What should you do if feral cats are roaming your neighborhood?

TNR is most effective solution, experts say

ORLANDO, Fla. – It can be tough for animal lovers to see homeless cats roaming the streets, especially when it seems so difficult to get them help.

Bringing a feral cat isn't generally an option because they aren't used to human contact and would likely lash out. Instead, The Humane Society of the United States recommends TNR -- or trap, neuter and return -- as the most effective method for dealing with feral cats.

Below is all the information you need to know about what feral cats are, where they live and what can be done to help them.

How is a feral cat different than a stray?

Stray cats are those that once had a home but have since been abandoned or escaped and are living outdoors. These cats are sometimes friendly and could potentially be adopted. Feral cats, however, have experienced little to no human contact. Sometimes feral cats are the offspring of a stray while other times they are born to feral parents.

Where do feral cats tend to live?

Feral cats are often found in areas where they can have access to food and shelter. They usually live in a colony of related cats that occupies a certain area or territory. Near restaurants, beneath porches or in abandoned buildings are some spaces where feral cats are known to dwell. Because feral cats are so fearful of people, it's possible that you might not even be aware that a feral colony exists near you.

Can feral cats cause problems?

Felines can breed beginning at a young age so it's not difficult for a cat colony to quickly expand. The Humane Society estimates that there are 30 million to 40 million community cats and only about 2 percent of those have been spayed or neutered. This leads to overpopulation in animal shelters and an increased cost associated with caring for feral cats.

In neighborhoods known to have colonies, officials say residents might complain of noise from the cats, flea infestation, odor from cats spraying to mark their territory and deaths of small animals that fall prey to the cats. It's also possible that cats in the colony will be suffering from visible injuries, infections and other illnesses.

How can I help feral cats?

The Humane Society says that TNR can help greatly reduce the population of feral cats. The process works by humanely trapping cats, taking them to an animal shelter to be vaccinated and spayed or neutered then they have the tip of their ear surgically removed before they are returned to their colony.

Not only does TNR help to prevent further breeding, but it can also cut down on odor, noise and roaming among cats in the colony. 

What happens after feral cats have been TNR'd? 

It's recommended that someone monitor a cat colony after TNR has been performed and provide food and water to the cats. If a stray enters the colony, an attempt should be made to find their owner or adopt them to a new home. Any new feral cats that enter the colony should be taken to be neutered while any young cat or kitten that is still young enough to be socialized should potentially be adopted.

Are there organizations near me that provide TNR?

Several nonprofit groups across the country provide TNR to feral cats, including in Central Florida. Click here for a list of organizations across the state that can help assist with feral cat colonies.

For other tips the Humane Society offers for helping community cats, click here.

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