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Relocating community cats—also referred to as feral cats—should be avoided, and only considered as a last resort. Unless the cats’ lives are seriously threatened, the optimal place for them is their current location. Since cats are territorial and form strong bonds with their outdoor homes, relocation is extremely stressful—and risky – for the cats AND for you.
Even if you follow relocation protocol to the letter, it may not “stick” for the cats. A far better course of action is to resolve, if at all possible, the threats and problems forcing the cats out of their home. We urge you to review our Community Relations information before you proceed.
If you are moving to far away from the colony for which you have been caring: We understand that you don’t want to have to choose between moving and leaving a colony of community cats. You’ve grown close with the kitties and don’t want to be separated from them, but it’s important to understand that the cats you’ve cared for are connected to their outdoor home and are happiest remaining there. While it might seem like relocating the cats to stay with you is the best option, it’s actually a very stressful process for the cats. In fact, relocation can lead to cats becoming disoriented and disappearing. Some cats will even attempt to travel back to their old location, which can be a dangerous and impossible journey.
Start immediately by seeking and finding another compassionate person like yourself nearby to take over as a caregiver. Reach out to neighbors and friends who are willing to continue providing food and water, as well as monitor the cats in their current location. Having a new caregiver in place before you move will give you peace of mind that the cats are in good hands. You can also reach out to the new caregiver to check in for updates on how the cats are doing.
Safe Relocation Protocols
Consider relocation only if you’ve exhausted all other avenues and still feel the cats are in danger. Moving a colony of cats and convincing them to stay is a complex process involving specific procedures that start with finding a suitable new outdoor home. These steps must be followed exactly in order to make relocation successful and ensure the safety of the cats:
- Assess the colony. The colony might include kittens and socialized cats. If you have time and resources, there’s a possibility that they can be fostered and adopted into homes. Read more in our kitten guide.
- Find a new outdoor home for the cats. Cats adjust to new locations better and are less stressed if they remain with their colony members. Find a new location where all cats can go together. If that’s not possible, cats with strong bonds should be moved together. The new location(s) should be in a climate cats are used to and can adjust to easily. Barns, horse stables, and country homes with lots of land make excellent outdoor homes for cats. Other options include a backyard or alley. Ask friends and family for leads on locations and place flyers around town (if you have a local tack shop or horse supply store—start there). Here is a sample Barn Cat Flyer.
When you find a promising location, inspect the area carefully and talk to the prospective caregiver to ensure that he or she will provide daily food, water, and monitoring. Develop an adoption contract with the new caregiver stating he or she will provide basic needs, including veterinary care. Some location considerations:
- Avoid relocating near busy roads.
- Ensure cats are properly introduced to other animals. Dogs must be introduced slowly so the cats will not become frightened or be chased away. Cats and horses frequently get along well, once the cats adjust to a horse’s size.
- Take into account local wildlife. Raccoons, foxes, and opossums typically get along with adult cats in their own fashion. In areas with coyotes, the cats should have access to a shed or similar structure with several small openings that they can run in for safety. You may also consider building a fenced area for the cats.
- Move the cats correctly. Trap the cats and safely transport them immediately, in covered traps, to their new location. Upon arrival, the cats must be confined in pre-installed large cages for six to eight weeks (an example of confinement cages). Confinement is essential and critical to successful relocation. Confinement in a large, spacious, enclosure from top to bottom, lets the cats adjust to the environment in safety and accept it as their new home. If cats are set free upon arrival, they will attempt to return to their former home and will likely be lost. The cats may try to find a way out the first day or two, but will settle down once they realize they’re safe.
- Provide for cats’ needs during confinement. While the cats are confined, they must have clean water, fresh food, a pet carrier or similar small shelter where they can hide, and clean (scooped) litter once or twice each day. Providing appealing canned food during confinement helps cats to accept their new home. The cats can be fed dry food upon release; it’s up to the new caregiver. If a cat escapes from the enclosure, the caregiver should set food and water out. This will encourage the cat to stay close. The new caregiver can sprinkle that particular cat’s used litter (specifically feces) around the location. Since cats have a keen sense of smell, this will help lure the cat back.
- Follow up. Plan to call or visit the new caregiver regularly to ensure that the cats are well cared for and to check in. He or she may also serve as a contact for future relocations. If you’ve relocated an entire colony, completely remove the food sources at the old location to discourage a new colony of feral cats from forming. Remember, there is the possibility that with the original colony gone, new cats will move in.