When you hear the word “feral,” what comes to mind? The definition of feral, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “of, relating to, or suggestive of a wild beast.”
To “go feral” is when a domesticated animal goes back to living as a wild animal.
How did we turn feral cats into house cats in the first place?
Domestication of cats
Cats and humans started bonding thousands of years ago. You may already be familiar with the fact that cats were worshiped in ancient Egypt. People saw cats as magical, and dressed them up with jewels and fed them special treats to honor them. If someone killed a cat, they too would be put to death.
Researchers believe that humans and cats started to get closer as humans began to grow crops. Growing crops attracted more rodents, specifically the classic “house mouse,” which then attracted more cats.
Researcher Claudio Ottoni analyzed cat DNA, and theorized that cats were likely brought onboard ships in order to hunt rodents who might get into the food supply. And that is how cats spread around the world!
Cats and humans can form strong bonds, and will use each other as a source of comfort.
However, unlike dogs, cats’ DNA has stayed very similar to their wildcat ancestors. Whereas dogs have biologically changed quite a bit as they have been domesticated by humans, cats have biologically remained wild. Because of this, cats are capable of surviving without a human guardian, although their lives are often difficult and short.
This explains why cats can very easily become feral.
What are feral cats compared to stray cats?
While stray cats and feral cats are the same species, they behave very differently.
Stray cats are cats without homes who previously lived with a human family. Stray cats are often abandoned, or could have gotten lost from their human guardian. Stray cats have been socialized and are familiar with/interested in interacting with humans.
Feral cats, on the other hand, have either never been socialized with humans or have been living outside for so long that they have become wild and no longer have any desire to be around humans. Because feral cats are so similar to wildcat ancestors, they can hunt and provide for themselves. However, if a feral cat has kittens, the kittens can be adopted into homes and become animal companions. If the kittens grow up without human contact, then they too will be feral.
Because feral cats have never been socialized with humans, they will be quite scared of human contact.
Even though feral cats can hunt for themselves, their lifespans tend to be quite short. They are more likely to get hit by cars and get diseases due to exposure to the elements.
So where are all the feral cats coming from?
Feral cat population
There are an estimated 50-70 million feral cats in the U.S. alone. Many feral cats will live their lives in solitude, but others will end up in a cat colony. Feral cat colonies form around areas where cats can find food or shelter. This often happens when a human decides to feed the local cats, who they may assume are stray cats.
Cats can reproduce extremely quickly. Cats can have multiple litters every year, with an average of 4-6 kittens. Because cats can have so many kittens, the population has quickly gotten out of control.
Issues with the feral cat population
Feral cats live an average of 2-3 years, and often die in painful ways. Without a human guardian to take them to the vet, they suffer unnecessarily.
Feral cats pose a threat to local environments and biodiversity. A 2012 study found that a single feral cat kills 20-46 birds every year, and doesn't even eat 25% of what they kill. That means that cats (feral cats, stray cats, and outdoor cats) kill an estimated 1.4 billion to 3.7 billion birds every year.
So what do we do about feral cats?
The cat population is out of control, and feral cats are going to continue to be born unless we take action.
Programs that seek to stop more cats from being born are essential.
Currently, programs are in place such as ‘trap, neuter, return” (TNR). Cats will be trapped, undergo spay or neuter surgery, and then returned to the place that they were caught from.
Feral cats must be trapped because they are unfamiliar with humans and are generally very scared.
They will be brought to the veterinarian to undergo spay or neuter surgery in order to make sure they can no longer get pregnant or get another cat pregnant. The cats will then be identified in some way so that TNR programs do not catch them a second time. In the U.S., usually the tip of the cat’s left ear will be cut off while the cat is under anesthesia for the spay/neuter surgery.
The cat will then be returned to the spot that they were caught from. The cat is already familiar and comfortable with this territory.
Issues with TNR
The best way to deal with cat overpopulation is to solve the issue right at its source: limit the amount of cats born in the first place. However, TNR programs are time-consuming, expensive, and require a lot of resources.
The Spay and Neuter Cookie: a game-changing solution!
The Spay and Neuter Cookie, once completed, could be the ultimate solution to this crisis. Once there is a permanent, one-dose birth control Cookie, cats will no longer need to be trapped in order to undergo spay or neuter surgery.
Join us, and help prevent further suffering of cats!