Part of Ireland's TNR Manual
How to Help Community Cats
IMPORTANT: Even if done with proper protocol, relocation can be ineffective and even dangerous for cats. Community cats bond to their outdoor homes and, if relocated, may go on an impossible journey to find their way back. In some cases, cats have died in the process. Keep this firmly in mind before deciding that a cat’s life will be better somewhere else.
For more information, visit our Relocation page.
Relocating community cats—unowned cats who live outdoors—is almost never in the cats’ best interest. Relocation should only be considered as an absolute last resort, when the cats’ lives are in danger unless you act. Cats are territorial and form strong bonds with their outdoor homes, so relocation is extremely stressful and risky—for the cats AND for you.
Even if you follow our relocation protocols below to the letter, it may not “stick” for the cats. A far better course of action is to do everything possible to resolve the threats forcing the cats out of their home. We urge you to review our Community Relations information before you proceed (coming soon!).
Visit our Relocation page for the best solutions to the common situations in which relocation is (misguidedly) considered.
If you strongly believe that relocation is your only option to save cats’ lives, read on.
Safe Relocation Protocols
Consider relocation only if you’ve exhausted all other avenues and still feel the cats are in danger. Moving a colony of cats and convincing them to stay is a complex process that involves specific procedures. These steps must be followed in order to ensure a successful and safe relocation:
Assess the colony
Community cats develop strong bonds with one another as well as with their established homes. When looking for a new location, try to find one that can take all of the cats. If this is not possible, cats with strong bonds to each other should be moved together. Cats will adjust to their new homes better and the move will be less traumatic if they have the security of one or more trusted companions.
Kittens and cats that are friendly to humans can be adopted into good homes, or sterilised and relocated with the rest of the colony depending on your available resources. Read our Socialised Cat Guide, including adoption techniques.
Find a new home for the cats
The colony’s new home should be in a climate and landscape that they can adjust to easily. Don't move cats from one end of the country to the other if you can help it. The new home should be away from heavily trafficked areas, include shelter from inclement weather and come with a new caregiver who understands the responsibilities of feeding, sheltering and caring for the cats.
Barns, horse stables and country homes with lots of land often make excellent homes for community cats. Ask everyone you know for leads on locations, and place notices or flyers in local newspapers and veterinarian offices, pet stores, coffee shops, hardware stores, feed mills and farm suppliers. Place ads online for your area at sites like Feral Cats Ireland. You may find our sample Barn Cat Poster a good template to adapt.
Make Sure the Location is Suitable
When you find a promising location, inspect the area carefully and talk to the prospective caregiver at length. Ensure that the new caregiver will provide daily food, water and monitoring.
Some things to consider:
- Avoid locating near busy roads.
- Ensure that the cats are properly introduced to the property’s other animals. Dogs must be introduced slowly so the cats will not become frightened or be chased away. Cats and horses frequently get along well, once the cats adjust to a horse’s size.
- Take into account wildlife in the area. Foxes and badgers typically get along with adult cats in their own fashion. Kittens, however, are at risk because they can be prey. The kittens stand a better chance if they have access to a shed or similar structure with several small openings that they can run in for safety. You may also consider building a fenced area for the cats.
Talk with the new caregivers
Have regular discussions with caregivers or property owners to ensure they will provide daily food and water and monitor for any issues. They will need to arrange veterinary care when necessary, and to have any new cats who appear in the colony spayed or neutered and eartipped. You can even develop an adoption contract with the new caregiver that promises he or she will fulfil these basic needs.
Relocate the Cats Correctly
- Trap the cats and safely transport them immediately, in covered traps, to their new home.
- Upon arrival at the new location, the cats must be confined in pre-installed large cages for three to four weeks or in a shed or outbuilding with a porch (to ensure no escapees). Confinement allows the cats to adjust to the environment in safety and to accept it as their new home. If set free upon arrival, all cats will attempt to return to their former home and will likely become lost.
- Alert the new caregiver that during the first day or two, the cats may try to find a way out. Most cats settle down in the cage when they realise that no harm will befall them.
- While the cats are confined, they must have clean water, fresh food and clean (or scooped) litter at least once, preferably twice, each day. Feeding cats canned food during confinement appears to help them accept their new home. The cats can then be fed dry food upon release; it is up to the new caregiver. Pet carriers or similar small shelters should also be provided so they can hide.
Details to keep in mind:
- Be skeptical if you are told the new location is escape-proof. Install cages yourself where possible to ensure that the cats remain in their new home.
- If a cat escapes from the enclosure, the caregiver should set food and water out. This will encourage the escapee to stay close. The new caregiver should sprinkle that particular cat’s used litter (specifically faeces) around the location. Since cats have a keen sense of smell, this will help lure the cat back to its territory. Cats often hide for a period of time, but usually stay on or near the premises.
Plan to call or visit the new caregiver regularly to ensure that the cats are well cared for. You may be able to provide valuable support or advice. They may also serve as a contact for future relocations. If you have relocated an entire colony, try to completely remove the food sources in the old location to discourage a new colony of feral cats from forming. But remember, because the original colony has been removed, new unsterilized cats are likely to move in - see the Vacuum Effect.
An Alley Cat Allies survey of caregivers revealed that relocations were most likely to succeed when four main steps were followed:
Several cats from the same colony were relocated together.
Cats were confined in adequate climate for two to four weeks (we recommend four weeks) in large cages inside sheds, barns, basements or escape-proof shelters.
Cats were fed canned food every day for a short period (two to six weeks) and then dry food.
The new caregiver made frequent (minimum twice daily) verbal attempts to bond with the cats.