Understanding Outdoor Cats and Care Needs

As part of its Cat-Friendly Principles model, International Cat Care (ICC) calls for recognition of the diversity in cats’ situations, personalities and needs. Respecting and supporting cats begins with understanding these differences.

Here’s an excerpt from ICC’s “Cat Friendly Decision-Making” guide for managing cat populations based on an understanding of cat lifestyle and population dynamics. Download the full guide here.

From International Cat Care:

Problems arise when unowned cat populations increase and they become a nuisance to the community. When resources cannot sustain the numbers, the cats’ welfare also suffers. Therefore, there is a need for people to take responsibility to control populations of cats and this includes ensuring that all pet cats are neutered.

In order to address the problem successfully it is important to understand that the lifestyle of the cat lies on a spectrum, based on whether the cat wants to live with or avoid people, and whether the cat is adapted to living independently of people outdoors with no restrictions, or is adapted to living in their homes. Hence, different cats need different solutions to meet their needs.

Cats can be described broadly in four ways:

  • Feral cat – free-roaming, living away from and avoidant of people, in uninhabited areas at a relatively low population density

  • Street cat – free-roaming in inhabited areas at a relatively high population density and reliant on people for food, either provided directly or scavenged from waste bins

  • Pet cat – living with people and coping well interacting with them

  • Inbetweener cat – a cat that has lived as a pet, but unsuccessfully because it is not comfortable with human interaction

Cats seen outdoors within the community can be a mix of street cats, stray or abandoned pet cats and owned pet cats that have outdoor access. They may be neutered or unneutered.

Cat Friendly Solutions consist of:

  • Street cat – Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR), taking them back to their original location after surgery and the removal of the tip of the left ear to aid in identification to prevent the need for further trapping. The TNR process needs to continue to neuter any cats that arrive in the targeted area. A TNR program should plan to neuter as many cats as possible in the shortest time to be effective in reducing population numbers in the long term.

  • Friendly free-roaming cats (that may include stray and abandoned pet cats) and relinquished pet cats – Animal shelter or foster care, with a view to homing cats as quickly as possible; plus neutering them before they are old enough to reproduce (around four months of age).

  • Inbetweener cats – Assessment (taking place in an animal shelter or foster care) and rapid arrangement of an alternative lifestyle to ensure minimum stay in confinement; plus neutering if not already neutered.

  • Pet cats – Owners neuter before their cats are able to reproduce (i.e., four months of age).

See more from ICC at icatcare.org

Want to know more? Check out our Community Cat Toolkit for an overview of community cat care, case studies, tools for citizens and more.

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