Relocating community cats—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 you follow our relocation protocols below to the letter, it may not “stick” for the cats. A far better course of action is to do everything posible to resolve the threats forcing the cats out of their home. We urge you to review our Community Relations information before you proceed.
Visit alleycat.org/Relocation for the best solutions to the common situations in which relocation is (misguidedly) considered.
If you strongly believe that relocation is your only option to save cats’ lives, read on.
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 steps must be followed in order to ensure a successful and safe relocation:
- Assess the colony. The colony might include kittens and socialized cats. If you have time and resources, 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 order to adjust to their new home and not wander away to try and find their way 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. 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 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.