Where, when and how you feed community cats are important factors in maintaining healthy cats, preventing conflicts with wildlife and keeping the harmony with your human neighbors.
Here are some best practices guidelines:
- Discrete dining. Your feeding area should be on your property or at a location where you have permission to feed. Find a spot off the beaten path with protection from the weather or place your dishes in feeding shelter. If you feed at an apartment or condo complex, make sure feeding sites are discrete and do not interfere with oth residents’ usage of the property.
- Create a routine. Feed cats in the same place and at the same time every day. Cats are creatures of habit and can quickly learn when it’s “dinner time”. They may associate a certain sound with a meal: a call or whistle, the shaking of a container of kibble, cracking open a can or the sound of your engine pulling into the driveway. With a routine schedule, you can more easily monitor the health of the cats and identify any newcomers.
- Cats only, please. Cat feeding stations can be attractive to wildlife sharing the same environment. However, chowing down on cat food can be a recipe for disaster for wildlife. Not only is cat food not as healthful as their natural diet, spending too much time near homes and public areas may prompt some people to deem these natives a nuisance. Giving that pink-nosed opossum a plate of his own may seem compassionate, but its best to resist the temptation.
- Many of the wildlife species that take advantage of cat feeding stations are nocturnal (meaning they come out at night) or crepuscular (meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk). Avoid feeding when your local wildlife are most active and more likely to visit the feeding station.
- Outsmart persistent critters. Consider the habits and behavior of the wildlife that freeloads at your feeding station. For example, since raccoons are apt climbers but they don’t jump vertically, create an elevated feeding station on a post with a baffle similar to what is used to keep raccoons out of birdfeeders.
- Avoid leftovers. Provide only as much food as the cats will eat at one sitting--approximately ½ - ¾ cup of kibble a day pet cat, depending on the size and age of the cat and quality of the food. Cats will eat about 15% more in cold weather.
- Remove any uneaten food after 30 minutes, especially if you are feeding after dark.
- Cats in more densely populated areas are likely to have multiple feeders, so don’t worry if a cat doesn’t show up for a meal.
- Don’t forget to decrease the amount of food you put out as the population of cats in your colony declines.
- Be a good neighbor. Keep your feeding areas clean and tidy. That means picking up any plates or food cans after mealtime. While you are at it, pick up any trash left behind by others. This will help keep rats and mice at bay as well as other wild animals who may try to take advantage of a free meal.
- Provide fresh, clean water all year round. Change the water regularly so as not to create a breeding ground for mosquitos.