take the kittens and/or mother cat, we offer the following guidelines.
 Please be aware that just because you find a kitten or kittens alone, does not mean they are orphaned.  Mom could just be out looking for food.  If they are in a relatively safe place, leave them be and wait to see if the mother returns within an hour.  Like all wild animals, she has to go out searching for food so she can feed her babies.  Monitor the situation the best you can without interfering.  Of course, if the kitten or kittens are not in a safe location, move them to a better spot as close to the original location that you can.  If they are in danger, then you gotta move them.  Keep an eye out for the mother though.  It is always best for them to stay with the mother as long as possible rather than taking them away and then trying to have a human take care of them as infants -- that's a last resort you must take.  See below for further instructions. 

      If you find a mother and/or kittens that are not in a safe place, or motherless kittens, they need to be rescued right away.  Baby kittens without the proper care will die within hours.  If you have rescued or need to rescue orphaned kittens under 6 weeks old, special care and feeding will be required.  Contact your vet right away for instructions and take it or them in to be examined.  If you do not have a regular vet, contact one of the organizations recommended above for guidance.  In addition, Kind to Nature has literature available with specific instructions on taking care of very young kittens and we can refer you to a vet.  We do not recommend turning the kittens or a feral mother into the County Shelter or Humane Society.  If they are feral, they will be euthanized—cute kittens or not!  Even if they are not, this time of year makes it difficult to adopt out all the homeless animals, so they might still be euthanized. 

      If you have found a mother and her kittens, ideally, it is best to leave the kittens under their mother’s care until they are at least 6 to 8 weeks old.   If possible, bring the mother and kittens inside, in a location protected from other cats, dogs and children and where the kittens cannot roam freely (once they get their legs).  However, if the mother cat is a feral, it is unlikely you will be able to do this and you must be very cautious not to scare her off or she’ll move the kittens somewhere you can’t find them.  If they are safe from the elements, cars, other people, and predators such as dogs, hawks, and male tom cats, and can be easily monitored where they are, then leave them be, but do keep a vigilant eye on them and the mother.  You want to give them all the benefits of their mother’s care and feeding, but not let them become “feral” (wild).  If mom will allow, start handling and talking to the kittens after the kittens are about a week old.  The earlier you begin getting them used to human touch and sound, the better chance they have of being normal and, therefore, adoptable.  If the mother is not used to you or not being fed by you, and will not let you near the kittens, you should start providing her with food to earn her trust.  Gradually, stay a little closer each time she eats and talk to her.  When the kittens start moving about, be sure they can’t get into harm’s way in your yard.  After 3-4 weeks, you can begin putting wet food or dry soaked with some milk out for the kittens by there “home.”  Once they are weaned and eating the food you put out, you should catch the kittens and take them inside in a confined area, again, safe from other pets and potentially dangerous items.  Continue to talk to them and handle them as much as possible so they will be “adoptable” or maybe you’ll just want to keep them for yourself.  I always encourage trying to adopt mother and kittens in pairs whenever possible.  They will adjust easier to new surroundings, be happier, calmer, and have a built-in playmate.  This is especially helpful if the adopter already has an older cat in their household.   Please contact us for more tips on catching, domesticating and adopting cats and kittens.  Never, ever offer an animal for free unless you know the person well who is adopting them.

      Next, you must try to catch the mother cat and get her spayed before she has a chance to breed again.  If you have been feeding her, you might be able to catch her by getting her used to eating in a carrier, then closing her in there.  If she is really feral, you may have to use a trap.  If you have a difficult situation, you can call AzCats (602-287-8824) or Altered Tails (480-563-4351) for help in trapping and spaying the cat.  Remember, though, that she will be returned to you to be cared for.  Either way, be sure to have a plan in place and make your appointment before catching the cat and advise the vet of the situation, because you might not be successful the first time. 


If you live outside the Phoenix area, contact Alley Cat Allies (www.alleycat.org) to get contact information for someone in your area who can help.  The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) also provides a good source of information about feral cats at www.humanesociety.org/feralcats .