The Ask A Veterinary Team series provides our community with educational resources to ensure every animal has a safe and healthy life. Our experienced veterinary team, led by Head Veterinarian Mary Altomare, DVM, and Lead Veterinary Technician Taylor Woehle, CVT, are dedicated to delivering the highest level of animal care to prepare today’s animals in need for their future homes. As kitten season is quickly approaching, our inaugural Ask A Veterinary Team takes a closer look at community cats and ways you can help if you encounter a seemingly homeless animal.
1) What is a community cat?
Community cats are unowned cats that free-roam outside in the community and typically band together into a colony. These can include feral, stray, or even abandoned animals.
2) What is the difference between a community/feral and stray cat?
Community cats do not have an owner but can have a care-taker, meaning someone who leaves out food and provides some form of outdoor sheltering such as a shed or overhang. These can include feral as well as stray cats. Feral and stray cats without a community free-roam on their own without the aid of a care-taker. Feral cats were born outdoors from other feral or stray cats and are not accustomed to human interaction. Stray cats are typically lost or abandoned and have had previous interactions with humans.
3) What is Trap-Neuter-Return?
Many times the care-taker of community cats will periodically trap some of the cats and take them to a low-cost spay/neuter veterinarian for a check-up and spay or neuter. While under anesthesia for the surgery, these cats will have the very tip of their left ear notched so the care-taker does not trap the same animal twice. After spaying/neutering, the cat is then returned to their community. The term is then Trap-Neuter (or spay!) – Return or TNR for short.
4) What do I do if I find an outdoor:
Cat: Unless visibly very sick or injured, leave the outdoor cats where they are! This is likely a stray, feral, or community cat and they are in their home – the great outdoors! If you’d like to help and have access to a spay/neuter program, you may work with this program to trap, spay or neuter the cat and return them to their outdoor home. However, never do this without working with a veterinary clinic that supports this program who can walk you through how to do this safely.
Kitten or a Litter of Kittens: It is so tempting to scoop up a little kitten found outside, isn’t it? Let’s go through different scenarios of when to help and when the best help is just leaving them be.
Newborn Kittens Younger than 8 Weeks: These kittens were likely born outdoors and are being cared for by their mother – even if you don’t see mama at that moment. If mama isn’t with them, the best thing to do is to keep watch over the next 24 hours (if possible) and check-in periodically. She may be out hunting or even hiding waiting for you to leave! If the kittens are pink, warm, have round full bellies, and are cuddled sleeping, their mother is likely close by and doing a great job – do not touch them and leave them right where they are so she can continue caring for them without interference. If the kittens appear sick, injured, cold, and hungry with no mother in 24hrs, you may scoop them up and take over care. The Kitten Lady (kittenlady.org) has some fantastic references for how to properly care for kittens under 8 weeks.
Kittens Older than 8 Weeks: These kittens are weaned from mom, were likely born outside, and are living free in their outdoor home! Unless visibly sick or injured, it is recommended to leave them in their great outdoor home. If you’d like to help and have access to a spay/neuter program, you may work with this program to trap, spay or neuter the kitten and return them to their outdoor home.
If you are interested in learning more or possibly even thinking of helping out some Community Cats yourself, check out these websites filled with information to get you started!
Alley Cat Allies
North Bergen Purr – Community TNR (Trap Neuter Return)
The Spay and Neuter Center Of New Jersey
Animal Welfare Association
Monmouth County SPCA