Colony Management – Safe Relocation of Feral Cats

Relocating a feral cat or colony of feral cats should be avoided at all costs and only viewed as a last resort. Unless the cats’ lives are in certain danger, the optimal place for them is where they currently live. Advocate for the cats to stay first and foremost.

Cats are territorial animals and form strong bonds with the location they inhabit. A food source exists in the area and the cats are acclimated to local conditions. Relocating feral cats is a difficult, time-consuming, and challenging undertaking. A far better course of action is to resolve, if possible, the problems that are forcing the cats out of their established home. Many solutions exist for common complaints stemming from cat behavior. TNVR solves many of the cat negative behaviors.


Relocation guidelines – Read before you relocate

Moving a colony of feral cats — and convincing them to stay — is a complex process. It involves the specific procedures listed below (starting with finding a suitable new habitat or location) that MUST be followed without shortcuts if you want the cats to remain at the relocation site. If you have any concerns Feral Cat FOCUS will interview a new perspective home for you.


Feral cats develop strong bonds with one another as well as with their established homes. When looking for a new location, try to find one that can take all of the cats. If this is not possible, cats with strong bonds to each other should be moved together.
Cats will adjust to their new homes better and the move will be less traumatic if they have the security of one or more trusted companions. Kittens and cats that are friendly to humans can be adopted into good homes, or sterilized and relocated with the rest of the colony depending on your available resources.


The new home should be away from heavily trafficked areas, include shelter from inclement weather, and come with a new caregiver who understands the responsibilities of feeding, sheltering, and caring for the cats.

Barns, horse stables, and country homes with lots of land often make excellent homes for feral cats. Other options include a backyard.

When you find a promising location, inspect the area carefully and talk to the prospective caregiver at length. Ensure that the new caregiver will provide daily food, water, and monitoring. Consider developing an adoption contract in which the new caregiver will commit to providing basic needs, including veterinary care, and to having any new cats who appear in the colony spayed or neutered and vaccinated.

Some Things to Consider:

  • Avoid locating near busy roads.
  • Ensure that the cats are properly introduced to the property’s other animals. Dogs must be introduced slowly so the cats will not become frightened or be chased away. Cats and horses frequently get along well, once the cats adjust to a horse’s size.
  • Take into account wildlife in the area. Raccoons, foxes, and opossums typically get along with adult cats in their own fashion. Kittens, however, are at risk because they can be prey. Coyotes will prey on both cats and kittens. In areas with coyotes, the cats  stand a better chance if they have access to a shed or similar structure with several small openings that they can run in for safety.


Trap the cats and safely transport them immediately – in covered traps – to their new home.

If set free upon arrival, all cats will attempt to return to their former home and will likely become lost.

Upon arrival at the new location, the cats must be confined in pre-installed large cages for three to four weeks. Confinement allows the cats to adjust to the environment in safety and to accept it as their new home, and caregiver.

Visit FERAL SET-UP FOR LONG TERM FOSTERS for information on the proper set-up for feral cat confinement.

Alert the new caregiver that during the first day or two, the cats may try to find a way out. Most cats settle down in the cage when they realize that no harm will befall them.

While the cats are confined, they must have clean water, fresh food, and clean (or scooped) litter at least once, preferably twice, each day.

Feeding cat’s canned food during confinement appears to help them accept their new home. Feral Cat FOCUS suggests feeding the cat/s canned food every day at approximately the same time. Continue to do this after the cats are released. This will encourage the cats to come back for food every day at the same time so that you can check their progress.

The cats can then be fed dry food upon release (it is up to the new caregiver).


    Barn cat set up with straw
    Barn cat set up table

    Details to Keep in Mind:

    • Be skeptical if you are told the new location is escape-proof. Always install cages for the confinement period to ensure that the cats remain in their new home.
    • If a cat escapes from the enclosure, the caregiver should set food and water out. This will encourage the escapee to stay close. The new caregiver should sprinkle that particular cat’s used litter (specifically feces) around the location. Since cats have a keen sense of smell, this will help lure the cat back to its territory. Cats often hide for a period of time, but usually stay on or near the premises.

      4. FOLLOW UP

      Plan to call or visit the new caregiver regularly to ensure that the cats are well cared for. You may be able to provide valuable support or advice. They may also serve as a  contact for future relocations.

      If you have relocated an entire colony, try to completely remove the food sources and shelters from the old location to discourage a new colony of cats from forming.



      A survey of caregivers revealed that relocations were most likely to succeed when four main steps were followed:

      • Several cats from the same colony were relocated together inside sheds, barns, basements, or escape-proof shelters. Feral Cat FOCUS suggests putting at least two cats from the same colony together in large cages.
      • Cats were confined in adequate climate for three to four weeks. Feral Cat FOCUS suggests three weeks to avoid too much stress, with the option to release sooner if the cat(s) become agitated and regresses.
      • Cats were fed canned food every day for a short period (two to six weeks) and then changed to dry food, or continue with some canned.
      • The new caregiver made frequent (minimum twice daily) verbal attempts to bond with the cats.
      • Feral Cat FOCUS recommends that toys and catnip be placed in the cage or hung from the cage. This is what we refer to as “worry toys” (toys will help take cat’s mind off the stress of relocation).