An often misunderstood fact is that the feral cat is not a wild animal able to care for and maintain itself in a healthy state. All cats are domestic animals and dependent entirely on humans to meet their needs. The feral cat has become so because it has been at some stage abandoned and must seek out some sort of food source in order to survive. Quite opposite to general belief, being a domestic animal, they are unable to ‘catch’ enough food in the way of rodents and insects to survive in any healthy state. As a result, the average life-span of a feral cat without assistance is between twelve and eighteen months. Ninety percent of all feral kittens die before reaching maturity.

Feral cats are often considered a nuisance factor, but remain a very real part of our eco and social system. Most of the complaints received are regarding their fighting and spraying, creating a noise and smell nuisance factor. Both these problems are solved by the sterilization programs. The concept that trapping-and-removal programs alleviate the problem has proved to do so only on a very temporary basis. Furthermore, the repeated influx of new cats into the colony increases territorial and hierarchic fighting, increases the probability of new diseases being introduced into the colony, and generally exacerbates the very behavioural patterns for which feral cats are usually labelled a nuisance.

Elimination of cats from a colony through euthanasia simply leaves room for other cats to take their place. It has been proved world-wide that few colonies ever get eliminated this way. Because cats are territorial, the presence of healthy neutered cats keeps rodents and the like from bringing disease into an area. Neutered cats are much less likely to fight and mark their territory with urine as they won’t be breeding. Simply put, they make better neighbours, earning their keep by controlling any rodent population.

Rodents are a serious threat to our health conditions and with the advent of increased numbers of squatters in and around the CBD’s we are facing very real health hazards. Medical research has shown that rats and cockroaches (both controlled by feral cats) are carriers of life-threatening diseases such as Murine typhus, one of the most widely distributed arthropod-borne diseases occurring in ports and coastal areas worldwide. Plague - the disease that killed one-fourth of the population of Europe during the 14th century - still occurs in many parts of the world, with hundreds of cases reported annually. This disease - especially when it gets in the lungs - may be severe and often fatal. Another human disease, leptospirosis, can also be acquired by contact with rats, their urine, or soil, food, or water containing the causative organism. In addition to disease transmission, introduction of ectoparasites, and food contamination, scientists are now finding out that rats and mice can produce asthma and allergies in the same way cockroaches and dust mites do.

For all of the above reasons, non profit organisations such as Feral Cat Rescue, Friends of the Cat in Gauteng and The Animal Anti-Cruelty League; together with some of the SPCA’s, are constantly working towards the control of feral colonies through sterilization and the maintenance of healthy colonies through feeding programs.

Unfortunately, it is not enough just to sterilize the cats as they are forced to relocate in search of a food source without it. Many companies are now taking responsibility for their colonies, ensuring that they are kept healthy and contained.

There are sterilization costs to meet, but we are able to offer reduced prices through veterinarians who are just as anxious as ourselves to make the difference.

With regard to feeding programs our advice is always to give the best food one can afford as this maintains the health of the colony and thereby its strength in maintaining its territory.

There is much written and available on the net regarding these issues and most programs overseas are supported by the local councils who have learned the value of sterilizing, return and feeding programs.

Written by: Sue Fairall

-Feral Cat Rescue



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