Feral and Stray Cats

Feral cats are cats not being actively cared for and live in the wild. They are solitary and predominantly nocturnal and survive by hunting for their food.

Feral cats are always timid around people. They are usually short haired, slightly built, with a large head and have very sharp features. Once caught in a cage they will act aggressively, hissing, growling and spraying. Feral cats do not meow or purr – this is a trait of contented domestic cats only.

Stray, unwanted or pest cats are un-owned, they are domestic cats that have been abandoned or strayed from their owners. They generally rely on people for some of their food and shelter and are timid around people.

Who is responsible for the control of feral and pest cats?

Feral cats are classified as ‘Non-statutory problem animal’ by Horizons Animal Pest Management Strategy. Property owners are responsible for the destruction. 

How to control feral, stray and pest cats?

The Manawatu District Council promotes the use of live trapping. Live capture trapping is the best method for stray or pest cats. This way if a domestic pet cat is caught, it can be released unharmed. Council has the means to lend a trap for cats causing problems on residential property or public land in an urban area. The Council does not assist with the removal and destruction of any cat that is caught in the trap.

When loaning a trap from the Council there is a bond of $50 payable when taking the trap away initially. When the trap is returned in good working order and empty the bond is refunded.

To request a cat trap fill in the agreement/application form Cat_Trap_Hire_Agreement.pdf.  You will need to approach all your neighbours for their signatures on the form.

How to avoid feral, stray and pest cats?

There are basically four main reasons why stray cats will visit your property: They’re 1) hunting and looking for food;  2) looking for shelter; 3)  the cats are Toms, or un-neutered looking for females in heat and 4) or investigating new territory.


 How to discourage stray cats from coming into your yard:

  1. Check outside your property and remove sources of food such as bowls of food and water on a deck/doorstep for pets. Stray cats may also be attracted to dog food and rubbish scraps like meats, poultry, bones, and the like. Close and secure all rubbish bags/bins. If there are a lot of mice and other vermin on your property or long grass, strays may be coming into your yard to hunt.
  2. Inspect your property and close all shelter entrances. If you have outbuildings like garages and sheds, and you leave them open, you’re sending out invitations to stray cats who are seeking shelter.  Try to block/seal entrances around your house, such as underneath decks, porches, and foundations, by boarding them up or by use of wire fencing, mesh or other such materials.
  3. De-sex your cats . We recommend all cats be de-sexed. Female cats spayed are less attractive to Tom cats (un-neutered males). It is generally the Toms who spray urine around the property as they mark their territory containing females. Never abandon or dump a cat. If you don’t want a pet anymore or it has kittens you cannot keep, do not abandon them – contact the SPCA or take them to the vet to have them re-homed or put to sleep.  Abandoned cats suffer in the wild; most of them lead a miserable existence. They do not know how to fend for themselves and often starve to death. They also contribute to the stray and feral cat problem.

 Discourage stray cats from coming into your yard to investigate territory – Even if you have no source of food or places that provide shelter on your property, stray cats can still come around simply because they’re investigating new territory. Cats like to dig in loose soil to “do their business” so it’s likely that stray cats in your yard will head for your flower and vegetable  gardens when they need “to go”. You can still dissuade their visits by:

  • Sprinkling any of the following around your vegetable and flower gardens: roughly crushed egg shells, chili and or pepper flakes, diced up jalapeno peppers, lemon, lime, grapefruit, and other citrus peels, tea leaves, coffee grindings, cinnamon. Moth balls (either whole or crushed) are also said to be an excellent deterrent to use. A white vinegar mix (50/50 dilution with water) sprayed around toilet areas can also help deter cats and will remove any existing cat urine smells.
  • Growing plants like garlic, geranium, rue, garlic, lemon thyme and cactus in your flower beds will also discourage stray cats from digging there. Definitely avoid planting cat-nip as many cats are seriously attracted to it.
  • Find where the cats are toileting, and spread a few pinecones around the area. Prickly pinecones like ponderosa are the most effective. If the cats are toileting in your garden, lay down some course bark around the area. Cats prefer soft places to walk around and dig, so the pinecones and bark will make it an uncomfortable place for them.
  • Fill in some ribbed water bottles with water and set them around the area where the cats spray. The motion of the light refracting in the water makes cats nervous, which may keep them from spraying and toileting there.
  • Another useful method of deterring cats is by spraying them a hose any time you seem them in your yard. This requires some stealth, since stray cats are less likely to toilet in your yard if they see you nearby. But if you are able to catch them in the act, a hard spray will usually send them running.
  • There are several commercial products available for deterring cats. Some of these can be harsh chemicals that you may not want near your garden, but others are natural and effective. Seek advice from your local pet store or veterinary clinic.