There are in excess of 200,000 feral cats across Ireland by some estimates. Feral cat overpopulation causes serious welfare concerns and distruption to local communities and ecosystems. During Feral Cat Awareness Week the ISPCA is encouraging members of the public who are in contact with a feral cat colony to take part in Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR) to help tackle the issues that accompany cat overpopulation. We have created a TNR fact sheet for anyone to download and use to teach their communities about TNR.
The ISPCA will also be raising funds to support the purchase of cat traps and to help subsidise the cost of neutering by our affiliated member societies and other TNR organisations.
Below are some common questions and answers about feral cats, TNR, and what to do if you see feral cats in your area:
In 2017, Westmeath SPCA trapped, neutered and returned 180 feral cats in the greater Mullingar area. So far in 2018, they have spayed and neutered an additional 73 cats, and have a goal 200.
Throughout 2017 Laois SPCA were able to implement several neutering schemes with excellent cooperation from vets from throughout the county. Participating vets reduced their costs for spaying and neutering by one-third, and Laois SPCA supplemented additional costs so that individuals only had to pay €30 for cat neutering. The ISPCA and Laois SPCA are grateful to their dedication to reducing the number of unwanted kittens. Laois SPCA are a small group, but have great support from the public, vets and some businesses in the county, but of course always welcome more volunteers, fosterers, and help with TNR of cats. They are members of the Association of Cats and Dogs Homes (ADCH) and comply with their minimum standards for animal rescues.
A third affiliate, Louth SPCA carried out TNR on a number of feral colonies in 2017, neutering over 80 cats to prevent further growth of the colonies. Louth SPCA have a 50/50 scheme with vets to make it more affordable for members of the public to have their pets neutered.
It is through generous donations, volunteering and participation in TNR from members of the public that the ISPCA and our affiliates are able to tackle the issue of feral cat overpopulation, and save thousands of feral kittens from being born that would not make it to adulthood given their treacherous environments.
Many cats are left behind when their owners are no longer willing to look after them or have moved house. In some cases cats have been dumped, are lost, or sadly their owners have passed away. These cats are starving and scavenging in order to survive. Their offspring will be feral, meaning they have not had interaction with humans and are often afraid of us. If they are not spayed or neutered, stray cats and their offspring continue to multiply.
While both terms describe the same species, there is a distinction between stray and feral cats. Stray cats have been socialised to humans at some point in their lives, and have been abandoned or lost, losing contact with humans. Feral cats have never had contact with humans and are generally quite fearful of people. Over time, some stray cats may display more feral behaviour as they go longer without human contact. Some feral kittens below eight weeks of age can be socialised, and may even be adopted into homes as pets.
Please be aware that some cats that appear to be strays may not be. If you are concerned for the welfare of a cat you believe to be a stray, make inquiries in your area to see if anyone owns it, or knows who does. As a last resort you can attempt to trap the cat and bring it to the vet to be scanned for a microchip.
The ISPCA encourages all cat owners to microchip their cats in the event that they get lost, as this is universally recognised as the best way to make your pet permanently identifiable. Cats are known to hide in vehicles and can end up far from home. Having your cat microchipped is the best option to be reunited with your beloved pet should this happen.
Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) means that feral cats are humanely trapped, neutered by a vet and returned to the trap site once in good health. Vets will “tip” the neutered cat’s ear, meaning they painlessly remove the top corner of one of the ears while the cat is under anaesthetic to denote the cat has been neutered. Cats undergoing TNR are also health checked, vaccinated and treated for parasites.
TNR is the most humane solution to stabilise feral cat populations, and has also been shown to be the least costly. Over time the number of cats in the colony will naturally decline as TNR halts the breeding cycle. In addition, undesirable and disruptive behaviours associated with mating—such as fighting, spraying and yowling— are eliminated. This should mean that local community residents will experience less noise, smell and out-of-control breeding of the colony. Additionally, TNR improves the cats' health and lifespan.
If you are already feeding a colony of stray or feral cats, please ensure that they have been neutered. Otherwise, the cat population will continue to grow. Once you have finished the TNR process, providing clean, fresh drinking water, food, and shelter is an acceptable way to maintain the feral colony. Often providers of these basics are called colony caretakers.
If you are feeding a colony, keep your eye out for any health issues, and if you notice any of the cats are sick, trap them and bring them to the vets. Some health issues, such as FIV, can spread through a colony and even to peoples’ pets if it is not controlled.
Without the support of a caretaker, the average lifespan of a feral cat is less than two years, while a cat living in a colony with a caretaker could live for ten years.
The ISPCA and our affiliated member societies provide support for members of the public looking to undertake TNR in their areas, as do a number of other organisations around the country. You can find the contact details for the ISPCA in Longford, Mallow and Donegal, as well as our affiliated member societies around the country on our website here.
This was a widespread view in the past— one that was even shared by some vets— but this recommendation was based on opinion rather than hard fact. There is no evidence to suggest that allowing a cat to have a litter of kittens confers any health benefits. The best veterinary advice now is that in the vast majority of cases, spay/neuter is the healthier option and should be the natural choice.
The latest advice from Veterinary Ireland is that in most cases, spaying and neutering should be carried out at an earlier age than was previously suggested. In general, both male and female cast should be neutered/spayed at 16 weeks of age. While this is earlier than previously recommended, it is not the expert international recommendation, so please seek advice from your vet.
There is significant evidence that early spaying or neutering can have important benefits for the health of the individual animal. These include reducing the risk of certain cancers, having a positive benefit for health and lifespan, and curbing unwanted behaviour and marking.
For females these benefits include reducing the risk of mammary cancer, prevention of pyometra (infection of the uterus), and eliminating the risk of unwanted pregnancy and litters. Spaying also eliminates or reduces the occurrence of certain unwanted feline behaviours.
For males, benefits include reduced risk of testicular cancer, fighting and territorial behaviour, cat bite abscesses, and of FIV and Feline Leukaemia Viral Infection. Neutering also significantly reduces male urine marking behaviour.
Our annual SpayAware campaign highlights all of the benefits and importance of spaying and neutering pets.
Apart from population control and the benefits for animal welfare discussed above, having a healthy, neutered population of cats in your area can actually help to control rodent populations. The smell of cats’ urine alone is a deterrent to mice and rats and the presence of a small number of healthy animals can help to keep them at bay.
If members of your community are complaining about the cats and pushing for an alternative solution, the ISPCA believe that the best way forward is education. Do your best to talk to your neighbours about TNR and explain the benefits, and how over time it will reduce the number of cats in the area naturally and humanely. You can explain to them that relocating the cats or euthanising them will only create a ‘vacuum effect’, in which a new colony of cats will eventually come in and take over the area, perpetuating the problem. In addition, relocation may be stressful for the cats that are being moved, and for any cats that may be in the area they are moved to. If the cats are moved to an area that did not previously have a colony of cats, it can have a detrimental effect on the local wildlife.
You can download the PDF of this Q&A or an education flyer about Trap, Neuter, Return, and print them off to hand out to members of your community. You can also direct them to http://www.ispca.ie/feralcatawareness for all the information.
You can make a secure donation here on our website. Please make sure to reference 'TNR'.
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