How to Care for Wild Cats and Kittens

A good caretaker enriches the lives of feral cats.
A good caretaker enriches the lives of feral cats. (Image: cats - of watch tower image by Wojciech Karpinski from

Taking care of a nearby colony of wild cats and kittens can be a very rewarding experience but it is a lot of work. It may sometimes put you at odds with other people in the community who don’t realize the benefits of your caring for the cats. Educate yourself and get help and you will make an immeasurable impact on the lives of the cats as well as the neighborhood.

Things You'll Need

  • Cat food, dry and canned
  • Water
  • Plastic bowls
  • Plastic plates
  • Trash bags
  • Plastic tote bins
  • Towels or blankets

Recruit reliable people to help you. A wild cat colony needs care even if you are sick or out of town. Post signs on veterinary office boards and on websites such as "petfinder" and "craigslist" to find people who can help by taking a turn to feed the cats or to generate donations of food and money for veterinary care. No matter how dedicated you are, this takes a lot of work and there is never a holiday. The cats will suffer if you stop, so make sure you are relentless in searching for helpers. You’ll also need foster homes for sick, recuperating, injured or very young kittens.

Feral cats won't be this affectionate but will appreciate the care.
Feral cats won't be this affectionate but will appreciate the care. (Image: i love cats image by Allyson Ricketts from

Set up an area as a feeding station and feed the cats twice daily. Once-daily feedings can add more stress to the colony. Leave dry food out in several places at all times if needed but take up the old and put out new each time you come. Most people feed canned food at the twice-daily feedings. Dry food is healthier according to veterinarians but older cats or those with poor teeth will need the canned. Some cats need a more secluded spot and others will come right to the center of the feeding area. Buy plastic bowls and plates at a discount or dollar store to use for the cats and reduce waste from paper products. According to Alley Cat Allies, it is preferable to wait until the cats are finished and take up all the food that hasn’t been eaten in about 30 minutes’ time. This is especially necessary if you notice that leftover food is attracting flies or rodents.

Clean the entire feeding area scrupulously each time you visit. This is crucial for both the health of the cats and the cooperation of neighbors.

Educate the neighborhood. Many people dislike feral cats and feel that anyone feeding them is helping them to become more of a nuisance. They will use any means to have the colony euthanized. Studies have shown that well-cared for colonies of feral cats in which caretakers practice TNR (trap, neuter, return) are healthy, do not cause nuisances and do not harm wildlife in the area. Be polite and educate the neighbors about how much a managed feral cat colony helps the problem. There are educational materials available to order and some to print out at the Alleycat website (see Resources).

Managed colonies are better for all of us.
Managed colonies are better for all of us. (Image: cats image by Zbigniew Nowak from

Initiate a TNR program as soon as you have help and have raised money for medical care. You will have to locate a veterinarian who is willing to treat feral cats and borrow traps from the local animal control or buy some traps. (See Resources for how to trap cats.) The veterinarian should at least neuter the cat and vaccinate for rabies. Make sure the veterinarian is experienced with TNR and knows how to handle wild cats or else he may want to euthanize them. The veterinarian will usually either notch the cat’s ear or make a tattoo on its tummy so that if that cat is caught again, you will know it has already been neutered. If you can afford it, ask for the basic vaccinations for cats and not just the rabies.

Make shelters for the cats. You can make adequate shelters for the winter or rain from plastic tote bins available in discount stores. Cut a cat-sized opening in the side and put the lid on. Put a towel or blanket inside. More information and plans for building shelters for a feral colony can be found in the Resources section.

Build litter boxes or sand boxes for the cats to use, if they are causing a problem by going into neighbors’ gardens and yards. Do not use store-bought litter. Keep these areas cleaned and scooped in order to avoid odor and flies.

Tips & Warnings

  • If there are kittens 8 to 10 weeks or younger and you have foster homes available, take these kittens to live in the foster homes and be tamed. Even at 12 weeks, the kittens will have become fearful enough that they may not adjust as pets.
  • Discuss with your doctor and your veterinarian the possibility of contracting rabies in your area. They may recommend that you have a rabies vaccination.
  • Introduce yourself to the local animal control and other animal services, so that they are aware of what you're doing and realize you are going about it the right way.
  • Take time to learn about handling feral cats. They are small but they can hurt you.

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