How to Live With Community Cats

Part of Ireland's TNR Manual

How to Help Community Cats

Adapted for Ireland from Alley Cat Allies.

(Download Alley Cat Allies' pdf version of this information)

Feral cats are members of the domestic cat species, just like pet cats, but are not socialised to humans and are therefore not adoptable. Cats have been living outdoors near humans for more than 10,000 years. They typically live in groups called colonies and have strong social bonds with their colony members.

So, you’re seeing cats in your garden ...

Like all animals, feral cats make their home where they find shelter and food, often in close proximity to humans. We understand that not everyone enjoys having cats on their doorstep, and these simple tips will help you divert outdoor cats away from certain areas. You may also want the cats to stick around; some ideas below will help make areas attractive to cats. Coupled with Trap Neuter Return and ongoing care, these quick steps can help you coexist with your neighborhood cats.

Because feral cats are not socialised and not adoptable, they do not belong in animal pounds or shelters - Irish pounds won't deal with them anyway. Instead, feral cats should be neutered, treated for parasites and returned to their outdoor home.

Trap Neuter Return

Trap Neuter Return is an effective and humane way to stabilise feral cat populations. Cats are humanely trapped and taken to a veterinarian, where they are neutered and treated for parasites. Healthy, adult cats are returned to their colony site, where they are provided continuing care by volunteers.

Trap Neuter Return works. No more kittens. The colony members' lives and health are improved, and the population stabilises and declines over time. The behaviours and stresses associated with mating, such as yowling and fighting, stop.

The Vacuum Effect

Animal control’s traditional approach to feral cats - catch and kill - won’t keep an area free of cats for long. Catch and kill is cruel, inhumane and creates a vacuum, as do attempts to 'relocate' cats. Once the cats are removed from a territory, other cats move in to take advantage of the newly available resources and breed, forming a new colony. Catch and kill is an endless and costly cycle. Known as the vacuum effect, this is a documented phenomenon in a variety of animals throughout the world.

Easy Solutions to Cat Behaviours

Cats are getting into my bins

Explanation: Cats are scavengers and are looking for food.

Quick Solutions:

  • Place a tight lid on your rubbish bin. Exposed bins will attract other wildlife as well.
  • See if neighbours are feeding the cats. If they are, make sure they are doing so on a regular schedule.
  • Start feeding the cats yourself if you find no regular feeder - at a set time, during daylight hours, in an out-of-the-way place. Feeding cats regularly and in reasonable quantities, which can be eaten in less than 30 minutes or so, will help ensure they don't get so hungry they turn to the trash.

There are cat paw prints on my car

Explanation: Cats like to perch on high ground.

Quick Solutions:

  • Gradually move cats' shelters and feeding stations away to discourage cats from climbing on cars.
  • Purchase a car cover.
  • Use deterrents listed in the next section.

Cats are digging in my garden

Explanation: It is a cat’s natural instinct to dig and deposit in soft or loose soil, moss, mulch or sand.

Quick Solutions:

  • Scatter fresh orange and lemon peels, or spray with citrus-scented fragrances. Coffee grounds, vinegar, pipe tobacco or oil of lavender, lemongrass, citronella or eucalyptus also deter cats.
  • Plant the herb rue to repel cats, or sprinkle dried rue over the garden.
  • Use plastic carpet runners spike-side up, covered lightly in soil. They can be found at local hardware or office supply stores. Or, set chicken wire firmly into the dirt with sharp edges rolled under.
  • Artfully arrange branches in a lattice-type pattern, or wooden or plastic lattice fencing material, over soil. You can disguise these by planting flowers and seeds in the openings. You can also try embedding wooden chopsticks, pinecones or sticks with dull points deep into the soil with the tops exposed eight inches apart.
  • Obtain a cat repellant. There are any number of products available on the market. Ensure the product does not harm animals before purchasing.
  • Cover exposed ground in flower beds with large, attractive river rocks to prevent cats from digging. (They have the added benefit of deterring weeds.)
  • Establish a litter box by tilling the soil or placing sand in an out-of-the-way spot in your yard. Keep it clean and free of deposits.

Cats are lounging in my garden

Explanation: Cats are territorial and will remain close to their food source. Ensuring that cats are neutered will dramatically reduce their tendency to roam and keep them from unwanted areas.

Quick Solutions:

  • Apply cat repellent fragrances liberally around the edges of the garden, the tops of fences and on any favorite digging areas or plants.
  • Install an ultrasonic animal repellent or a motion- activated water sprinkler, such as the CatStop™ or ScareCrow™. Available online.

Cats are sleeping under or in my shed

Explanation: The cats are looking for dry, warm shelter away from the elements.

Quick Solutions:

  • Physically block or seal the location the cats are entering with chicken wire or lattice once you are certain the cats are not inside. Be sure to search for kittens before confirming that the cats have left - especially during spring and summer, prime kitten season.
  • Provide a shelter (similar to a small doghouse). Or, if they’re feral and part of a nearby managed colony, ask the caregiver to provide a shelter for the cats. Shelters should be hidden to keep the cats safe, and placing them in secluded areas can help guide the cats away from unwanted areas.

Feeding the cats attracts insects and wildlife

Explanation: Cats need to be fed under proper guidelines. Leaving food out can attract unwanted animals.

Quick Solutions:

  • Keeping the feeding area neat and free of leftover food and trash.
  • Feed cats at the same designated time each day, during daylight hours. They should be given only enough food for them to finish in one sitting, and all remaining food should be removed after 30 minutes. If another person is feeding, ask them to follow these guidelines too. For a more thorough list of colony management guidelines, visit our Colony Care pages.

Cats are yowling, fighting, spraying, roaming and having kittens

Explanation: These are all mating behaviours displayed by cats who have not been spayed and neutered, and they will breed prolifically.

Quick Solutions:

  • Spaying or neutering the cats will stop these behaviours. Male cats will no longer compete and fight, spray and roam. Females will stop yowling and producing kittens. After sterilisation, hormones leave their system within three weeks and the behaviours usually stop entirely.
  • To combat the urine smell, spray the area thoroughly with white vinegar or with products that use natural enzymes to combat the smell, available at pet supply stores.

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Part of Ireland's TNR Manual

How to Help Community Cats