Here’s How to Help Feral Cats

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This is a sponsored post by veterinarian Elizabeth Arguelles, owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza. She writes weekly on Reston Now.

Feral cats and colonies have long earned a bad reputation among communities and media, but with the help of advocacy groups like Alley Cat Allies, things are changing. Programs like Trap-Neuter-Return are helping to extend the lives and wellbeing of feral colonies throughout the area and educating communities about feral cat care at the same time.

So what exactly is a feral cat?

Feral cats are domestic cats that are not socialized to humans and therefore typically not adoptable. They often live together in groups called colonies that have their own social bonds and structure.

You may frequently see feral cats in your neighborhood or out in your community. While many people see them as a hazard or nuisance, there are easy steps you can take to redirect outdoor cats away from your yard that don’t involve calling Animal Control. Feral cats that are picked up by Animal Control are not able to find homes, which unfortunately can lead to euthanasia, but with programs like Trap-Neuter-Return, they can lead healthy full lives outdoors.

Here are some steps to try if you would like to deter outdoor cats from your yard that are safe and effective as recommended by Alley Cat Allies :

  • Keep a tight lid on your trash can
  • Scatter the immediate area with fresh orange and lemon peels, coffee grounds, vinegar, or oil of lavender, lemongrass, citronella, or eucalyptus
  • Use Cat Scat– a non-chemical repellent that uses plastic mats with flexible plastic spikes to deter wildlife and cats from digging
  • Install a motion activated water sprinkler or ultrasonic animal repellent

So what do you do if you want to help a feral cat or colony in your community?

  • Be an advocate! Help educate your neighbors on how to safely deter them from their yard or how they can help without calling the local animal control
  • Start feeding — make sure you feed at the same time of day in the same area and only enough food for them to finish in one sitting. Make sure you remove the food after 30 minutes.
  • Provide an outdoor shelter
  • Trap-Neuter-Return — Use a drop trap to safely catch the cat and then work with a veterinary practice, like Just Cats Clinic, that is comfortable working with ferals to spay/neuter, vaccinate, and then you can safely return the cat outdoors. Trap-Neuter-Return is the most effective and humane way to help stabilize and care for feral cat populations.

Remember, if you have never worked with caring for a feral colony or cat before, contact Alley Cat Allies or similar organization or even your local veterinarian for tips to ensure your safety and the cat’s. For additional information and helpful resources, visit Alley Cat Allies at

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