Celebrate National Feral Cat Day and Learn How to Care for a Feral Cat

October 16, 2023 Dr Katy Miller DVM, CVFT, CVNAN, CPFFCP, CPCQI

Every year on October 16th, cat lovers around the country come together to celebrate National Feral Cat Day. This special occasion provides an opportunity to raise awareness about the lives of feral cats and the importance of promoting their well-being. While feral cats can evoke sympathy due to their difficult living conditions, they can also have unfavorable impacts on the ecosystem, public health, and animal welfare, and it is important to be knowledgeable about both aspects.

Understanding feral cats

National Feral Cat Day is a day to recognize and educate about the presence and needs of feral cat populations. It encourages communities to acknowledge the existence of these cats and opens conversations regarding better management and care of this population.

Feral cats are domestic cats that have either been abandoned or have descended from abandoned or stray cats. Feral cats can reproduce at an amazing rate, it is estimated that one female cat can have 5 litters a year.3 With four to six kittens in each litter that is an astonishing 20-30 new feral or homeless cats each year. Over generations, these offspring can become increasingly wild and less socialized to humans. Unlike stray cats, which may be more accustomed to human interaction, feral cats have reverted to a wild state and generally avoid close contact with humans. They have adapted to living independently, often forming small colonies in urban, suburban, or rural environments.

The life of a feral cat is undeniably harsh and challenging. These cats must constantly navigate a world filled with dangers and uncertainties. They scavenge for food in dumpsters, hunt for rodents, hunt native wildlife, and seek shelter in abandoned buildings, trash, or makeshift hideouts. Harsh weather, from scorching summers to freezing winters, tests their resilience daily. Disease and injury are constant threats, as feral cats lack access to veterinary care. Feral cats must rely on their instincts and resourcefulness to endure a life filled with hardships, making their existence a testament to their remarkable ability to adapt to adversity in the wild. These harsh conditions result in the average lifespan of a feral cat being only 2-3 years in comparison to an indoor cat’s average lifespan of 12-15 years.4

Feral cats are responsible for the predation of countless native birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects. Their hunting behavior can decimate populations of vulnerable species, disrupt delicate ecosystems, and drive native wildlife to extinction.1 Their presence not only disrupts the natural balance of ecosystems but also poses risks to human health through the transmission of diseases such as toxoplasmosis and rabies.2 Effective management strategies are essential to mitigate the ecological damage caused by feral cat populations and protect the biodiversity of our natural habitats.

Feral cats face harsh and often short lives. They endure exposure to harsh weather, starvation, injuries, and disease. Their quality of life is generally very poor, and they may suffer. Yet feral cat populations can be challenging to control or manage. Traditional catch-and-kill methods are often seen as inhumane, and simply removing feral cats from an area can lead to a "vacuum effect" where new cats move in to fill the void.

Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs are crucial for the management of feral cat populations. These programs focus on humanely trapping these cats, sterilizing, and vaccinating them, before returning them to their territory. TNR reduces the number of breeding individuals and prevents the continued birth of kittens in a colony. In fact, in one study in Chicago, a group of 153 cats was reduced to 70 over a 7-year period with a TNR program.5 On National Feral Cat Day, organizations and individuals highlight the effectiveness of TNR in stabilizing colonies and reducing the number of homeless cats. Learn more about TNR programs at the Alley Cat Allies website.

Many areas and organizations have reduced cost or free spay and neuter clinics specifically for feral cats. For those passionate about feral cats, this is an opportunity to reach out to animal welfare organizations, shelters, or community groups that focus on feral cats. Volunteer time, donate resources, or offer to help them carry out TNR programs and help educate the community.

The existence of feral cats and their rapid rate of reproduction often results in an influx of kittens that people bring into animal shelters for help, increasing the burden on these facilities. This can divert resources away from other animal welfare efforts. One very important way to support the feral cat community is to not add to the number of homeless and feral cats. Spaying or neutering a pet cat can prevent unplanned litters and reduce the number of cats that may become feral in the future. Reach out to animal welfare organizations, shelters, or community groups to find a spay and neuter clinic!

Feral cats are typically cautious around humans, so it's important to respect their boundaries. Even though they act wild, feral cats need a safe place to seek refuge from the elements. If there is a feral cat that needs care, consider providing a shelter, such as a sturdy outdoor cat house, or a repurposed insulated container to provide an area that is dry, secure, and protected from extreme temperatures. Also provides food and water for feral cats; however, this food may also attract other animals such as raccoons, foxes, bears, and opossums, depending on the area. Due to this, keeping the food away from homes may reduce the risk of run-ins with wildlife and keep pets safe.

While it may be tempting, it is important not to physically interact with feral cats and to prevent house pets from interacting with them. Feral cats likely have not received proper medical attention, including appropriate vaccinations. Therefore, they can be a way for diseases to spread that pose a health risk for both humans, as well as pets and wildlife.2They may fight with local pets leading to the spread of disease and the potential of cat bite abscesses.

By working together, a difference can be made in the lives of feral cats, and measures taken to help reduce the population of homeless cats. On this National Feral Cat Day, let's celebrate these independent and resilient creatures, and strive to ensure their well-being and coexistence with humans in a way that benefits both species and the environment shared.


  1. Cats and Birds: A Bad Combination. American Bird Conservancy. (2020). https://abcbirds.org/program/cats-indoors/cats-and-birds/#:~:text=Outdoor%20domestic%20cats%20are%20a,extinction%2C%20such%20as%20Piping%20Plover.
  2. Gerhold, RW, Jessup, DA. (2012). Zoonotic diseases associated with Free-roaming Cats. https://abcbirds.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Gerhold-and-Jessup-2012-Zoonotic-diseases-and-free-roaming-cats.pdf
  3. Syufy, Franny. “How Many Litters Can a Cat Birth in One Year?” The Spruce Pets, The Spruce Pets, 18 Jan. 2011, https://www.thesprucepets.com/how-many-pregnancies-per-year-554845.
  4. “Indoor and Outdoor Cat Life Expectancy Differences.” Vetinfo, Vetinfo.com. Accessed 6 Oct. 2023.
  5. “Trap-Neuter-Return Research Compendium | Alley Cat Allies.” Alley Cat Allies, https://www.alleycat.org/resources/trap-neuter-return-research-compendium/. Accessed 6 Oct. 2023.


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