About the Cats Truths About Feral Cats

Strong passions emerge from both sides of the issues concerning free-roaming cats. Myths, misunderstandings and controversies can obstruct progress and interfere with the humane care of these cats. Learn what is true, what we don’t really know and discover some new perspectives on some old theories.

Man holding cat

Where do feral-behaving cats and pet cats come from?

A large scientific study revealed that free-roaming cats (tame, stray, feral and in-between) are largely responsible for the homeless tame cat population in shelters. Therefore, spay/neuter aimed only at the owned cat population will not sufficiently reduce shelter intake. Focusing widespread spay/neuter on free-roaming cat populations should make the greatest, most immediate impact on shelter intakes and euthanasia.

cat on steps

How many feral cats are there?

No one really knows. At best, population totals are guesstimates, that is, estimates involving guesswork. One scientific study involved a telephone survey of a mid-sized community to determine the number of owned pet cats / household plus, whether free-roaming cats were also being fed and how many per household. Based on this data, a formula was developed to estimate free-roaming cat populations in communities: 0.5 cats/household using US census figures.

What is the number one cause of death of healthy pet cats in the USA?

A preventable condition: overpopulation. Approximately 25,000 healthy cats die in shelters each day awaiting the adoption that never comes. In Washington State alone, about 40,000 cats are euthanized in shelters every year, because there aren’t enough homes. If a single disease were this devastating, it would be headline news. Fortunately, prevention is simple: spay/neuter. Our organization focuses on prevention by making spay/neuter accessible to any cat.

Population statistics

Data from scientific studies yield facts to reveal truths about free-roaming cats. A study of 2332 female cats revealed an average of 1.4 litters/year with litters averaging three kittens/litter. Approximately 75% of kittens died or disappeared by six months of age. Trauma was most common cause of kitten death when cause could be identified.

One recent study compiled data from seven groups in various geographic regions of the USA (including FCSNP) that involved 103,643 cats presented to TNR groups for sterilization. Intact female cats comprised 53.4%, intact male cats comprised 44.3% and the remaining cats were already altered. At surgery, 15.9% were pregnant with pregnancy rates peaking during March/April for all groups.

Regardless of latitude, from Hawaii to Seattle, kitten season was the same. Data do not support the perception of a persistent year round kitten season in any region. Only four out of one thousand cats were euthanized for poor health or debilitation. Unexpected deaths comprised only four out of one thousand cats (0.4%).

Is it safe to spay pregnant cats?

Experienced veterinarians can safely spay cats at any stage of pregnancy. Typical veterinarians can safely spay cats in early to middle stages of pregnancy. More precautions are required as pregnancy advances.

Ethics of spaying pregnant cats

Some people have ethical objections to pregnant spays. With millions of healthy cats euthanized in shelters every year for lack of homes, it is difficult to justify saving all kittens that are conceived. We know there are not enough homes for all of them. But our approach is not to pass judgment. Instead, we spay any cat brought to us. Some caretakers cage pregnant cats until they queen. The choice is theirs.

Isn’t it safer to let a pregnant cat have kittens?

The birthing process is also a risk. Some cats die from complications before or during pregnancy. If these cats are free-roaming, no one knows about it. Serious problems also can occur after queening, such as mammary infections, poor milk production, uterine infections and lack of maternal instincts.

Can a nursing queen be spayed? Will she be able to produce milk after surgery?

Yes and yes. We spay many lactating queens and they recover well. An experienced surgeon works easily between the mammary glands. After being spayed, the mother cat continues to produce milk as long as kittens nurse her. Their nursing action is what stimulates milk production.