Pets

Should you feed feral cats? Sterilize them first

MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Q: I feed several cats that come around our yard, and my neighbor is threatening to trap them and take them to the shelter. She says I’m making the problem worse and even calls me cruel for feeding them because they kill birds. These cats are hungry! I can’t imagine what would happen to them if I didn’t feed them.

A: You and your neighbor are engaged in a small-scale battle that’s part of a larger war surrounding the issue of domestic cats, their welfare, and that of the small creatures they like to hunt, catch, kill and sometimes eat.

On the one side are those who say that feral and free-roaming cats (also referred to as community cats) have as much a right to live in their habitat as any other animal does. If they’re spayed and neutered, they claim, these cats won’t reproduce, won’t become a public health threat or nuisance, and therefore deserve to be nourished. After all, if they’re well fed they won’t hunt as much.

On the other is the group that contends that community cats are out of control and that feeding them propagates the problem. Plus, they argue, cats will be cats; they’ll continue to hunt and kill whether they’re hungry or not. Which is true. As most owners of indoor-outdoor house cats know, cats will hunt whether they’re well fed or not. Many enjoy bringing home mangled trophies to prove it.

Both sides make valid arguments, but the issue is far more complicated than either side tends to admit.

One the one hand, cats are there because we humans put them there. It’s our fault they’re there, not theirs. Moreover, eradication programs (trapping and killing them) haven’t proven effective. Only aggressive sterilization programs have been shown to have any effect.

On the other, veterinary science tells us that higher caloric intakes lead to higher pregnancy rates and larger litter sizes. Which brings us to the obvious conclusion: Feeding unsterilized animals is a recipe for an even bigger feline overpopulation problem. And that is inhumane for both cats and their prey.

As to your worry about feline hunger: The reality is that cats are very good at finding plenty of food to snack on (including insects). They will not starve if you don’t feed them. They will, however, make fewer unwanted babies. And that can only be a good thing, right?

Still want to feed them? Sterilize them.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to khulyp@bellsouth.net.

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