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How to Live with Cats in Your Neighborhood


Alley Cat Allies Resource

Community cats, also called feral cats, are members of the domestic cat species just like pet cats, but are not usually socialized to people and therefore not adoptable. Cats have been living outdoors near us for more than 10,000 years. They typically live in groups called colonies and have strong social bonds with their colony members.



So you're seeing cats in your yard...

Like all animals, community cats make their home where they find shelter and food, often in close proximity to people. We understand that not everyone enjoys having cats in their yards, and these simple tips will help you divert outdoor cats away from certain areas. You may also want the cats to stick around; some ideas below will help make areas attractive to cats. Coupled with Trap-Neuter-Return and ongoing care, these quick steps will help you coexist with your neighborhood cats. Because feral cats are not socialized and not adoptable, they do not belong in animal pounds or shelters, where virtually 100% of them are killed. Instead, they should be neutered, vaccinated, and returned to their outdoor home.




Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is the only effective and humane way to stabilize community cat populations. Cats are humanely trapped and taken to a veterinarian, where they are neutered and vaccinated. Kittens and socialized cats are placed into loving homes. Healthy, adult cats are returned to their colony site, where they are often provided continuing care by volunteers. Trap-Neuter-Return works. No more kittens. Cats' lives and health are improved, and the population stabilizes and declines over time. The behaviors and stresses associated with mating, such as yowling and fighting, stop.



The Vacuum Effect

Animal control’s traditional approach to community cats—catch and kill—won’t keep an area free of cats for long. Catch and kill is cruel, inhumane, and creates a vacuum,as do attempts to “relocate” cats. Once the cats are removed from a territory, other cats move in to take advantage of the newly available resources and breed, forming a new colony. Known as the vacuum effect, this is a documented phenomenon in a variety of animals throughout the world. Catch and kill is an endless and costly cycle.



Easy Solutions to Cat Behaviors

Problem: Cats are getting into my trash.

Explanation: Cats are scavengers and are looking for food.

Quick Solutions:

  • Place a tight lid on your trash can. Exposed trash bags will attract other wildlife as well.

  • See if neighbors are feeding the cats. If they are, make sure they are doing so on a regular schedule.

  • Start feeding the cats yourself if you find no regular feeder–at a set time, during daylight hours, in an out-of-the-way place. Feeding cats regularly and in reasonable quantities, which can be eaten in less than 30 minutes or so, will help ensure they don't get so hungry they turn to the trash. 



Problem: There are cat paw prints on my car.

Explanation: Cats like to perch on high ground.

Quick Solutions:

  • Gradually move cats' shelters and feeding stations away to discourage cats from climbing on cars.

  • Purchase a car cover.

  • Use deterrents listed in the next section. 



Problem: Cats are digging in my garden.

Explanation: It is a cat’s natural instinct to dig and deposit in soft or loose soil, moss, mulch, or sand.

Quick Solutions:

  • Scatter fresh orange and lemon peels or spray with citrus-scented fragrances. Coffee grounds, vinegar, pipe tobacco, or oil of lavender, lemongrass, citronella, or eucalyptus also deter cats.

  • Plant the herb rue to repel cats, or sprinkle dried rue over the garden.

  • Use plastic carpet runners spike-side up, covered lightly in soil. They can be found at local hardware or office supply stores. Or, set chicken wire firmly into the dirt with sharp edges rolled under.

  • Artfully arrange branches in a lattice-type pattern or wooden or plastic lattice fencing material over soil. You can disguise these by planting flowers and seeds in the openings. You can also try embedding wooden chopsticks, pinecones, or sticks with dull points deep into the soil with the tops exposed eight inches apart.

  • Obtain Cat Scat™, a nonchemical cat and wildlife repellent consisting of plastic mats that are cut into smaller pieces and pressed into the soil. Each mat has flexible plastic spikes that are harmless to cats and other animals, but discourage digging. Available at

  • Cover exposed ground in flower beds with large, attractive river rocks to prevent cats from digging. They have the added benefit of deterring weeds.

  • Establish a litter box by tilling the soil or placing sand in an out-of-the-way spot in your yard. Keep it clean and free of deposits.  



Problem: Cats are lounging in my yard or on my porch.

Explanation: Cats are territorial and will remain close to their food source.

Quick Solutions:

  • Apply cat repellent fragrances liberally around the edges of the yard, the tops of fences, and on any favorite digging areas or plants.

  • Install an ultrasonic animal repellent or a motion- activated water sprinkler, such as the CatStop™ or ScareCrow™. Available at



Problem: Cats are sleeping under my porch or in my shed.

Explanation: The cats are looking for dry, warm shelter away from the elements.

Quick Solutions:

  • Provide a shelter (similar to a small doghouse). Or, if they’re feral and part of a nearby managed colony, ask the caregiver to provide a shelter for the cats. Shelters should be hidden to keep the cats safe, and placing them in secluded areas can help guide the cats away from unwanted areas. Use catnip in the shelters to encourage discovery and use of them.



Problem: Feeding the cats attracts insects and wildlife.

Explanation: Cats need to be fed under proper guidelines. Leaving food out can attract unwanted animals.

Quick Solutions:

  • Keeping the feeding area neat and free of leftover food and trash.

  • Feed cats at the same designated time each day, during daylight hours. They should be given only enough food for them to finish in one sitting, and all remaining food should be removed after 30 minutes. If another person is feeding, ask them to follow these guidelines too. For a more thorough list of colony management guidelines, visit



Problem: Cats are yowling, fighting, spraying, roaming, and having kittens.

Explanation: These are all mating behaviors displayed by cats who have not been spayed and neutered, and they will breed.

Quick Solutions:

  • Spaying or neutering and vaccinating the cats will stop these behaviors. Male cats will no longer compete, fight, spray, or roam. Females will stop yowling and producing kittens. After sterilization, hormones leave their system within three weeks and the behaviors usually stop entirely.

  • To combat the urine smell, spray the area thoroughly with white vinegar or with products that use natural enzymes to combat the smell, such as Nature's Miracle®, Fizzion Pet Stain & Order Remover®, or Simple Solution®, available at pet supply stores.

  • You can find local resources and help at our website: To have a list of local feral cat experts–Feral Friends–in your area emailed to you, use our request form at



Click here for the Alley Cat Allies brochure with the information listed above.


Images below courtesy of Slope Street Cats.

Make Each One Worthwhile

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