Cat Colony Care
Best Practices for managing Cat Colonies
Following the best management practices listed below for managing free-roaming cat colonies improves the health and happiness of the cats while minimizing conflict with neighbors and other concerned citizens.
1. You must obtain permission from the property owner or manager to care for colony cats not on your own property. Managing a colony on private property without permission is considered trespassing and is generally a bad idea as it typically results in a deep divide of mistrust between the caretaker and the property manager. The result is often the property manager not understanding what is going on and believing that the caretaker is the cause of his cat problem, not a free solution to it. Caretakers may be threatened with fines or arrest and generally don't spend the needed time with the cats to properly monitor their health or locate new individuals who need TNVR. You are unable to place shelters and feeding stations on the property without the owner’s permission.
2. Humanely trap all colony cats and have them all altered, vaccinated against rabies and ear-tipped (removal of tip of left ear during surgery). If any new cats should join the colony that have not been ear-tipped, endeavor to TNVR these cats within the month. Colonies that are only partially TNVRed are a huge problem. It is not uncommon for a single unfixed cat to have 5-10 offspring in a year. Leaving one female cat unspayed can negate the time, work and money used to sterilize the rest of the colony. All cats must be spayed or neutered, and any new female cats that join the colony must be spayed quickly before they have kittens.
3. Return TNVR colony cats to their colony/home site following full recovery from surgery. It is difficult to relocate adult free roaming cats and barn homes are few and far between. Returning all cats to their colony is generally the best option.
4. Provide sufficient food and water to all colony cats, daily, year-round, and in the most sanitary way possible.
5. Feed cats during specific time windows only. Do NOT leave food out overnight or for other extended times when it might attract rodents and other unwanted wildlife. Leaving food out over extended periods of time tends to attract unwanted wildlife to a colony. It also makes it difficult to count and assess the condition and needs of the cats. Establishing specific feeding windows with the cats not only excludes the wildlife but gives the caretaker an opportunity to see all of the cats during feeding time and determine if there are new cats needing TNVR or cats needing medical assistance.
6. Provide the colony cats with adequate shelter.
Cats without adequate shelter generally live in the storm drains throughout the area. These cats may be killed during heavy rains and snows. Providing alternative shelter for these cats prevents this tragic loss of life.
7. Keep records on each colony cat, including proof of rabies vaccinations. Keeping records on the cats simplifies future medical visits should a cat become injured or ill and also helps to alleviate the concerns of neighbors about the care of the cats.
8. Make efforts to exclude colony cats from the property of neighbors, if neighbors so request. Sometimes cats go places they aren't wanted. It is critical to address these sort of problems before they result in nuisance complaints. Numerous humane deterrents are available to keep cats out of specific areas.
9. Work with neighbors to resolve complaints regarding colony cats. Working with neighbors to address cat complaints is a critical part of colony management. Addressing small problems early can prevent big problems down the road.
10. Provide a replacement caretaker during a primary caretaker's temporary or permanent absence.
11. Seek help for ill and injured colony cats. Cats can and should be retrapped if they are ill or injured. It is inhumane to allow them to suffer. Euthanasia may also be required in the case of some very sick or injured cats.
12. Maintain a clean, neat, sanitary, and odor-free colony care area. Dirty and stinking colony care areas are not only bad for the cats but likely to upset neighbors and property managers.
Providing a warm, safe shelter for your outdoor cats can greatly improve their quality of life.
Below you will find plans for several shelter designs, some simply made from plastic totes and Styrofoam coolers. You will also find link to places that you can purchase ready-made outdoor cat houses.
A quick note on bedding material: The very best bedding material is straw. It holds heat and dries out quickly. Blankets and hay can both absorb moister and actually wick heat away from a cat. Straw can be purchased from Chewy or your local home improvement store in the Fall.
Purchase ready-made shelters:
Etsy.com (search for "outdoor cat house")