by Mike Phillips, NYC Feral Cat Initiative
Spring has sprung and, as we approach the summer heat and you’re providing wet food again now that it isn’t freezing solid within minutes, there are some simple and practical ways to make your feral cat feeding stations pest-free.
Gardeners know that slugs will not cross copper, so we can use this to benefit the cats, too. Amazon.com has many different brands of copper tape, and most garden supply stores carry it, too. The best I have found is Corry’s Slug & Snail Copper Tape Barrier, which is available for less than $10 from Amazon.com. It has a strong adhesive backing and the paper peels off easily. At 15 feet per roll, one roll was enough to go around my entire feeding station.
Ants are easily foiled with that old trick of putting the food in a pan of water, creating a “moat” that they can’t cross. This is cheap and works great, but cleaning the pan and changing the messy water is just one more chore to contend with. If you can afford to upgrade, you might want to try one of the many versions of the “ant-proof” feeding bowl on the market now. These eliminate the need for the water barrier entirely. These bowls have a central base that sets the bowl just off the ground. Ants are smart, but they can’t figure out how to get to the food.
If you order online, check the size carefully. Many of the available bowls are for dogs, so make sure to order a size you like, and not a giant bowl sized for a large dog. I like the GoGo Anti-Ant No-Tip Dish. It was the best and cheapest bowl I found. You can set another dish inside the bowl to avoid the need to clean the dish onsite, or get a few bowls to take back and forth to wash at home. This anti-ant dish comes in 8-, 16-, 24-, and 32-oz. sizes from Amazon.com. Check around for different products and the lowest prices.
There are also platforms available that use the moat principal — they hold water inside. You can place either a dry feeder or wet food dishes on the platform. The platform available from AntBlocker.com allows you to refill the water through a hole on top. This is faster and easier than using the Antster, which requires that you take apart the platform to refill it. Again, check the sizes available to make sure you aren’t surprised when it arrives. Measure the footprint you’ll need to fit the dishes or feeders you want to set on it.
To see many of the ant-proof options available, check out this great display by Alley Cat Allies.
Flies retire for the day at sundown, which is when cats come out of hiding and find their appetite after the heat of the day. Feeding at sundown will eliminate any problem with flies, and if you are trying to be discreet with your feeding, the cats will eat during the dark hours and you can whisk away the dishes in the morning just as the flies are moving in to work on the dirty dishes. Food left in the morning in summer will most likely be rancid and covered with fly eggs by evening when the cats come out to eat. Although this is pretty disgusting, and the cats may reject the food entirely if it’s too riddled with the yellow egg pockets, a cat’s digestive juices will kill the eggs, and it isn’t a source of parasites the way feces-born parasites are. Even so, avoid the presence of flies and their eggs by feeding at sundown if at all possible. Unless your crew is trained to come and eat right away in the mornings, feeding in the morning in summer can also be a source of complaints from humans who smell the rotting food or see the swarms of flies during the daylight hours. You know your cats best, but if you can train them to eat at sundown, neither flies nor complaining humans will be a problem. As we all know, drawing little attention to a colony is best for both the cats and community relations.
If you have found a special trick to beat the flies, or any other slick trick for feral colony care, please e-mail to mike@NYCFeralCat.org and I’ll share it with the feral caretaker world (with credit to you, of course)!
About the Author
Mike Phillips, LVT, is the Community Outreach Coordinator for the NYC Feral Cat Initiative of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals. Mike prepares presentations for the general public, trappers, and professional audiences; heads up our community outreach efforts; and responds to requests for information about taming feral kittens, trapping assistance, and feral-friendly spay/neuter resources. Mike is a co-founder of Urban Cat League, a former president of Neighborhood Cats, and has worked as the Veterinary Technician Supervisor at the ASPCA Adoption Center in New York City and worked in the Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital’s ICU and on the ASPCA’s Mobile Spay/Neuter Clinics. His tried-and-true taming techniques are featured in Tough Love: Socializing Feral Kittens, a video used by animal shelters around the world. Mike’s “day job” that pays for all that kitty litter is working for New York City Opera in Lincoln Center, where he’s a resident stage director.