Saturday, August 17, 2019

What is a feral cat?

The Illinois Animal Control Act defines a feral cat as the following: "a cat that (i) is born in the wild or is the offspring of an owned or feral cat and is not socialized, (ii) is a formerly owned cat that has been abandoned and is no longer socialized, or (iii) lives on a farm.”


What is an eartip and why is it required for feral cats?

An ear-tip is the surgical removal of approximately ¼” of the left eartip. This procedure is completely safe and it is performed under general anesthetic. Eartipping identifies free-roaming cats that have been sterilized. Eartipping provides immediate visual identification, which alerts animal control that a cat is part of a colony. It also helps colony caretakers track which cats have been trapped and altered, and identify newcomers who have not. Once a cat is trapped, the caretaker should look for an eartip. If the cat has an eartip it should be released immediately.


What is a Colony Caretaker?

A colony caretaker is an individual (or group of individuals) who manages one or more feral colonies in a community. They keep an eye on the cats, providing food, water, shelter, spaying/neutering and emergency medical care. In most cases, organizations and vets know these people because of the community service they provide. Some shelters and rescue groups even give out free or low-cost spay/neuter coupons to colony caretakers.


How do I catch a feral cat?

First, call the Spay/Neuter Clinic at 217/789-7729 (SPAY) to inform us of your plans and for scheduling information. Unsocialized cats cannot be handled and must be live-trapped. A live trap is a device designed to lure an animal inside with food and capture the animal once inside. For detailed information, we have provided a handout on trapping feral cats. See the link for the Humane Trapping handout on the Feral Cat Mass Trapping Program page:


Where can I obtain a live trap?

The APL Spay/Neuter Clinic has a limited number of live traps available to borrow. A $50 deposit is required and will be refunded when the trap is returned. Many Animal Control facilities and some hardware stores also loan live traps. Traps are available for purchase at many farm supply stores and hardware stores.


What do I do once I’ve trapped a feral cat?

DO NOT OPEN THE TRAP and do not attempt to transfer the cat into a cat carrier. Cover the trap with an old towel, blanket, or sheet. This will calm the cat down immediately and she will feel more secure. Ensure that the cat is out of rain or direct sunlight and is in a temperature appropriate environment. If you must keep the cat overnight, set the trap on top of some old newspaper to soak up urine. Do not feed the cat after midnight. Please bring the cat in the trap. If you have not already spoken to someone at the Spay/Neuter Clinic, call before bringing the cat to make sure the Clinic will be open. Cats can be admitted to the clinic for surgery most weeks Monday-Thursday after 8 am.


What happens to the cat at the clinic?

Your cat will remain in her live trap until it is her turn for surgery. For the safety of the cat and our staff, feral cats do not receive a pre-surgical exam. The custom designed feral live traps allow our staff to safely give the cats anesthesia without removing them from the trap. Once unconscious, the cat will be removed from the trap and prepped for surgery. In addition to sterilization surgery, she will receive a 3-year rabies shot, a feline distemper shot, ear mite treatment, and an eartip. (Eartipping is the removal of the tip of the left ear to mark the cat visibly as having been spayed or neutered. It notifies you, animal control, and your neighbors that the cat has been spayed and has a caretaker.) After surgery, she will be returned to her trap to recover. She will be ready to return home the morning following surgery. 


When can I release the cat?

After a minimum of overnight confinement, the cat can be returned to her home and may be released immediately. If the cat is released to you the same day, she MUST remain in the trap in a room-temperature environment overnight while she recovers from anesthesia. Because a feral cat cannot be cared for as a regular pet cat, the best way to minimize stress and encourage healing is for her to return to her normal routine.


What are signs of post-surgical complications?

Because you cannot handle the cat to check her incision, you will have to judge her behavior. Though post-op complications in feral cats are extremely rare, all surgeries carry some degree of risk. Anything out of the ordinary like lethargy, persistent vomiting or diarrhea, and weight loss are potential signs of post-surgical complications. Please call the Clinic if you are concerned about post-op complications.


Can APL adopt out or relocate feral cats?

True feral cats are not socialized to humans and are thus not adoptable. They cannot easily be tamed and cannot safely be placed in a home environment.


We do not currently have anyone seeking to add feral cats to their existing colonies.


How old does the cat have to be for surgery?

The APL spay/neuter clinic advocates early age spay/neuter. We can safely spay or neuter kittens 2lbs and over. Kittens typically weigh 2lbs at about 8 weeks of age.


At what age do cats start to reproduce?

Cats can become pregnant as early as 4 months old and can have up to 5 litters a year.


If my feral cat is pregnant can she be spayed?

Yes. Spaying a cat during pregnancy is slightly more difficult than spaying a non-pregnant cat, but is better than allowing unwanted kittens to be born and to contribute to the cat overpopulation problem.


What if the cat is nursing?

Do not ever release a feral cat once trapped, even if you discover she is nursing kittens; you might never trap her again. Most of the time the kittens will be alright for 24 hours and the queen will continue nursing when returned after her sterilization surgery. Our veterinarians will perform a flank spay which will allow her to more comfortably continue nursing her kittens. If you know that a cat is nursing, it is best to wait until her kittens are at least 4 weeks old before attempting to trap the mother cat.


I’ve seen an injured feral cat; what can I do?

If you see an injured feral cat you can trap the cat and make an appointment to bring him to the clinic. During the spay/neuter surgery, we will examine and take care of any other injuries it might have.


Do you do FIV/FELV testing of feral cats?

We do not routinely test feral cats for FIV/Felv for many reasons.

1)     False positive test results. (Upon initial exposure to Felv, most adult cats will ward off the virus and after two weeks will test negative.)

2)     FIV+ kittens less than 6 months of age will likely test negative after 6 months of age.

3)     Felv is most often transmitted from queen to kittens, and FIV by fighting. The spread of FIV and Felv are best controlled by spay/neuter.

4)     Testing is very expensive. Our limited resources are best used to spay/neuter as many animals as possible.


If you have any additional questions regarding feral cats, please call the APL Spay/Neuter Clinic at 217/789-7729 (SPAY). 


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