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Fostering feral cats safely

Safe long-term housing for ferals

Feral Cat Setup with den

It may be necessary on occasion to foster a feral cat for longer than the normal length of a TNR project. The cat may be injured or ill, nursing baby kittens or need to be held until a relocation is arranged. The Feral Cat Setup described here allows the cat to be caged and handled safely with no risk of escape. For temporary fosters, the Setup should be placed in a quiet location with a minimum of human contact.

The Setup is also useful when a feral cat is being adopted. A common mistake is to release a now indoor feral right away into the home. The usual result is a frightened cat who hides under the bed or similar remote, out of reach spot. If instead the Setup is used for the first two or three weeks, the cat has a secure place to learn the sights, smells and sounds of his new territory and is more likely to make a better long-term adjustment. The cat's guardian also has much more control of the situation. After the initial two or three weeks of confinement when the cat becomes visibly comfortable, the cage door can be left open one night, leaving him free to come and go as he pleases. When the Setup is being used for an adoption, it should be placed in an area which is not highly trafficked but where the cat can see and hear what's going on and get accustomed to the activity.

Using the Setup With a Feral Cat Den

Whenever possible, we recommend using a feral cat den as part of the Setup, not a regular cat carrier. The safe transport and holding of feral cats is what the den is made for. It is safer and easier to use. We recognize though that sometimes a carrier is all that is available or affordable, so we offer instructions on how to use the Setup with a den, then with a carrier.

Materials (with Feral Cat Den)

  • Cage, 36 in. L x 24 in. W x 20 in. H, or larger
  • Feral cat den
  • Small litter pan (the smallest you can find or use an aluminum baking pan)
  • Yardstick or broomstick handle
  • Cotton sheet
  • Newspaper
  • Food and water dishes

Placing the Cat Inside

  1. Line the bottom of the empty cage with newspaper and drape the cotton sheet over the back half of the cage. Put the litter pan towards the front left of the cage (as you're facing the cage) and the water bowl and food dish towards the front right.
  2. Place the den containing the cat in the back left corner of the cage. (Warning! Do not try to put the cat in the cage without him being in the den first. Doing so carries a high risk of injury and escape.)
  3. Unlock the side porthole door of the den, if it has a lock.
  4. Close and lock the cage door.
  5. Slide the yardstick or broomstick handle through the bars of the cage and tip the porthole door of the den up into an open position.
  6. Cover the entire cage with the sheet to calm the cat.

Feeding and Cleaning

  1. Uncover the sheet from the front half of the cage and coax the cat, if necessary, to run into the den. Usually, all you'll need to do is approach the cage. If he gets bolder and doesn't run in right away, make a loud sound, spritz a little water towards him or gently poke in his direction with the yardstick.
  2. Once he's in the den, use the broomstick through the cage bars to tip the porthole door down and closed.
  3. Open the cage door and lock the porthole door, if there is a lock.
  4. Remove the den (with cat inside) from the cage.
  5. Replace any dirty newspaper, clean the litter box and provide fresh food and water.
  6. When you're done, return the den to the back left corner and unlock the porthole door, if it is locked. Do not open the porthole door at this point!
  7. Close and lock the cage door.
  8. Use the broomstick to tip open the porthole door.
  9. Cover the entire cage if the cat appears anxious.

Using the Setup With a Carrier

Feral Cat Setup with carrier

Materials (with carrier)

  • Cage, 36 in. L x 24 in. W x 20 in. H,  or larger
  • Small cat carrier with a swinging and lockable front door
  • Small litter pan (the smallest you can find or use an aluminum baking pan)
  • Yardstick or broomstick handle
  • Cotton sheet
  • Newspaper
  • Food and water dishes
  • Twist tie
Barring carrier door in Feral Cat Setup

Placing the Cat Inside

  1. Line the bottom of the empty cage with newspaper and drape the cotton sheet over the back half of the cage. Put the litter pan on the side of the carrier and the water bowl and any food dish towards the front.
  2. Place the carrier containing the cat in a back corner of the cage. Place it in the left corner if the carrier's front door swings open to that side, or in the right corner if that's the direction the door opens. (Warning! Do not try to put the cat in the cage without him being in the carrier first! Doing so carries a high risk of injury and escape.)
  3. Slide the yardstick or broomstick through both sides of the cage so that it bars the front door of the carrier and blocks if from opening. It's very important to go through both sides of the cage or the yardstick won't act as a bar.
  4. Unlock the carrier door, using a plate or book in your free hand to shield yourself from a scratch.
  5. Close and lock the cage door.
  6. Slide the yardstick out of the cage, then use it to reach through the bars and swing the carrier door open.
  7. Secure the carrier door to the side of the cage with a twist tie, keeping an eye on the cat to make sure he's not approaching you.
  8. Cover the entire cage with the sheet to calm the cat.

Feeding and Cleaning

  1. Uncover the sheet from the front half of the cage and coax the cat, if necessary, to run into the carrier. Usually, all you'll need to do is approach the cage. If he gets bolder over time and doesn't run in right away, make a loud sound, spritz a little water towards him or gently poke in his direction with the yardstick.
  2. Once he's in the carrier, untie the carrier's front door from the side of the cage and maneuver it shut with the yardstick through the bars of the cage.
  3. Slide the yardstick through both sides of the cage to bar the carrier's front door.
  4. Open the cage door and lock the carrier door, using a plate or book to shield your hand.
  5. Remove the carrier from the cage (with the cat inside).
  6. Replace dirty newspaper, clean the litter box and provide fresh food and water.
  7. Put the carrier back in the cage.
  8. Slide the yardstick through both sides of the cage to bar the carrier door shut.
  9. Using a book or plate to shield your hand, unlock the carrier door.
  10. Close and lock the cage door.
  11. Remove the yardstick and use it to maneuver the carrier door open through the bars of the cage.
  12. Secure the carrier door to the side of the cage with a twist tie.
  13. Cover the entire cage with the sheet if the cat appears anxious.
Inside the cage using a carrier