Advice from the Experts

If you feed feral cats, please sterilize them too

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By Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency My Pet World

Dear Cathy,

I started feeding a few stray/feral cats in my backyard last year, and now they're reproducing, including a litter of four in my shed. The other house tenants are angry and don't want any cats around at all. I know there are TNR (trap-neuter-return) programs, and it is illegal to abandon them elsewhere. I pet two of them daily. What am I supposed to do to get rid of the rest? The shelters are full and they can't adopt out feral cats anyway. -- Robert Stundis, Bohemia, N.Y.

Dear Robert,

You're a kind person to feed and look after these cats. There's not many people willing to do that even though, ironically, feeding them keeps them from digging through trash cans and becoming a nuisance in your neighborhood.

If you feed feral cats, however, without also getting them fixed, these well-fed felines will eventually reproduce litters of kittens. Cats can get pregnant as young as four months old and have a litter about every two months, so those new born kittens can be producing kittens before summer is over. We need to stop the potential for any more litters before you and your housemates are overwhelmed.

Unfortunately, there are no overnight answers here. It takes time to do what needs to be done, but if you are willing, I can make some suggestions on how to reduce the number of cats you feed and stop the births going forward, so that you are only feeding a handful of cats who will someday die of natural causes. (The average outdoor cat only lives about seven years compared to an indoor cat who could live 14 years or more.)

All the felines must be fixed as soon as possible. The mother cat could already be pregnant with her next litter. Most local spay-neuter clinics offer subsidized surgeries -- sometimes as low as $10 or $20 per cat, depending on their funding. Don't sterilize a female cat while she is still nursing. Start with any non-nursing female cats, male cats and weaned kittens.

I know animal shelters are full, but if there are any social cats or kittens that you can part with, I would call the shelter every day until I got them all placed for adoption. I would also reach out to neighbors and friends through social media to see if someone would like to adopt a cat. Take pictures and name those social felines to encourage a connection with potential adopters.

For feral felines, some nonprofit animal groups across the country operate "barn cat programs." These programs place fixed feral felines with people who have barns or operate local businesses as a means of rodent control. It's a win-win for everyone. Contact your local feral cat group to see what other help might be available to you, and get started now to prevent any more births.

Thanks for trying to help them.

Dear Cathy,

I have a 10-year-old German shepherd. She has been fighting a staph infection for the past three years. She is currently being treated by a dermatologist and has been through every medication available, but is no longer healing or getting any relief. I would say approximately 75 percent of her body is covered in sores. I shower her weekly and we now have a cone on her so that she will stop biting at herself. The veterinarian says that as a last resort she can give her an intravenous medication that we cannot afford. This medication may or may not work. I'm at my wits end. Have you heard of this before and do you have any suggestions? -- Erina Muraca, Merrick, N.Y.

Dear Erina,

It sounds like you both have been through a lot these past few years. Three years is a long time to have a health issue. I am not a veterinarian, but I do know that staph infections are very tough to treat.

If you find it possible, I recommend trying the intravenous medication. Your dog clearly is uncomfortable and has a systemic disease in which this type of medication could help.

Other options include taking her to another veterinarian for a second opinion or to a holistic veterinarian to see if he or she can offer a different set of solutions. I have visited holistic vets before for various health issues with my dogs. They have been reasonably priced and combined traditional and alternative approaches toward my dogs' health issue. You can find a holistic veterinarian at

Keep me posted on how she is doing.

(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)