There are several myths and misconceptions surrounding feral cats, from where they have come from to whether they can be tamed. Here are a few of them:
Feral cats are just strays
This isn’t true, as there are actually many differences between stray and feral cats. Strays are animals that once had a home with humans, whereas feral cats are born in the wild and have never lived with people. Strays are likely to behave in a more friendly way towards humans because of their previous socialisation, and tend to be found in areas where they are prevalent, unlike feral cats.
Feral cats should be taken to shelters for adoption
Feral cats are not used to human contact and can be wary of people, because they are born wild. It is usually difficult to socialise an adult feral cat, and trust with a human can take a long time to build up. Therefore, taking them to a shelter for adoption does not help, as they are unlikely to make good domestic pets.
Removing feral cats will solve the problem
Some believe that relocating feral cats or killing them will eradicate them from a particular area. Actually, it won’t make a difference. Feral cats populate areas where food and shelter are available and humans are scarce. Removing one colony of cats only means another colony will soon replace it because of the area’s desirable attributes. This is known as the vacuum effect.
It is cruel to enforce TNR
The Trap, Neuter, Release scheme is the humane way of reducing the population of feral cats, and is undertaken by various animal charities and organisations. It doesn’t cause the cats any pain, and ensures they are unable to breed. Spaying and neutering reduces the number of intact males being attracted to areas where there are female cats. Since it only takes a pair of cats to produce many litters of kittens, spaying and neutering as many as possible can prevent thousands of feral and unwanted cats from being born. It can also curb the spreading of disease through vaccinations administered to the cats upon their capture.
Feral cats are a different species
Feral, stray and domestic cats are all the same species because they are all descendants of domestic cats. Although feral cats have never had a home with humans, their ancestors will have and through becoming strays or impregnating other cats with unwanted litters, they have contributed to the feral cat population.
Feral cats attack people
It is believed that feral cats are aggressive and can attack people. However, this isn’t true as their lack of socialisation means they don’t seek out human interaction, and when faced with it they tend to run away out of fear. Feral cats only attack when they are trapped and feel threatened; they don’t go out of their way to do it.
Feral cats spread disease to humans
Cats can only spread diseases such as FIV or FeLV to other cats. Controlled populations of feral cats are likely to have been vaccinated through the TNR scheme, reducing the risk of disease. Since feral cats are likely to stay away from humans, any contact is usually initiated by the person. Even then, it is unlikely that a disease can be contracted, as usually it is through contact with the faeces that this happens. It is worth noting that domestic cats can also spread disease in this way.
A feral cat can be socialised easily
This usually isn’t true because feral cats generally avoid human contact. It can take a long time for them to build up enough trust with a human. Sometimes bonds can be achieved by someone leaving out food and water for a feral cat, as they can then get to know the human through returning to the same spot. However, they are usually too wary of people for this to happen.
Feral cats are reducing the bird population
Although many birds die every year, there is no evidence to suggest this is due to cat behaviour. Disease, starvation and many other natural factors all contribute. It has been suggested that cats tend to hunt weak birds, so they probably would have died before the next breeding season anyway. Moreover, birds populations are suffering due to other reasons such as changes to their habitat caused by human activity, rather than because cats are hunting them.
Refusing to feed the cats will make them leave an area
Cats’ strong territorial instinct means that they are likely to remain in an area for a long time, even if food is scarce. They will resort to rummaging in bins and will find food in other places, in the way that other wild animals do. Also, there will more than likely always be someone taking pity on the hungry cats by feeding them.