Part of Ireland's TNR Manual
How to Help Community Cats
How are Community Cats Different from a Stray Cat?
Stray cats are pet cats who have lost their way back to their homes - they may have been disoriented in bad weather, inadvertently travelled by car or simply lost their way. Stray cats may behave similarly to feral cats, simply because they are lost and scared. But they have been socialised and usually friendly-up to kind strangers. If stray cats don't find their way home, they often join community cat colonies but, because they are used to being cared for in a home environment, they don't survive as well as the existing community that is used to the outdoor life.
Microchipping your cat is the best way to ensure they find their way home to you if they stray.
No matter where you are, community cats probably live among you. Community cats are unowned cats who live outdoors in virtually every landscape on every continent where people live. Like pet cats, they belong to the domestic cat species (Felis catus) - unlike pet cats, they are content living outdoor-only lives.
Community cats congregate around areas where food and shelter are accessible, numbers increase and large families - called colonies - develop. Often community cats are known as feral cats, but this is inaccurate. It's true, many community cats are feral - neither they nor their ancestors have ever been handled by humans and they are wary, or downright scared, of them. Many colonies have grown from the offspring of one or two unneutered cats - one cat can be responsible for thirty kittens in the space of just over a year! Again, some cats in this situation may have known human kindness at some point and may be partly socialised. As they have always lived outdoors, they survive very well.
Community cats live full, healthy lives in their outdoor homes. Trap Neuter Return is the only humane, effective approach to community cats, and it helps them - and the communities where they live.
Cats living outdoors is nothing new. For most of their natural history, cats have lived outside alongside people. Evidence shows cats began living near people over 10,000 years ago, before the pyramids were built! It wasn’t until very recently, with the invention of kitty litter in the 1940s, that so many cats began living indoors only. Community cats are truly at home outdoors, just as countless cats have been for thousands of years.
Community cats thrive in their outdoor homes when the colony is managed and neutered. They are used to living outdoors and are naturally skilled at finding shelter and food all on their own. Studies show community cats are just as healthy as pet cats, with equally low disease rates. Community cats can live just as long as pet cats.
Community cats are not a threat to public health. Since community cats aren’t friendly to people and avoid contact, it is almost impossible for them to transmit diseases.
See The science behind why feral cats are safe members of our communities from Alley Cat Allies for more information.
Cats have co-existed outdoors with wildlife for thousands of years. Reliable science shows that cats are part of our natural ecosystem and do not significantly impact wildlife populations. As animal lovers, we want what is best for all animals. That means we must address the true threats to all species: human-lead activities like habitat destruction and pollution.
See Cats and Wildlife from Alley Cat Allies for more information.
Community cats are often not socialized, or friendly, to people. That means they are unable to live indoors with people, and are therefore unadoptable when first encountered. Community cats should not be taken to pounds because they are likely to be killed. The only humane and effective approach to community cats is TNR, and more and more communities and rescues are embracing it.
In a Trap Neuter Return (TNR) program, community cats are humanely trapped, brought to a veterinarian to be spayed or neutered, parasite treated and eartipped (the universal sign that a cat has been part of a TNR program), and then returned to their outdoor homes. TNR helps community cats by relieving them of the stresses of mating and breeding, and protecting them from diseases. Communities benefit from TNR because it reduces and stabilises community cat populations, saves tax-payers’ money, helps rescues focus on adoptions, and provides a humane and collaborative way to address concerns and coexist with cats. Learn more about Trap Neuter Return.