Fostering a Feral Cat Safely


Fostering a feral cat safely means not letting him or her go in your bathroom and hoping somehow you'll get him in a carrier later. Or releasing him into your bedroom then trying to figure out how you'll ever get him out from under your bed. Remember that your environment is totally unfamiliar to a feral cat and you are perceived as a threat, especially in this strange new territory. You have to give the cat a space where he feels safe and where he can learn about his new surroundings, if he's interested in doing so, or quietly retreat. That's what the Feral Cat Setup allows you to do. In the rare cases where someone has a good reason for trying to adopt a feral cat, the chances of a successful transition to indoor life are greatly increased by use of the Setup for at least two or three weeks until the cat is visibly comfortable.  At that time, the cage door can be left open for the cat to come and go as he pleases.

The Setup can be done using either a Feral Cat Den (see Recommended Traps & Equipment) or a small carrier.  We recommend using a den because it is safer and easier.  However, we realize many people will only have access to a small carrier due to time constraints or costs, so we describe both methods below.


FERAL CAT DEN

1. Materials needed:

  • Cage, at least 36"L x 24"W x 20"H
  • Feral cat den 
  • Small litter pan (the smallest - can use aluminum baking pan)
  • Yardstick or broomstick handle
  • Cotton sheet
  • Newspaper
  • Food and water dishes
  • Small towel (optional)

2. The setup (without the cat):

Line the bottom of the cage with newspaper. Place the den in the back left corner of the cage (see photo, above), leaving the round porthole door on the side of the den accessible.  Towards the front of the cage, the litter pan is placed to the left, food and water bowls to the right.  A sheet covers the back half of the cage at all times and can be pulled over the entire cage when you want to make the cat's environment as calm as possible.  A small towel could be placed inside the den to make your feral more comfortable, but be aware it could get dirty, especially after a long stay.

3. Putting the cat inside:

a) Have the vet deliver the cat to you inside the den, or transfer the cat into the den from a trap.  Don't try to release the cat straight from a trap into the Feral Cat Setup!!
b) Place the den (containing the cat) inside the cage, in the back left corner.  Unlock the porthole side door of the den, if the porthole door has a lock.
c) Close and lock the cage door.
d) Slide the yardstick or broomstick through the bars of the cage and lift open the porthole side door of the den.
e) Cover the cage with the cotton sheet to calm the cat.

4. Feeding and cleaning:

The cat's natural tendency will be to run into the den through the side door whenever you approach. If he gets bold, you might have to try removing the cotton cover from the cage, making a loud sound, spritzing him with a little water or gently poking him with the yardstick. After he's in the den, reach through the bars of the cage with the yardstick and close the porthole door.   Once the side door is closed, you can open the cage door.  If the den's side door has a lock, engage it.  Remove the den with the cat inside from the cage, then clean the cage and put food and water in.  Once you're finished, put the den and cat back into the cage and unlock the den's porthole door, but do not open it.  Close and lock the cage door and then open the den's porthole door, using the yardstick.


SMALL CARRIER

1. Materials needed:
  • Cage, at least 36"L x 24"W x 20"H
  • Small cat carrier with swinging and lockable front door
  • Small litter pan (the smallest - can use aluminum baking pan)
  • Yardstick or broomstick handle
  • Cotton sheet
  • Newspaper
  • Food and water dishes
  • Twist tie
  • Small towel (optional)

2. The setup (without the cat):


The bottom of the cage is lined with newspaper.  The carrier sits in one of the rear corners - whether left or right depends on which direction the front door opens.  When fully open, the door needs to rest against the side of the cage, not being swinging in the middle.  Side by side to the carrier is the litter box.  Food and water dishes are placed towards the front of the cage.  A sheet covers the back half of the cage, but needs to be large enough to cover all of it when necessary to calm the cat.

3.  Putting the cat inside:

The cat should already be inside the carrier when placing him into the setup.  Do not try to release the cat directly from a trap into the cage - he will be able to easily escape otherwise.  Ask your veterinarian to place the cat into the carrier following spay/neuter surgery.  With the cat in the carrier already, follow these steps:

a)  Place the carrier with the cat into the rear   corner of the cage.
 
b)  Slide the yardstick or broom handle through both sides of the cage so it bars the carrier door from opening (see photo, r.)

c)  Unlock the carrier door, leaving the yardstick in place.  Use a plate or book to shield your hand if you're concerned about getting scratched.

d)  Place food and water at the front of the cage.

e)  Close and lock the cage door.

f)  Remove the yardstick, then use it to reach into the cage through the bars and maneuver the carrier door open until the front door rests against the side of the cage.

g)  Use the twist tie to secure the carrier door to the side of the cage.

h)  Cover the cage partially or fully with the sheet to calm the cat.
 
4.  Feeding and cleaning:

In order to safely open the cage door to feed and clean, the cat must be inside the carrier with the front door locked.  Usually, a feral cat will run into the carrier as soon as you approach the cage.  If he doesn't, you may need to coax him inside by making a loud noise, tapping the side of the cage, poking gently with the yardstick or spraying a small amount of water towards him.

Once the cat is inside the carrier, follow these steps:
 
a)  Untie the carrier door from the side of the cage.

b)  Using the yardstick, maneuver the carrier door shut

c)  Bar the carrier door by sliding the yardstick through the sides of the cage just in front of the carrier door.

d)  Open the cage door.

e)  Lock the carrier door.

f)  Clean up and leave food in front.

g)  Unlock the carrier door, using a plate or book to avoid scratches.  Leave the yardstick in place, barring the carrier door from opening.

h)  Close and lock the cage door.

i)  Remove the yardstick.

j)  Use the yardstick to open the carrier door.

k)  Twist-tie the carrier door to the the side of the cage.

l)  Cover the cage partially or fully with the sheet.
 
If you'd prefer, you can remove the carrier with the cat locked inside while you're cleaning.  When you're finished straightening up, put the carrier back inside the cage, bar the carrier door with the yardstick and continue with the steps outlined above starting with (g).