Control of Feral Cats

There are no genuine wild cats in Ireland. The cats referred to as wild are in fact feral cats which are descended from domestic cats which have not been neutered. These range from cats recently abandoned by their owners which are nervous but used to human company. Others are second and ultimate generations which have never been handled by humans and are very wary when approached. Un-neutered and left to fend for themselves, they breed indiscriminately. The female can have up to three litters each year with up to eight kittens in each litter. Their numbers run to thousands in every county in Ireland. Most housing estates and apartment complexes in this country have problems with excessive numbers of these cats.

Feral cats live very closely with humans, and depend on humans for food. A small number of feral cats are a useful addition to any human dwelling area. Cats provide a very effective means of vermin control. Rats and mice are not problems when there is a feral cat community. Many people grow fond of the ‘regular’ feral cats in an area. They do not need much food – often leaving out household scraps is enough to sustain them. Feral cats rarely carry any disease, which might put human health at risk. Most people would see a small, controlled population of feral cats as a positive, beneficial aspect of a housing estate.

However, if feral cats are left to themselves, uncontrolled breeding takes place. One female cat can produce up to eight kittens in a litter, and she could have three litters a year. The new kittens rapidly grow up into adults, which then begin to breed. Within a short time, a stable population of six cats can multiply to over a hundred. When this type of population growth occurs, the feral cats become a nuisance. There is not enough food to go around, so they become starved and emaciated. They ransack bins in their search for food. They suffer themselves, not only from starvation, but also from other illnesses, which affect them severely because of their run-down condition.

In the past, this problem has been tackled by the radical measure of destroying all of the feral cats in an area. This approach has been proven not to work. If you remove all of the cats from an area, a niche is left vacant. Within a few months, other feral cats from neighbouring areas will move into this niche. Within a year you will have exactly the same problem as before.

The modern, effective way to tackle the feral cat problem has three steps. 

(A proper feeding routine is essential in order to establish a pattern in the trapping process.)

1. A humane cat trap should be used to catch every feral cat in the area.
2. Humane euthanasia should be carried out for any cats which are old, sick, weak or which for any other reason are unlikely to carry on living a good quality of life in the wild.
3. The remaining, healthy cats should be neutered, marked for identification (usually by nicking the tip off the left ear) and then released back into their home area, (but only if this is a safe environment with an adequate food supply and a sympathetic person to keep an eye on the cats and monitor them).

This method ensures that there is a static, stable population of cats in an area. The cats will live out their natural lives (10 years or more) in the neighbourhood. Cats are territorial, so they will keep other feral cats out of the area (although not a guarantee).  The cat population will not expand, because they will have all been neutered. There will be enough food for this smaller number of cats, as long as a few households are prepared to regularly leave out small amounts of food. The community of cats will be well fed, and will be healthier. They will not tend to rake bins, because they will not be starving.

The situation will, therefore, remain stable and under control for the next decade or so.