Feral Cats

Have you ever been out somewhere and noticed a small pack of cats roaming around, perhaps scavenging around a dumpster or lurking in the grass beside a well traveled road? These are packs of feral cats, and if you haven’t seen them yet you probably will eventually, as Michigan’s feral cat population is growing rapidly.

What is a feral cat?

A feral cat is the descendant of a domesticated cat that has become wild. They should not be confused with strays; a stray cat is a domesticated cat that has simply become lost or wandered away. It is still considered domesticated and, if returned to a home, will continue to be domesticated. Feral cats are usually the offspring of these strays; they are born in the wild with no prior contact with humans. A domestic stray may also become a feral cat if it stays away from humans for long enough. Feral kittens can be domesticated if they are taken into a home within twelve weeks, but an adult feral cat will most likely remain “wild” and wary of humans, even if taken into the home.

Feral Cats in Michigan

Feral cats are a growing concern in Michigan. The sluggish economy means that many cat owners have been getting rid of their pets in effort to save money or become more mobile (move into an apartment, etc.) Many cat owners mistakenly think that releasing cats into the wild is a safe thing to do, believing that the cat can “take care of itself.” More and more cats are being released every year; these strays will become accustomed to the wild, breed, and produce more feral cats. In addition to this, the abundance of abandoned buildings in urban areas is providing potential homes for colonies of feral cats. As people move out of the state seeking employment and the housing market remains slow, there are more empty structures for feral cats to take up residence in. Nor does this apply only to empty residential homes; feral cats have taken up residence in the empty Chrysler plant in Sterling Heights, MI. Warren and Hazel Park have also had problems with feral cat colonies.

A further concern is not only the number of cats being released, but their amazing fertility. It is estimate that a single pair of feral cats can grow to 10,000 within five years; some suspect that the stat’es feral cat population may be as large as the population of domestic cats. In most cases, these cats are trapped and euthanized at a rate of approximately 76,000 per year. Detroit is said to have 657,000 feral cats, and there are believed to be 10,000 feral cats in Grand Rapids.

Because some find the idea of euthanizing feral cats inhumane, and because the feral cat population is not significantly decreasing despite years of euthanizing, many advocate Trap, Neuter and Release programs (TNR) instead of euthanasia. Michigan currently has 176 licensed pet shelters who will take in feral cats under TNR programs. Under no conditions should you attempt to adopt a feral cat or take it into your home; feral cats are wild animals and generally cannot be domesticated again. In addition to this, they can carry a lot of diseases, including rabies, toxoplasmosis, giardiasis, parvovirus and many others.

Feral Cat Management

Feral cat control is seen as a task for state and local governments due to the tremendous numbers of feral cats in the state. The Humane Society and animal shelters are also working in concert with wildlife control and animal removal professionals (and dedicated volunteers) to address the issue. Creature Control is not licensed for handling feral cats. You should contact your local governmental Animal Control officer for feral cat issues.