Q: Help! There is a cat in my backyard! She’s not letting me get close and scoots away when I come outside. I am feeding her. What can I do to help her?
A: Congratulations for taking an important first step to help an outdoor cat by providing food and water. If you’re like me, you won’t call animal control to pick up the cat because you know that its chances for adoption are slim. However, it is important to report the cat to your local animal control if the department tracks lost pets.
The cat is lucky to have found you. The minute you see a stray or feral cat, the clock is ticking for you to schedule a spay/neuter appointment. Regardless of an outdoor cat’s sex, it must be neutered (or spayed as it is called for a female cat). Check to see if low-cost or no-cost spay/neuter resources are available in your area.
Female cats are extremely prolific. They mate frequently and can have several litters of kittens a year — even in cold weather. I have even found kittens in icy January here in Washington, D.C. The gestation period for a cat is between 60 and 63 days. And it can be difficult to tell if a cat is pregnant. So, that cat in your yard could give birth in a couple of weeks, maybe under your porch or where you can’t find her and the kittens.
The most important thing you need to do is trap the cat with a humane box trap and take her to a veterinarian for spay surgery and vaccinations. Then, bring the cat back to her outdoor home where she can return to her normal routine while you feed and care for her. This scenario is called trap-neuter-return.
As soon as feral cats are spayed or neutered, they become good neighbors. The fighting and howling that you might have heard outside at night will stop. The male cats won’t spray to mark their territory or fight over mates, and they will be healthier and happier. The females will not endure two or more annual pregnancies and litters of kittens.
To learn more about trap-neuter-return or how to build an inexpensive cat shelter, visit Alley Cat Allies’ website. You also can find tips on how to protect the cats and access Alley Cat Allies’ Feral Friends Network to connect with individuals in your area that can give you hands-on help and advice.
Thanks for taking action to help that cat. Good luck!