Should I worry about the stray cats my neighbor feeds?

Question: My neighbor leaves bowls of food and water for strays. I'm concerned because my daughter is allergic to cats and I've heard that strays can carry diseases and be unpredictable, even dangerous, if they feel threatened. I've heard them growl at us when we approach our door.  Should we be alarmed?

The short answer is that you should be concerned for multiple reasons. Your daughter being allergic is not one of the dangers unless she is petting the stray cats, but I assume that they might be feral cats and they usually don’t want to be petted. However, there are several problems with feeding stray cats. I know some will say that the cats wouldn’t survive unless we feed them, but people who do this must be educated about the overall problems it can cause.

One thing to think about about when feeding stray/feral cats is that the food can attract all kinds of animals to your house. Not just the stray cats you are trying to feed but everyone else’s outside cats, raccoons, possums, rats and other animals. Lots of these animals, such as raccoons and rats, carry diseases such as rabies, toxoplasmosis, cat scratch fever and leptospirosis, which can be very debilitating, if not fatal, if transmitted to other animals or people.

Also, the kindhearted people who are feeding stray cats are often ONLY feeding them. That is, they are not taking the cats to be spayed or neutered, so new kittens will be born at least twice a year! The stray cats are also probably not being vaccinated, so diseases such as feline leukemia, upper respiratory diseases and, possibly, rabies, may be transmitted to other cats in the neighborhood.

Other things to worry about are parasites that these cats can carry, which cause their own diseases and can be transmitted to people. Fleas and ticks are ones that you can easily see. These nasty little external parasites not only make the kitties uncomfortable but can make them anemic and spread diseases such as Lyme disease. Then there are the internal parasites such as roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms just to mention the most common ones. Several of these internal parasites can be transmitted to humans, especially children who tend to run around outside without shoes. In humans, these parasites can cause severe problems, such as blindness .

So hopefully next time you want to feed those stray cats please remember that you need to think about more than just feeding them. There are trap, neuter and release programs in many areas which will help these well-meaning people control the cat population, and this will reduce disease between the cats in the cat population and, hopefully, decrease the possibility of transmitting diseases to humans or other animals. Also remember that cats are very good hunters and have a great instinct for survival so they can find food for themselves, especially if the population is controlled so that there is less competition for food.