How to Live With Cats in Your Neighborhood

OutdoorTabbyCat640Many neighborhoods and rural areas have feral cats.  Feral cats are part of the domestic cat species, but are not socialized to humans, so are not adoptable.  Cats having been living around humans for more than 10,000 years, typically living in groups called colonies.  They form strong social bonds with their colony members and usually stay within certain territories.

When You See Cats in Your Yard

Like all animals, feral cats see shelter and food, often making their home in close proximity to humans.  This means you may occasionally see feral cats in your yard, and we understand that not everyone finds this desirable.  On the other hand, you may want the cats to hang around, so we’ve also included tips on making areas attractive to cats.

Feral cats usually cannot be socialized, so cannot be adopted.  This means they do not belong in shelters or pounds because they are almost guaranteed to be killed.  Instead, feral cats should be trapped, neutered or spayed, vaccinated, and then returned to their colony.

When these steps are coupled with a Trap-Neuter-Return program and ongoing care, it is possible to successfully co-exist with your feline neighbors.

Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)

This is an extremely humane and effective way to stabilize feral cat populations.  In TNR, feral cats are humanely trapped and then taken to a veterinarian where they are spayed or neutered and then vaccinated.

Any kittens and socialized cats are adopted into loving homes.  Feral cats who are healthy are returned to their colony.  These cats are provided ongoing care by volunteers.

TNR works.  It stops feral colonies from breeding and stabilizes the population.  No more kittens.  The lives of the colony’s feral population are improved.  With time, the colony size will decline.  Mating behaviors, such as yowling and fighting, end.

Cat’s Cradle believes feral cats have a right to life, and we spent a week documenting the trap-neuter-return process of feral cats for you to enjoy in this video!  Trapping specialists Lana Mohler and volunteer Teresa Kappes TNR up to 1,000 cats a year. If you or someone you know needs help with TNR, please contact us for help.  And if you would like to join our lifesaving team, please visit us at our Adoption Center to apply to volunteer, or go to !

If you are willing to trap strays, we can lend you traps and tell/show you how to trap them for spay/neuter surgery and rabies vaccination.  We may be able to provide you with trapping assistance or we can refer you to other area trapping resources, as available.  This service is only available if you are willing to continue caring for these un-owned or un-tamed cats.  Note:  As of summer 2017, we are working hard to clear a long waiting list of sites needing us to trap and transport feral cats.  If you want to address ferals quickly, it will be best if we can lend you traps and tell/show you how, or we can try to refer you to other area trapping resources while we clear our waiting list. Please click here to view and print our trap lending contract form.


Watch the video below to see how well TNR works!


The Vacuum Effect

The traditional approach to feral cat – the approach still used by many animal control agencies and animal shelters – is catch and kill.  This method does not keep an area free of feral cats for long.  Additionally, catch and kill is cruel and inhumane, and creates a vacuum in a colony area.  Attempts to “relocate” colony cats to a rural area or farm also creates a vacuum, where other feral cats will move in and take advantage of newly available resources.

These new colony occupants will continue to breed and form a new colony.  Catch and kill or relocation just create an endless and costly cycle.  This is known as the Vacuum Effect and is a documented phenomenon which exists in a variety of animals throughout the world.

Easy Solutions to Cat Behaviors

Cats Getting into Trash

Cats are scavengers and will dig through trash looking for food.


  • Make sure trash can lids are a tight fit.  Exposed trash bags or loose lids will attract both cats and other wildlife.
  • Check with your neighbors to see if anyone is feeding the cats.  If they are, ensure they are doing so on a regular schedule.
  • Begin feeding the cats yourself if no one else is.  Feed the cats on a set schedule, during daylight hours and in an out-of-the-way place.  Feed amounts which can be eaten in less than thirty minutes.  This helps ensure the cats don’t go hungry and will help keep them away from the trash.

Paw Prints on the Car

Cats sit on cars because they like to be on high ground.


  • Gradually move cats’ feeding stations and shelters away from the cars.  This will discourage them from climbing on the cars.
  • Purchase a car cover.
  • Try some of the deterrents listed in the sections below.

 Cats are Digging in the Garden

Cats dig.  It is their natural instinct to dig and deposit in loose or soft soil, mulch, moss, or sand.


  • Scatter fresh lemon or orange peels in the soil or spray with citrus-scented fragrances.  Other deterrents include fresh flowers-1920-1200-wallpapercoffee grounds, pipe tobacco, and vinegar.  Oil of lavender, citronella, lemongrass, and eucalyptus also help deter cats.
  • Plastic carpet runners, placed with the spike side up and lightly covered with soil will also help deter cats.  These can be found at an office supply or hardware store.  Another option is to place chicken wire firmly into the soil.  Be sure to carefully roll the sharp edges under.
  • Plant rue, an herb that repels cats.  You can also sprinkle dried rue throughout the garden.
  • Use Cat Scat™, which is a cat and wildlife repellent system consisting of plastic mats cut into smaller pieces which are pressed into the soil.  These mats have plastic spikes which do not harm the animals, but which discourage digging.  They are available at
  • Incorporate branches, wood or plastic lattice fencing into the soil.  These may be disguised by planting flowers or bushes into the openings.  You may also embed pinecones, wood chopsticks, or sticks with dull points deep into the soil with the tops exposed.  Place these about eight inches apart.
  • Use river rocks to cover any exposed soil in flower beds.  This helps discourage cats from digging and also helps deter weeds.
  • Create an outside litter box by tilling soil or building a sandbox in an out-of-the-way spot in the yard. Be sure to keep it clean and free of any deposits.

 Cats are Lounging in my Yard or on my Porch

Cats stay close to their food source and in their territory.  Neutering and spaying feral cats will help reduce their tendency to roam.


  • Use cat repellent fragrances.  Spray or apply these liberally around the tops of fences, around the edges of the yard, and on any area or plant where the cats dig.
  • Install a motion-activated water sprinkler or an ultrasonic animal repellent.

 Cats are Sleeping Under my Porch on in my Shed

Cats are looking for warm, dry shelter away from the weather.


  • Provide shelter such as a small doghouse.  Or, if the cats are part of a colony, as the colony manager to provide shelter for the cats.  Shelters should be hidden to help ensure the cats’ safety.  The shelters should also be placed to help guide the cats away from unwanted areas.
  • Seal or physically block the location so the cats cannot enter.  Use lattice or chicken wire to seal entry points.  Ensure there are no cats inside before sealing the location.  Check closely for kittens, since mother cats will hide the kittens when foraging for food.  This is especially important during spring and summer which is prime kitten season.

Here are a couple of ideas for easy shelters and feeding stations:


feeding stationfeeding station 1

Feeding the Cats Attracts Insects and

Cats should be fed on a schedule and under proper guidelines.  Leaving food out may attract unwanted animals.


  • Keep the feeding areas clean and free of any leftover food and trash.  Take any food up after thirty minutes or so.
  • Feed the cats at the same hour daily.  This should be done during daylight hours.  Feed only enough food for one sitting.  All remaining food should be removed after about thirty minutes.  If someone else is feeding, please ask them to follow these guidelines, too.

For a more comprehensive list of colony management guidelines, please visit Alley Cat Allies Colony Care.

Cats are Yowling, Fighting, Spraying, Roaming, and having Kittens

These are mating behaviors.  Cats display these behaviors when they have not been neutered or spayed.


  • Implementing a good TNR program will help.  Neutering, spaying, and vaccinating the cats will stop these behaviors.  Once neutered, male cats will no longer fight and compete.  They will not spray and roam.  Females who are spayed will not yowl and will not have kittens.  Once sterilized, they are no longer producing hormones within three weeks.  After this, the behaviors typically stop all together.
  • To help the urine smell, spray the entire area with white vinegar or with natural enzyme products such as Nature’s Miracle®, Fizzion Pet Stain & Odor Remover®, or Simple Solution®. These are all available at pet supply stores.

Cat’s Cradle would like to thank Alley Cat Allies for contributing to this post.

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