The secret lives of outdoor cats revealed.

September 08, 2018 3 min read

Image: Petful

The U.S. is home to about 60 million stray and feral homeless cats, compared to 78 million pet dogs and 85.8 million pet cats. The good news is that 31% of pet cats came from an animal shelter and another 28% were strays taken into good homes.

But what about cats who spend their entire lives on the street? What do they do? Do they socialize or fight?

To answer these and other questions, researchers at the University of Illinois strapped a GPS device on 42 outdoor cats, some with human companions and some homeless.

Here's what they learned.

What do outdoor cats do all day? 

Three groups of cats make up the community of outdoor kitties - feral cats who are truly wild, stray cats who once lived with people but are now on their own, and pet cats whose humans allow them to roam.

Feral cats live in colonies of related females who find shelter, nurture their young, search for food, and defend their territory as a family. Many people may not realize a cat colony lives near them since these animals tend to keep to themselves.

Stray cats who are unafraid of humans tend to be much more visible and vocal than feral ones. Some strays seek companionship and shelter in a colony, but many will look to humans to provide for them. To eat, these outdoor cats will hunt small game, pick through garbage, raid dog food dishes, and beg from humans.

In the search for food, outdoor cats come into contact with other animals, making feral cat colonies into incubators of the rabies virus. 

 

How do cats survive outside in the winter?

Cats need help from humans when the weather gets cold.

Although outdoor cats grow long, thick coats to protect them from frigid weather, they often face inadequate shelter, frozen water supplies, and limited foraging options.

Building a simple shelter, keeping food fresh, and making sure water stays thawed are just a few of the ways you can be a boon to outdoor cats during the winter.

In the summer, a cat may not mind being stuck outside in the rain. Most felines have mastered the art of finding shelter anyway. In winter, however, rain can be deadly. Cold, wet cats who have no ability to dry off can succumb to hypothermia. Here again, a dry shelter is a great help. 



How long do outdoor cats live?

The outdoors is filled with danger for our feline friends. Aggressive dogs, wild animals, cars, antifreeze, and exposure to infectious diseases can all result in early deaths.

In fact, it's not uncommon for an indoor cat to live to the ripe old age of 17. But an outdoor cat's average lifespan is just 2-5 years.

Since cats like to hide when they are sick, outdoor cats sometimes disappear right when they need you most. Plus, an intact female in heat will almost certainly get pregnant if left out of doors, and an intact tomcat can be seriously injured in a brawl over a queen.

 

Adopting an outdoor cat.

While some outdoor cats will always be skittish around people, many others would be thrilled to come into your home - and your heart - and be your indoor pet forever.

If a stray cat keeps turning up on your doorstep, see if he wants to come inside. Transitioning an outdoor cat to an indoor life is not as hard as it looks. Make sure you have cat dishes, food, toys, a bird feeder at the window, places for the cat to hide, and a litter box.

As early as you can, take the animal to the vet for a check up, a rabies shot, and a sterilization procedure. Spaying or neutering a cat is a great idea for reasons that range from your pet's health and happiness to your carpet and your sanity. 

 

Final thoughts. 

What does an outdoor cat do all day? Scientists who track outdoor cats say that a female pet cat will remain with 750 feet of her house, and a male will stay within 1,000 feet. Feral cats, however, claim a much larger territory. Scientists tracked one feral male whose territory equalled the size of Central Park in New York City.  

The sheer size of a feral cat's territory means that outdoor cats are an environmental hazard, one more reason to help support spaying and neutering of pets and wild cats in your area.

If you are caring for an outdoor cat, we at Modkat salute your efforts. All cats deserve good things in life. And that's why we work hard to bring the best in modern litterboxes to your home. 



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