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Frequently Asked Questions - Feral Cats

Below are questions frequently asked about feral and community cats. 

Not what you're looking for? Here are our other FAQ pages:

What is a feral cat?

Why do people trap cats?

What does the law say about feral cats?

What are the advantages of TNR over Trap-Neuter-Remove?

Where do I get a trap?

How can I tell if a feral cat is already spayed/neutered?

What other supplies do I need besides a trap to TNR feral cats?

I have my traps and I'm ready to get started. What's next?

I've TNR'd most of my colony, but there are one or two cats I just can't catch. What next steps can I take?

What should I do when I find a litter of feral kittens?

What should I do if I see an injured or ill feral cat?

What happens to a feral cat at the Louisiana SPCA?

Can I claim feral cats from my colony if they are turned in to the shelter?

Since you have a Barn Cat adoption program, can I bring in and surrender ferals from my neighborhood?

Are there people caring for ferals in my area?

How can I learn more about TNR?

How can I connect with other feral cat trappers in the area?

I care for a colony of ferals, but I'm moving and cannot take them with me. What should I do now?

Pests (raccoons, possums, insects, rats, etc.) keep eating my colony's food. What can I do to prevent this?

What happens if the Louisiana SPCA receives a complaint about feral cats? 

Why doesn't the Louisiana SPCA locate feral cats to another area? 

I am planning to relocate my colony. What do I need to know?

My neighbors are unhappy that I am feeding the ferals in our area. How can I address the situation?

I understand community cats are protected, but I really do not want them on my property. What can I do?

I'm afraid the feral cats in my area are causing a flea infestation. How can this be addressed?

Community cats are eliminating in my yard and/or tearing up my garden. What can I do?

What types of food sources attract feral cats to a particular location?

Are there programs and services for ferals available to people from outside of Orleans Parish?

What is a feral cat?

A feral cat is a cat which has been born in the wild, is the offspring of an owned or feral cat that is not socialized, or is a formerly owned cat that has been abandoned and is no longer socialized. This differs from a community cat, which is a feral or free-roaming cat without visibly discernible ID that has been sterilized, vaccinated, and either eartipped or microchipped. Community cats often have a caretaker who stands in the place of the cat’s owner and is responsible for daily feeding, watering and medical care. Community cats are exempt from licensing, feeding bans and registration requirements. All cats living outdoors will be considered feral until ownership or caretakership can be verified.

 

Why do people trap cats?

Community members will trap feral cats to spay/neuter and vaccinate them so that they may be returned to live out their natural lives in their neighborhood under the watchful eye of their caretaker.

 

What does the law say about feral cats?

All Orleans Parish animal laws are covered under Chapter 18 of the Orleans Parish Municipal Code. Below is a list of ordinances that pertain to feral and community cats.

  • It shall be unlawful for any person to ill-treat, tease, molest or abandon* an animal or fowl. It shall be unlawful to overdrive, overload, or cruelly beat, mutilate, kill, torture, poison, abuse or cause to procure overdrive, overload, or cruelly beat, mutilate, kill, torture, poison, abuse, any animal or fowl. If any public or private property is soiled or contaminated by an animal, the owner or caretaker shall be deemed guilty of violation…the regulations imposed shall include, but not be limited to, immediate cleanup and proper disposal of animal waste.

    • *A feral cat that has been trapped for the purpose of sterilization, vaccination, or eartipping and is returned to the location where it was trapped shall not be deemed abandoned.
  • All indoor/outdoor cats that are privately owned must be microchipped or eartipped.

  • Community cats may be allowed outside so long as the cats do not prove a nuisance to neighbors.

  • Any ear tipped cat collected under the provisions of this section shall be released on site unless suffering from an obvious injury or illness.

  • Any non-eartipped cat collected under the provisions of this section shall not be returned to its owner until such time as said owner shall have the cat spayed/neutered, eartipped or microchipped, and vaccinated against rabies, and all nuisance complaints are resolved.

  • Repairing damage caused to private property as well as any required modifications required to abate the nuisance shall be the responsibility of the caregiver.

 

What are the advantages of TNR over Trap-Neuter-Remove?

  • Trap-Neuter-Return is a humane solution that keeps the well-being of the cat at the heart of the solution. It allows the cat to live out its natural life, while at the same time reducing those nuisance behaviors which often make cats unwelcome. Because surgery eliminates the hormones associated with mating behavior, there will be no fighting, yowling, or spraying associated with competition for mates. In addition, female cats will not be able to attract male cats into the yard from out of the neighborhood. The best effect of TNR is that no more kittens are born into a neighborhood. This greatly reduces shelter intake and euthanasia (putting to sleep) of unwanted animals, leaving space for those that are more adoptable to find homes.

  • Cats provide natural pest control. Through their presence and their hunting behaviors, they virtually eliminate rodents, roaches, snakes and other small pests. They also act as a deterrent for raccoons and possums (so long as caretakers do not leave out too much food), which will naturally vie for space in yards which provide good shelter.

  • Cats having undergone TNR are healthier and calmer. They fight less (which also decreases the spread of disease), get injured less often from fighting or crossing streets in search of mates, and do not suffer from mammary tumors or testicular cancers. They are also vaccinated against rabies at the time of surgery so they do not pose a public health risk.

  • TNR’d cats left on the property prevent the ‘vacuum effect.’ When cats are trapped and removed without also addressing the underlying reasons for their presence (adequate food source through garbage, dumpster, or area feeder; dry shelter from a shed, porch, raised foundation; and existing source of mates from intact cats) more cats will eventually be attracted to the area to fill the empty space left by the ones that were removed. Cat colonies tend to reach a stable limit based on what the environment can support, and the cats will naturally maintain that level by chasing off new strays. If they are trapped and removed, there are no native cats to stop a mass influx of new, unfixed cats which just starts the cycle of trap and remove all over again … until the next time. A bit of money invested in spaying and neutering the five cats you have now may prevent you from having 12 unfixed cats next year.


Where do I get a trap?

Orleans Parish residents can rent a trap from one of the following locations:

  1. Louisiana SPCA (1700 Mardi Gras Blvd.)
  2. Jefferson Feed (309 N. Carrollton Ave.)
  3. Jefferson Feed (6047 Magazine St.)
  4. NO Fleas Market (4228 Magazine St.)

*1 trap - $30 deposit, 2-5 traps - $50 deposit. Your deposit is refunded when trap is returned.

 

How can I tell if a feral cat is already spayed/neutered?

The universal symbol for feral cat sterilization is the eartip. While the cat is sedated for surgery, the top 1/4-3/8 inch of either the left or right ear is removed in a straight line cut. When you see an eartipped cat, you can be assured that it has been spayed or neutered. 

 

What other supplies do I need besides a trap to TNR feral cats?

In addition to traps, you will need newspaper, cat food, and sheets or towels. The newspaper will be used to line the bottom of the trap to ensure the cats' feet do not get pinched on the wire mesh of the trap itself. The cat food will be used as bait, luring the cat inside so that it steps on the trip plate that causes the door to shut the cat safely inside the trap. The smellier the food, the better - cats will be more attracted to food with an aroma that travels far enough to entice them to enter the trap. Once the trap is baited and set, the final step will be to cover the trap (aside from the open door) with a sheet or towel. Feral cats become extremely frightened when they realize they've been caught, and the sheet/towel will be critical to helping them stay calm and avoid injuring themselves. Always make sure that cats in traps are covered whenever they are being transported. If you're planning on trapping multiple cats, you may also want to bring pen and paper to record location and individual cat details. 

 

I have my traps and I'm ready to get started. What's next?

First, contact the Louisiana SPCA Community Clinic (504-363-1333) to request an appointment. We often book up quickly, so the next available appointment may be several weeks out. Surgery is done Monday - Thursday of each week. Once you have your appointment time, you can plan to begin trapping 1 day before the date of your appointment.

If you need to place traps on private property you do not own, make sure to contact the resident to confirm permission to leave traps in their yard. Scout for good spots that are safe and relatively quiet (side of a house, just under a house, etc). If the cats have a caretaker, make contact with that person and let them know they need to cease feeding the cats 24 hours before you intend to trap. Hungry cats will be much more motivated to enter traps, and satiated cats are much more difficult to catch.

Ideally, set you traps either around dawn or dusk, as these are the times that cats are most active. Get everything ready in a staging location nearby, place the traps quickly and quietly on the desired spots, and move far enough away so that the cats cannot see you. Do not leave the traps unmonitored. As soon as a trap door closes, immediately move the trapped cat away from any remaining empty traps. The sight of the trapped cat will make other cats in the area wary, and will reduce the chance of trapping additional cats that same day.

Once trapping is completed, place the cats inside their covered traps in a safe, sheltered location such as a porch or garage. The next morning, bring the cats inside their traps to the Community Clinic before noon. The cats will have surgery that day, and you will be able to pick up and release them the following day.

 

I've TNR'd most of my colony, but there are one or two cats I just can't catch. What next steps can I take?

This is a common problem. First, try using more enticing, stronger-smelling bait like mackerel, sardines, meat-flavored human baby food (with no onions), or fried chicken. Next, wait a few weeks between trapping attempts, to see if the remaining cats will become less wary of the traps. If that does not work, train the cat to accept the trap by feeding only inside the trap. Use bungee cords or zip ties to secure both doors of the trap in the open position, and then place the food far enough inside to get the cat comfortable (you may have to start closer to the entrance, and then gradually move food closer to the center over the course of several days). After one to two weeks, attempt to trap again. Finally, if you're still unable to catch the cat, investigate how to build and use a manually-triggered drop trap. 

 

What should I do when I find a litter of feral kittens?

First, assess the age of the kittens. If their eyes are closed or they're unable to walk or run, they will not be able to survive long without their mother. Next, determine whether or not the mama cat has truly abandoned the kittens. Mother cats need to hunt for their food, so it's common for them to leave their kittens alone for hours at a time. If you catch sight of the mother cat within 12 hours, leave her and the litter where they are. Plan to wait approximately 4-8 weeks until the kittens weigh two pounds, and then TNR the mother and the kittens to prevent future births. For older kittens that are running easily, you can wait up to 24 hours before being certain the kittens are abandoned.

If you are certain that the kittens have been abandoned by their mother, you can bring them in to the Louisiana SPCA and surrender them to our care. Feral kittens under 12 weeks old usually socialize to humans quickly and become friendly and suitable to be indoor pets. Kittens too small for spay/neuter surgery will be eligible for the foster program where they will be placed in homes for weight gain and socialization. Once big enough, kittens will be sterilized and placed in our normal adoption program. 

 

What should I do if I see an injured or ill feral cat?

The only time that the Louisiana SPCA is able to pick up and remove feral cats is if they are injured or ill. If you see a cat in poor condition, contact the Louisiana SPCA's Humane Law Enforcement (HLE) team at 504.762.3394. Once HLE is able to trap the cat, it will be brought to the shelter for medical attention. If it can be rehabilitated, it will be spayed/neutered, vaccinated, eartipped, and then returned to its original location. If the cat recovers, but for some reason it cannot be returned to its original home, it will be evaluated for either the normal adoption process (if it is friendly) or the Barn Cat adoption process (if it is fully feral). 

 

What happens to a feral cat at the Louisiana SPCA?

  • Cats are held for three business days if turned in by someone other than a caretaker. During this time they are given food, water, vaccines and medical attention. 

  • During the three day stray period, the cat’s behavior is observed by staff. Because animals display stress behavior in unfamiliar places, it is common for domesticated cats to show ‘feral-like’ behavior, so we give them time to adjust. If a cat shows signs of friendliness towards people (attention-seeking, enjoyment at being petted, held, etc.) it is considered for adoption and is further socialized.

  • For fully feral cats who cannot be acclimated to human presence, the primary strategy utilized by the Louisiana SPCA is to return them to their original locations after they have been spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and eartipped. If that is not possible, ferals will be evaluated for adoption through our Working Cats/Barn Cats program. They are not expected to be pets, but will instead provide pest control for properties, businesses or farms with rodent problems.
  • Kittens under 12 weeks of age can usually be socialized successfully, and can then go into our normal adoption program to find homes as indoor pets. Because they can't be spayed/neutered until they weigh two pounds, kittens in the range of four to eight weeks of age are often eligible to enter foster care until they are big enough for adoption. Kittens under four weeks of age are often still completely dependent on nursing from their mother, and face slim odds of survival when separated from her. Therefore, we strongly discourage surrendering kittens under four weeks of age, unless the kittens are in imminent danger or you are absolutely certain they have been abandoned by their mother. Since mama cats have to hunt for their food, they often leave their kittens alone for hours at a time - so don't assume kittens are orphaned unless there has been no sighting of the mother cat for at least 12-24 hours.

 


Can I claim feral cats from my colony if they are turned in to the shelter?

  • To claim any animal, pet or feral, proof of ownership/caretakership must be established. This can be records proving you had the cat fixed, a photo of the animal in your yard  or  adoption/purchase records.

  • The animal must be claimed within the three day stray period or it will continue through our intake process.

 

Since you have a Barn Cat adoption program, can I bring in and surrender ferals from my neighborhood?

It is extremely difficult to find barn homes for feral cats, as there are many more cats that people want to relocate than there are barn homes available. It normally takes several weeks for a feral cat in the shelter to find an adopter as a Barn Cat. Since they're accustomed to outdoor life and are fearful of people, having to reside in the shelter environment is a severely stressful experience for a feral cat. Moreover, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to facilitate a Barn Cat adoption, so the risk that the cat will be humanely euthanized at the shelter is significant. We strongly discourage the surrender of feral cats to the shelter. Please also note that traps borrowed from the shelter can only be used for TNR and cannot be used to surrender feral cats.

 

Are there people caring for ferals in my area?

Probably so, but there is no registry for feral caretakers in the region. We are trying to put together a comprehensive list of people involved with feral care by asking anyone devoted to cats to sign up for our Caretaker Club and to let us know where their colonies are. By knowing which ZIP codes and neighborhoods have active individuals, and which have especially high numbers of cats, we are able to target our TNR services to those most in need. We strive to help our community network with one another to better tackle the problem of pet overpopulation in a safe and non-lethal way.

 

How can I learn more about TNR?

The Feral Cat T-N-R, The Basics and Beyond is a 2-hour workshop taught at the Louisiana SPCA and is free to the public. Attendees will learn how to mediate problems, advocate for cats and how to address difficult trapping situations. This is also a great opportunity to learn more about the municipal ordinances in Orleans Parish as they pertain to cats. Novices are welcome, as are experienced trappers looking to network. Information on local feral-friendly programs and services will be available for distribution, as well as information provided by Alley Cat Allies, a national organization advocating for the rights of free-roaming cats. You can also donate to our Feral Cat program.

 

How can I connect with other feral cat trappers in the area? 

We encourage you to join our Caretake Club by completing the application here. You'll receive information and news about trapping in the area as well as the opportunity to meet other local trappers. Additionally, social media is a very helpful tool for connecting with other people engaged in TNR. Search for groups on platforms like Facebook and NextDoor to find other locals interested in helping feral cats in your community.

 

I care for a colony of ferals, but I'm moving and cannot take them with me. What should I do now?

First, search in your immediate area to see if you can find a neighbor who will agree to take over care of the colony. Next, you can reach out to the Louisiana SPCA at tnr@la-spca.org to see if our organization is aware of any other caretakers in the area with whom we can connect you. If you are unable to find a new caretaker, slowly wean your colony off of food provided by you. Cats are intelligent and resourceful, and will not remain in an area without a sustainable food source. They will either find a new food source nearby or will move to a new location with more readily available food.

 

Pests (raccoons, possums, insects, rats, etc.) keep eating my colony's food. What can I do to prevent this?

To prevent pests, it is key that you feed appropriate amounts at set feeding times. Adult cats need about half a cup of dry food (or 5.5 oz of wet food and 2 oz of dry food) per day. Remove any uneaten food 30 minutes after feeding time. Keep the feeding area neat and clean at all times. If the pest problem is very bad, try feeding only in the morning, as raccoons and possums are nocturnal. For ant and other insect infestations, try placing the food in a moat (with the food dish placed inside a slightly larger dish filled with enough water to create a barrier for insects) or using a cat-safe repellent, like diatomaceous earth, around the food. You can also try placing the food in an elevated location that the cats need to jump up onto to access. Raccoons and possums can climb, but they cannot jump.

 

What happens if the Louisiana SPCA receives a complaint about feral cats?

We are committed to working with our neighbors to enable feral cats and the people around them to coexist peacefully. Since spaying/neutering eliminates many nuisance behaviors (yowling, fighting and spraying), we educate on the benefits and procedures of TNR, and we offer sterilization surgery for free whenever possible. We also provide many ideas for humane deterrents to help keep cats off of the properties of those who are uncomfortable with their presence. Additionally, we are happy to arrange mediation sessions between concerned neighbors and community cat caretakers so that all parties can discuss problems and potential solutions in more detail.

 


Why doesn't the Louisiana SPCA relocate feral cats to another area?

Feral cats grow up in an area they know alongside cats with which they’re familiar. When moving cats to a new location, they must be carefully acclimated to the new sights, sounds, smells, and caretaker prior to being released. If this step is skipped, the cats’ chances of survival are slim. Relocation is time consuming and draws on a great deal of resources of which we do not have. Consequently, our efforts are directed toward spaying and neutering as many animals as possible so kittens are not born and euthanasia decreases over time. If you know of someone who is willing to take your feral cats and has a safe location, we will assist with moving the cats, providing the equipment and expertise to make it happen. However, we do not have a list of locations that ferals may go, and relocations should be a last resort used only for issues involving the life safety of cats in a colony.

 

I am planning to relocate my colony. What do I need to know?

Relocating feral cats is difficult and time consuming. Unless they are thoroughly acclimated to their new site before being set free, they will often not remain in the new location. Prepare a safe, sheltered, temperature-stable location in which the cats can be confined for 3-4 weeks. It must be large enough for food, water, litter boxes, and feral boxes in which the cats can hide so that they feel safe. A ventilated but secure shed or garage would be sufficient, but an extra-large dog crate can be used if necessary. Once the confinement area is ready, transport the cats inside covered traps and place them inside that area. During the acclimation period, the cats will get accustomed to the smells, sounds and sights of their new home. They should not be released from their confinement area for a minimum of 3 weeks.

Please also note that it is illegal to dump feral cats in a place that is not their home.

 

My neighbors are unhappy that I am feeding the ferals in our area. How can I address the situation?

First, do everything you can to minimize the impact the cats have on the neighborhood. Feed at a location that is not easily visible, and immediately remove uneaten food 30 minutes after feeding time begins. Keep feeding areas and any places where the cats reside on your property neat and clean at all times. If the cat food is drawing pests such as raccoons and possums, feed only in the morning, when those animals are not active. Ensure that all community cats in your colony are spayed/neutered, as this reduces nuisance behaviors (fighting, yowling, spraying) that many people find unpleasant. To prevent the cats from eliminating on neighbors' properties, provide a litter box area for them and frequently clean it thoroughly. This can consist of a number of conventional litter boxes, or an area in the yard that is filled with peat moss or sand.

If this is insufficient, engage in an open, non-judgmental discussion with your neighbors. Understand that many people are uncomfortable around cats, and some people are genuinely afraid of felines. Offer suggestions for humane deterrents that they can utilize to keep the cats off of their properties.

You can also contact the Feral Cat Coordinator at the Louisiana SPCA at either tnr@la-spca.org or 504.762.3306 to arrange a mediation session with your neighbors.

 

I understand community cats are protected, but I really do not want them on my property. What can I do?

First, make sure that your yard is neat and clean, and does not offer any food sources for feral cats (like open garbage cans). Seal off any areas that cats can use for shelter, such as the underside of a raised home or an open shed. Try one or more suggestions for humane deterrents to keep your yard and garden protected. 

If you know of a caretaker in the area, speak with them and request their assistance with the cats. Ask that they feed only at quiet times  (like early morning), and that they keep feeding stations clean and discreet. Also request that they ensure that all cats in their colony are spayed/neutered to prevent prevalence of nuisance behaviors (fighting, yowling, spraying) and colony growth.

Per Orleans Parish Ordinances, the Louisiana SPCA will not pick up and remove feral cats. However, if you need assistance setting up a mediation session with the caretaker, you can contact the Feral Cat Coordinator at the Louisiana SPCA at either tnr@la-spca.org or 504.762.3306.

 

I'm afraid the feral cats in my area are causing a flea infestation. How can this be addressed?

Fleas are endemic to Orleans Parish, and removal of feral cats will not resolve the issue. For options on how to safely rid your house and yard of fleas, please click here.

 

Community cats are eliminating in my yard and/or tearing up my garden. What can I do?

You can utilize one or more of the humane deterrents listed here. Additionally, if you know of a nearby resident who is feeding and caring for the cats, request that they create a litterbox on their own property to encourage the cats to eliminate there.

For information on how to create a litterbox area, or a request to set up a mediation session with your neighbors, you can contact the Feral Cat Coordinator at the Louisiana SPCA at either tnr@la-spca.org or 504.762.3306.

 

What types of food sources attract feral cats to a particular location?

The primary source of food for many feral cats is a caretaker who provides them with cat food. However, feral cats will still remain in areas that lack caretakers if other food sources are readily available. Feral cats help with pest control and will hunt rats, mice, snakes and other pests. They will also make use of open garbage cans or dumpsters that contain food waste.


Are there programs and services for ferals available to people from outside of Orleans Parish?

Access to Louisiana SPCA feral spay/neuter services and feral humane education programs are open to anyone, regardless of parish of residence. For animal control specific services related to cat complaints, please contact your parish animal control, as officers cannot respond to complaints beyond their jurisdiction.

 

 

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