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Feral Colony Management
Guidelines to Trap, Neuter and Release
(This is a set of guidelines established by Alley Cat Allies (ACA) which Meower Power uses and supports)
For most feral cat caretakers, the need to "manage" the colony becomes apparent soon after they start feeding. Newborn kittens must constantly be removed, and caretakers have to face high mortality rates among feral kittens. To take on the job of successfully managing a feral cat colony can seem overwhelming. Yet every day people all across the country are doing just that.
In 1997, Meower Power Feral Cat Coalition formed to provide instruction and guidance for those undertaking colony management, in the Hampton Roads Communities, so that costly and dangerous mistakes could be avoided. To accomplish this, we have distributed ACA's concise fact sheets describing how to successfully manage a colony. The fact sheets cover humane trapping, taming kittens, rabies prevention and its effects on feral cats, zoonoses, tips for veterinarians, and how to build outdoor shelters for colonies. Some of the most important aspects of colony management are summarized here and provide basic guidelines for anyone wanting to control feral cats.
There is sometimes confusion and ignorance surrounding proper feral cat management. Opponents of non-lethal control often claim that caretakers "establish" colonies and that the actual number of cats is never lowered.
Colonies are already in existence - not established by caretakers.
Skeptics may not trust that caretakers really know what they are doing and need assurance that cats are being sterilized and looked after and not simply abandoned. If your local authorities are concerned about non-lethal methods of control, please contact Meower Power or ACA for information which proves that trap-alter-release-maintain is an effective and successful way to control colonies.
Responsibilities of the Caretaker
Colony caretakers must be committed to long-term care. Many feral cats in stabilized colonies will live for 10 years or longer. If more than one person is providing care for a colony, it is essential to coordinate efforts so that on-going care will be available should one caretaker go on vacation, get sick or move from the area. Daily food and water should be provided. Automatic feeders may be helpful.
The location should be evaluated as an appropriate environment before trapping occurs. Relocating a colony may be necessary if the location is an unsafe one. However, if an established colony is removed for any reason, another will migrate into the vacated territory, usually because of the availability of food in the area. As long as there is a constant source of stray felines, as is currently the case in the U.S., others will reform a colony. The only way to prevent this is to stabilize the current population through sterilization. If removal of a whole colony occurs, make sure that all food sources are removed and make periodic visits to the site to ensure that no new cats have moved in.
Shelter/Protection from Elements
If a safe existing shelter or building is available, assess its ability to keep cats warm and dry in winter months. If there is no existing shelter, then one needs to be built (see ACA fact sheet How to Build a Cat Shelter) and placed in a safe area for use by all cats in the colony.
Trapping/Determining Health Of Cats
Finding cooperative veterinarians who have a skilled staff to properly handle ferals is crucial. After sterilization, healthy cats will need periodic rabies vaccinations and medical examination (see ACA fact sheet Notes for Veterinarians.) ACA recommends that the first 4 cats in every colony be tested for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia (FeLV) to determine the overall health of the colony. Euthanasia may be necessary for very ill or old cats.
Traps may be ordered from ACES at URL:
To ensure that new residents of a colony are spotted as soon as possible, those that have been trapped and altered can be 'ear tipped' by the veterinarian at the same time the altering procedure is performed. Ear tipping ensures that cats that have already been altered and vaccinated are not re-captured, thus saving stress for the animals and expense and time for the caretakers. When a feral is ear tipped, the first 4-6 millimeters of the left ear tip are removed. This creates a distinctive and easily spotted flat ear tip, and does not harm the animal in any way. This procedure is only to be done on animals that are going to be returned to the colony. Those being selected as adoptable should not be tipped because some prospective families may find it a disfigurement.