Community Cat Safe Relocation Tips

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IMPORTANT: Even if done with proper protocol, relocation can be ineffective and even dangerous for cats. Community cats bond to their outdoor homes and, if relocated, may go on an impossible journey to find their way back. In some cases, cats have died in the process. Keep this firmly in mind before deciding that a cat’s life will be better somewhere else.

For more information, visit alleycat.org/Relocation.

Relocating community cats, or unowned cats who live outdoors, is almost never in the cats’ best interest. Relocation should only be considered as an absolute last resort, when the cats’ lives are in danger unless you act. Cats are territorial and form strong bonds with their outdoor homes, so relocation is extremely stressful and risky for the cats AND for you.

Even if our relocation protocols below are followed to the letter, the relocation may not “stick” for the cats. It is always better to take every step possible to resolve the threats forcing cats out of their original outdoor homes. We urge you to review our Community Relations information before you proceed.

Visit alleycat.org/Relocation for the best solutions to common situations in which relocation is (misguidedly) considered.

If you strongly believe that relocation is the only option to save cats’ lives, read on.

7 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 that involves specific procedures.

These seven steps must be followed in order to ensure a successful and safe relocation:

1. Assess the colony.

The colony might include kittens and socialized cats. If you have the time and resources to do so, there’s a possibility that these cats can be fostered and adopted into homes. We have information on how to help socialized cats and kittens.

2. Find a new outdoor home for all of the cats together.

Cats will adjust easier to their new home if they’re with their feline family members. If it’s not possible to relocate all the cats to the same place, cats with the strongest bonds should be moved together. The new location(s) should be in an environment cats are familiar with 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 back yard 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).

3. Make sure the new location is suitable.

When you find a promising location, inspect the area carefully. 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.

4. Talk with the new caregivers.

Have regular discussions with caregivers or property owners to ensure they will provide daily food and water and monitor for any issues. You can even develop an adoption contract with the new caregiver that promises he or she will fulfill these basic needs.

5. Move the cats correctly.

Humanely 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 outdoor enclosures for six to eight weeks (an example of confinement cages) in order to adjust to their new territory.

Confinement is essential and critical to successful relocation. Confinement in a large, spacious enclosure allows the cats to adjust to the environment in safety and accept it as their new home. If cats are set free upon arrival, they may attempt to return to their former outdoor 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 and have regular food and water.

6. 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. Provide delicious and appealing canned food during confinement to help cats feel comfortable in their new home. The cats can be fed dry food upon release.

If a cat escapes from the enclosure, the new caregiver should set food and water out in the same area. This will encourage the cat to stay close. The caregiver can also 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.

7. 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 community cats from forming.

Remember, there is the possibility that with the original colony gone, new cats could move in.

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