Copyright 1999, 2001, Sarah Hartwell/ Cat Resource Archive

This is a concise guide broken up into easily digestible topics. The topics are inter-related so if you can't find something under one heading, you may have to try a related heading. Each main section is broken down into a number of sub-sections. Some cat "essentials" which are taken for granted in Europe, USA and Australia will not be available in some countries, hence alternatives solutions are suggested.

Comprehensive information on construction of pens/runs etc is available from Humane Societies e.g. Cats Protection, Feline Advisory Bureau and will vary according to your locality. In some localities you will have to improvise accommodation solutions. Because rescue work is often done on a shoestring, and done well, this article offers some suggestions for situations where the ideal solution is not available/affordable.


The Basics
Forward Planning & Policies
Some Sense About Accommodation
Accommodation Options
Pen/Run Construction Tips
Hygiene & Basic Shelter Routine
Food, Litter & Veterinary Care

Isolation Pens, Infectious Diseases, Terminal Diseases, Euthanasia
Waiting Lists, Turning Cats Away
Unhomeable Cats, Feral Cats
Maternity Care, Senior Cats
Administration, Legalities, Health & Safety

Feral Cat Work:



Your aims, intentions and limitations.
Finances, fundraising and publicity,
Charitable status or not?
Some sense about accommodation.


Learn What is Involved: Work for an Cat/Animal Rescue Shelter

The best way to learn safely is to spend time working for a shelter or rescue organization.
Ask their advice about running a shelter and explain your intentions.
If you will compete with them for funds, volunteers or available homes, you may get little help.
If you cover a different area or specialise e.g. in old cats, FeLV/FIV positive cats, feral cats, your activities may complement theirs.

Define Your Limits - And Stick To Them

Finances, volunteers, time and available accommodation mean you cannot help every cat.
How many cat you can safely accommodate at a time? Do not exceed this number - "Just ONE more" swiftly gets out of hand.
If you accept every sob-story you will soon be overrun and bankrupt and cats will be stressed, suffer and become sick.
Even a small shelter costs a lot to start up and run - advance planning and homing/care policies from the outset are essential.
Cats' health, welfare and safety comes first, but volunteers will require safe working conditions and some degree of comfort (toilet facilities, kettle).
The size and type of accommodation depends on space, skills, materials and finances, and on local by-laws and planning permission.
Common accommodation options are:
a. purpose built accommodation (expensive, but easier to maintain);
b. indoor shelter (stacked cages; harder to control infection, close confinement is stressful for cats)
c. adapt sheds and outbuildings (cheaper, but may be hard to keep clean and disinfected);
d. distributed pens in volunteers gardens (Who pays for pen maintenance? What if someone moves house?):
e. fostering in the home (set aside a "cat-room" or this has risk of cross infection with own cats).

Finances & Fundraising

Everything costs money. How will you raise funds? How will you monitor and control income and expenditure?
Budget for obvious running costs: buying equipment, food, cat litter, cleaning materials, disinfectants, neutering, routine vet treatment, microchipping.
Include provisions for high or unexpected vet bills e.g. due to injured/infected cats, or adhere to a strict euthanasia policy.
Consider "hidden" costs: waste (garbage) disposal, electricity (heating/lighting), fuel (gas/coal), phone, stationery, post (mail) costs, advertising, property repairs, shelter maintenance, vehicle running costs/insurance/fuel, premises insurance/safety certification etc.
If you don't have a shelter vehicle/van; volunteers may need to insure their own vehicles for use in relation to cat shelter - it may be classed as "use for work".
Never overspend - you rarely get a chance to recoup your losses; have special fundraiser events/appeals for special causes (repair fund etc).
Keep good accounts; know when bills are due (monthly, quarterly etc); every penny (or cent0 is important..
Try to negotiate bulk rates or instalment payment plans - stick to agreed payment plans and pay on time or you lose goodwill and suppliers may refuse to deal with you in future.
If you have problems paying a bill, contact the person/company promptly to arrange/extend payment terms and make these payments a priority.
Some fundraising requires local authority permission e.g. street collections; if possible get a volunteer who deals purely with fundraising and/or financial matters - this may suit a person unable to work directly with the cats - a PC is recommended for tracking finances, but keep a backup disk in case of viruses.
Fundraising activities can be hard work - transporting items to and from sales, fetes, fayres etc; arranging and staffing fundraiser events, garage/yard sales - be imaginative!
Use money off coupons clipped from magazines - for cat food, cleaning agents and even for volunteers' coffee.
Collect up coupons/points from supermarkets, petrol filling stations if these can be exchanged for goods for fundraising or use in shelter.
Be prepared to improvise at the shelter (find lower cost alternatives) but don't compromise the cats' welfare.


Publicity is aimed at finding homes and getting donations - a PC or typewriter and a camera are essential tools for publicity.
For every cat homed through publicity, you probably will be asked to take in two cats!
In publicity, make it clear which areas you cover or you will be asked to take in cats from further and further afield.
Publicity matters could be dealt with by a volunteer unable to work directly with the cats.
Advise local authorities of your presence, area covered and intended work - you may qualify for a grant,
Local media - newspapers, radio, TV stations - can help publicise your cause and can help manipulate public opinion; learn to use these resources wisely.
Local media can help with educating the local community, with special appeals for funds and with advertising fundraising events.
Publicity stunts re fun if they are safe, but make sure they can't be manipulated and used against you.
Never interview "cold" - always rehearse some stock answers about the topic, otherwise your words may be taken out of context and used against you; for newspaper articles provide a written copy of your comments (these will appear in "interview form") which must be unambiguous when selectively quoted.

Charity or Not?

To be a registered charity you usually need a committee/directors, a registered address and auditable accounts; rules regarding charities depend on which country you are in.
Registered charity administrative work might not be cost-effective for a small organization or an individual.
Registered charity status qualifies the organization for various tax benefits.
Weigh up the pros and cons of registered charity status, to see if it suits your size and workload.
To become a branch of an existing charity you will have to prove you can meet their standards and that you are self-sufficient financially.
Becoming a branch of an existing charity means adopting their regulations in order to use their logo, charity number and receiving their grants (if applicable).
If you are a charity (or a charity branch), the land your shelter is on (if you have a shelter) must belong to/be leased to the charity, not to an individual since an individual might move house or decide to evict the shelter.
Before buying freehold land (real estate) or a lease on land (rental), make sure you will have planning permission for running a shelter. You may require planning permission in order to erect pens in your own garden.


Temporary confinement is severely distressing for some cats and long-term confinement of cats in cages is cruelty.
Short-term confinement in cages is permissible during recuperation from illness/injury, isolation due to disease or other reasons under veterinary advice.
Cats require sunshine, fresh air, shelter from the elements, room for exercise, views/objects for stimulation and a safe retreat from other cats/humans.
Cramped, overcrowded cats suffer stress, illness, aggression, self-mutilation, despair, self-neglect and even death; disease spreads quickly in overcrowded conditions.
Many companies sell (and may erect on-site) sheds, pens, runs and cages, but standards and costs vary enormously.
Visit other animal shelters and ask for their advice and recommendations and about any problems they have encountered - and what to avoid!
Refurbishing existing buildings constrains cost-effective use of space; refurbished buildings may make it harder to control disease, to heat or to clean.
Purpose-built pens and runs are expensive but can be built to your specifications and will save time and money later by being easier to clean and maintain.
All runs must be paved or concrete-based; dirt/grass becomes muddy, harbours toxoplasmosis and other pests and is hard to disinfect.
Try a phased approach; start off in refurbished buildings/foster homes/pens in gardens and have a savings account towards replacing them with purpose built pens on your own land.
If you expand your shelter over time, do not exceed the number of structures allowed by your planning permission or you may lose everything.


Stacked Cages Indoors

Less costly, more compact, but more stressful and harder to control disease.
If you use stacked cages indoors (as used in vet clinics), the cage bases must be sealed so that faeces, urine etc does not drip into the cage below.
Metal is practical but tends to be cold and is not a good insulator; it is easy to clean and disinfect.
Wood can harbour infection and is prone to rot so it must be sealed and waterproofed.
The cage size must provide room for a bed, litter tray and for food/water to be placed well away from the litter tray; must have room for the cat to stretch full length.
The room must be well-ventilated and well lit, but the cages must be positioned away from direct drafts and out of direct sunlight.
For safety, you should be able to reach the back of the highest-placed cage (for cleaning purposes) without steps or with a 2-3 step kitchen/library stepladder, chair or strong crate.
Cages are not suitable for long-term accommodation as most cats find close confinement stressful.
Do you have a disaster plan should a cat prove to have an infectious illness? Illnesses can spread quickly in a stacked cage situation.

Building or adapting accommodation.

You will probably need planning permission; this will limit the size of your accommodation and other factors such as noise, nuisance and parking.
Cats will need an interesting view (stimulation), natural light (a window if no outside run), fresh air and access to an exercise area (time-shared if disinfected between uses) or outdoor run.
Good ventilation is essential, cats sharing the same air supply may pass on/contract airborne disease.
Accommodation must be dry, well lit, well ventilated, preferably insulated; avoid direct sunlight as cats in pens will overheat.
A shelter will need electricity for heating/lighting, a water supply (mains water or standpipe) for drinking and dish-washing, a method of disposing of waste water.
A reception area, even if it is just a shed or separate room, is needed for visitors and when receiving or discharging cats.
A shelter also needs a food preparation area with a fridge, cold-store or pantry (for opened cans), running water for dish washing, electricity outlets (especially if you rely on kettles for hot water supply).
A flexible hose and pressurised water (e.g. using car wash pressuriser) aids cleaning, hosing down and disinfection of pens, and also cleaning of emptied litter trays prior to disinfectant soak.
An old bathtub or similar sized tank is useful for scrubbing litter trays and for soaking cleaned trays in bleach disinfectant.
In the UK it is illegal to allow water containing any chemicals to contaminate the soil; provision must be made for any contaminated water to go directly into a mains drain or septic tank..
Staff require at least the basic amenities: toilet and wash-basin; if you use a chemical (portable) toilet there must be a way of safely disposing of the contents.
Lockable or secure areas are needed for storing equipment (traps, collapsible pens, carrying cages), food supplies (storage must be rat-proof), medical supplies, fresh litter.
If you store cash on the premises, consider a safe (e.g. embedded in a concrete floor beneath a hatch or slab; it can also be used to store keys and copies of important documents (master copies should be filed in your own home or lodged safely with a bank/solicitor/lawyer).
All cat pens must be lockable to deter vandalism or release/abuse of cats by trespassers. Consider erecting a perimeter fence to keep out trespassers (expensive but worthwhile).
Consider your visitors: they require car parking, paths (even if you are happy to wear wellies between pens) and seating/waiting areas; wide paths with few steps enhance disabled/wheelchair/pushchair access.

Shared Cages and Communal Pens

Finances and land availability my dictate use of communal or shared pens; there should be no more than 6 cats per communal pen.
To reduce infection risk, isolate and monitor incoming cats for 2 - 3 weeks; FeLV/FIV testing is advisable; vaccination (enteritis/cat flu) is recommended (prioritise homeable cats if finances are tight).
Communal pens mean higher infection risks, but these measures should restrict occurrence of disease to a single pen.
The cats in a single pen should be of similar ages and temperaments, possibly from the same household, and must be neutered if old enough.
Some cats cannot tolerate the company of other cats and must be housed individually, not communally, or fights will result.
Cats should not be transferred from one pen to another unless absolutely unavoidable (e.g. in cases of emergency such as flood or damage to another pen)
A communal pen should have: a main shed, individual perches, some individual kennels to allow cats to retreat alone otherwise they will suffer stress, climbing ladders/frames or cat trees for stimulation and exercise.
If the penned cats are sociable, volunteers must spend time with them; if the cats are feral they required places to hide from humans during pen cleaning.

Minimum Cage Dimensions (Feline Advisory Bureau Recommendations)

Number of cats

Sleeping area

Exercise area

One Adult Cat

0.92 x 0.92 m

I.85 x 0.92 m

Two Adult Cats OR
One Nursing Queen OR
One Litter of Kittens

1.25 x 1.25 m

l.85 x 0.92 m

Group of Three Adult Cats

1.50 x 1.25 m

l.85 x 1.50 m

Group of Four - Six Adult Cats

1.85 x l.85 m

3.65 x 3.05 m



Means keeping rescued cats in your own home .
Advisable to have a separate cat room for foster cats to avoid cross-infection between foster and resident cats.
If they are fostered longer term and are vaccinated and healthy, it may be more practical to socialise them with resident pets.
Risk of becoming too attached to foster cats and not rehoming them - this means the foster home will reach capacity and cannot foster other needy cats.
Some fosterers may specialise in certain types of cat e.g. old/disabled cats, hand-rearing kittens, taming feral kittens.
Foster homes may have accommodation types as described above: stacked cages in a cat room, cat pens outdoors, a communal pen etc; hygiene considerations for these are as described elsewhere.
Long term fostering of unhomeable cats depends on space and finances; who pays for their veterinary care/food -shelter or fosterer? Will they deprive other cats of accommodation?


The Pen Itself

Good ventilation reduces spread of disease and prevents odours and dampness; ventilation must cope with hot and cold seasons as over-heating, over-chilling or damp will cause illness.
During hot weather, air-conditioning, electric fans or shady canopies may be required; even bed sheets pegged to the mesh can reduce midday heat, but are a temporary measure as they restrict visibility.
Insulation helps maintain warmth in winter and coolness in summer; insulating material should be placed between the outer wall (timber or metal) and an inner wall (sealed hardboard etc).
All joins (corners etc) must be sealed to prevent accumulation of grime, bacteria or fungal spores.
Interior surfaces of the pen (walls, floor, ceiling) must be waterproofed/sealed; if they attract/remain damp they may rot, grow mould or simply become contaminated and hard to disinfect; interior surfaces must therefore withstand regular scrubbing/disinfection.
Carpeting is not recommended, unless it is disposable (e.g. carpet offcuts) and for a particular purpose e.g. for comfort of injured, unsteady or old cats; carpet offcuts must be replaced when dirty.

Sneeze Barriers, Safety Corridors and Shelter Security

Pens and runs should be separated by a solid wall or partition (sneeze barrier) to prevent the spread of airborne infection; full-height barriers are recommended but 1 metre height is better than nothing if finances are tight
Clear plastic (the sort used as a glass substitute) fixed inside the pen mesh is an affordable solution, but debris may accumulate between the layers of plastic and mesh.
Full height reinforced glass (with embedded safety mesh) is expensive but can be installed in pens being built as new.
Sneeze barriers must prevent cat-to-cat contact and droplet infection, but not obstruct fresh air ventilation.
An alternative to sneeze barriers is a gap of at least 610 mm between individual pens, but this requires more land in order to spread the pens out.
A well-constructed concrete base for outside pens/runs ensures good drainage; a damp-proof course/membrane beneath the concrete prevents moisture from rising from the ground beneath.
Poor construction leads to subsidence/drainage problems (flooding after rain or hosing down); a slight slope and a gutter/gully aids drainage when hosing down.
Pens must be mounted above the concrete and on rot-proof blocks and pen roofs must be sloped for drainage and require gutters and downpipes.
Security against cats escaping is a priority: safety corridors are essential to prevent a cat from escaping from its pen into the surrounding grounds and staff must close any doors before moving on to another pen.
Outside runs require a wire roof (with rigid plastic roofing on top) to prevent escape; large enclosures require high fencing (e.g. 2 - 2.5 metres) with an inward-sloping top section if impossible to wire over the entire pen (for large enclosures containing sheds/kennels, a solid roof is not required)
Entrances and exits to the shelter should be kept locked to deter intruders; there must be several authorised keyholders in case of emergency; if there is no perimeter fence then individual buildings should be locked.

Electricity, Heating and Lighting

Ideally, all pens should be heated using individual thermostats and lit; if not possible ensure that kitten pens, seniors' pens and isolation units are heated.
Pens which cannot be heated must be well insulated and free from damp; adequate bedding is required e.g. towels which may be washed at high temperature; thermal bedding is recommended or microwavable heat pads (if you have a microwave available) or even towel-wrapped hot water bottles.
Preferred temperature in sleeping areas is 60F - 65F but this may become too warm and stuffy in an enclosed space so a cat must be able to get away from a heat source if it becomes too hot.
If heat pads or heated beds are used, there should be one per cat; if tubular heats/radiators are used, ensure cats cannot come into direct contact with these.
Infra-red heaters are safe and effective but must be placed approx one metre above the sleeping area for best effect; volunteers standing up suddenly after cleaning/feeding risk scorched hair if a guard is not fitted to the heater.
Volunteers need lighting, especially during dark winter mornings/evenings; outside lighting and security lights are recommended for safety (i.e. seeing obstacles).
All electrical cabling must be protected from cat damage, either built into conduits during shelter construction or a cheaper alternative (or when adding electrical heating to existing premises) is to run the cables through lengths of garden hose - check the garden hose regularly for damage e.g. chewed sections.

Electrical items (cabling, appliances, switches etc) must be maintained in a safe condition; fuses and circuit breakers are strongly recommended - a faulty appliance with a wrongly graded fuse can cause a fire which may harm the cats; appliances must be earthed (grounded) according to any instructions in the user manual.
Heating appliances must not be sited where cause a fire hazard; combustible materials (cloth, paper etc) must not be draped over/leaned against heaters (except for thermostat regulated radiators where user instructions state this is safe).
Electric sockets and switches must not be placed where a cat can spray urine into them; likewise non-waterproof electrical equipment (anything with vents) or interior lights.
Portable plug-in heaters must be maintained and safety checked.


Failure to keep cats' accommodation clean can also have devastating effects on their behaviour and welfare.
Cats are fastidious and may not wish to share litter trays, especially trays not cleaned often enough.
Establish a cleaning and disinfection routine which is easy to maintain and not over-complicated.
Shortcuts in cleaning routine will lead to disastrous results, causing an outbreak of disease.

Hygiene and Disease Control

Good basic hygiene prevents spread of disease; disinfection kills germs.
Regularly disinfect all accommodation, bedding, food/water bowls, especially shared areas and shared items.
More cats and rapid turnover means more likelihood of introducing infection and any infection will spread quickly.
Overcrowding stresses cats and makes them more susceptible to infection.
Shelters deal with many cats and fast turnover so infectious disease will inevitably enter the shelter at times; the aim of hygiene/disinfection is to reduce the spread of disease from cat to cat.
Best method is to house cats singly or in small established groups and to isolate new arrivals until proven free of infection.
Aim to prevent disease from entering the shelter and limit its severity i.e. to minimum number of cats.
Immediately isolate any cat(s) showing any sign of infectious disease or which have known history of previous infectious disease e.g. cat 'flu.
Overcrowded pens are harder to keep clean e.g. shared beds, litter trays, food dishes.
Cats kept in large groups are exposed to higher doses of infectious agents by direct cat-to-cat contact and shared items.
Poor ventilation increases infection risk from airborne diseases.
The longer that cats remain in care, the more likely it is that they will pick up or pass on infection - due to exposure to infection and to stress of being caged.
Cats should therefore be rehomed as soon as a suitable home can be found, to minimise infection risks.

The Role of Disinfection

Disinfection prevents the spread of infectious disease from cat-to-cat (direct transmission), from cat-to-intermediary-to-cat (indirect transmission) and from cats-to-human (zoonosis).
Cleaning includes sweeping and dusting of loose matter followed by washing with detergent to leave a clean surface.
Disinfection is applying a disinfectant to a clean surface to kill germs such as viruses, spores and bacteria.
Before disinfecting any area or equipment, remove all organic matter (faeces, urine, fur, spilt food) because cat-safe disinfectants do not work on dirty surfaces.
Each area (pen, run, compound) should be entered as few times as possible during cleaning and disinfection to minimise risk of cross infection.
Complete cleaning and disinfection in one area before moving on to the next area, cat or group of cats.
Empty pens must cleaned and disinfected before being used again as airborne debris and germs may have drifted into them.
Some viruses can be carried on shoes, hands or clothing, so all areas must be disinfected regularly, not just those areas housing cats.
Some viruses and spores are resistant to many disinfectants, choose an effective disinfectant (ask your vet for advice).
Disinfectants containing phenol (ones which turn white when added to water) are toxic to cats; your vet can advise on suitable disinfectants.
Use disinfectant in strict accordance with instructions; do not use a stronger solution than recommended for the purpose.
Rinsing is important because some disinfectants, even when diluted correctly, cause skin irritation; read and carefully follow instructions for use.

General Cleaning

Clean all areas of the accommodation daily to prevent build up of organic matter (faeces, fur, spilt food, etc)
Regularly clean walls, shelves and floors with detergent solution or bleach solution, then spray with disinfectant
Non-disposable items must be regularly changed and be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between occupants
Litter trays, brushes, dustpans and carrying boxes must be washed and disinfected regularly.
Vehicles used to transport cats will also need to be cleaned out and disinfected regularly.
Each cat or group of cats should have its own set of food bowls and utensils; if not feasible due to cost constraints, the dishes must be washed in very hot water (e.g. in dishwasher) and disinfected.
Colour-coding of items is recommended, especially to distinguish items used for isolation areas and for maternity/kitten areas.
Use clean food dishes for every meal as saliva can carry disease; supply fresh water daily, change water bowls regularly and wash and disinfect them.
Change bedding regularly; preferably dispose of bedding after use by one cat; if disposable bedding is not feasible, wash bedding on a high temperature wash cycle.
Bedding attracts parasites - check it daily for any sign of fleas; beware of environmental flea sprays as these are dangerous in enclosed spaces - it is better to change the bedding entirely.
Use simple bedding which is easy to change and keep clean e.g. plastic bed (easy to disinfect) and towels or fleece squared (easy to wash) are easier to manage than fabric/fleece cat beds (less easy to wash regularly and will accumulate loose fur, dirt and flea larvae).
A simple cat bed I have seen (KSPCA, Mombasa) is an old car tyre laid flat with fleece/towel placed over it - the tyre must be washed/disinfected in situ due to weight.

Cleaning Litter Trays

Place litter trays well away from food and water bowls and feeding areas.
Most cats dig and then bury excreta; provide enough litter for it to satisfy this instinct.
Remove any faeces immediately you notice it; check trays at regular intervals throughout the day and remove any soiled litter.
Litter trays must be thoroughly cleaned out or exchanged entirely once every day, more often if a cat has diarrhoea or if litter trays are shared.
Litter trays should be scrubbed regularly with household bleach, rinsed thoroughly, sprayed with disinfectant, then left to air dry; this ensures there is no build up of infection.
Soiled litter should be stored in an enclosed container such as a dustbin or sealed dustbin bags and must be disposed of regularly in accordance with health and safety regulations.
If plastic litter trays are not available, the following may suffice: large metal roasting pan (preferably enamelled), large plastic plant trays (as used in glasshouses), wooden tray lined with tough plastic securely attached to the wood (replace liner when it becomes scratched; seal wood with varnish/paint so it can be washed).

Waste (Garbage) Disposal

If bin bags of litter and/or food cans must be stored between garbage collections, they must be stored inside a cage, large bin or small skip with closing lid (dumpster with lid) so that foxes, racoons, rats, mice and other pests (including free-ranging feral or stray cats/dogs) are not attracted to the waste.
Waste must not be allowed to smell or cause a nuisance to neighbours - clean the waste storage area and spray with disinfectant; remove spillages and re-seal ripped bin bags as soon as detected.



There are numerous good quality foods available and many other cheaper medium quality foods; ensure the food is manufactured to recognised standards e.g. the UK's pet Food Manufacturer's Association guidelines (PFMA).
Bulk buying reduces cost, but you need storage space (secured against theft); sacks of dry food must be kept in rat-proof storage (e.g. feed bin with secure lid).
Prescription foods may be obtained from your vet, these are often expensive and should be obtained as when required to reduce waste.
Liquid foods are available for invalid cats, for soaking dried food and to help in weaning kittens (or you can make and freeze meat broth, but do not use too much salt).
Some cats will only eat canned food, some will only eat dried food (biscuit, kibble) so have both available - mark pallets/sacks of food with the best by date and arrange usage to avoid waste due to expired best by date (many canned foods are safe to use several months past best by date, but the vitamin content may be deteriorating).
Short-dated/dented cans/boxes of pet food are often sold cheaply - use these quickly to avoid deterioration and avoid cans if they are punctured or the seam is damaged.
Do not use dog food for cats - it may be cheaper, but it is deficient in amino acids essential to cats and will ultimately cause malnutrition.
Fresh cooked or canned meat/fish are useful for disguising medication and tempting finicky or upset cats, but are not a balanced diet and must not form the main part of the cats' diets.


Various varieties available at various prices; the author is aware that cat litter is not available in some countries or the price is prohibitive in some countries.
Bulk buying of cat litter is cheaper, but litter can be heavy to carry - a wheelbarrow or sack-barrow may be required.
If commercial litter is not available in your area, sawdust (not wood shavings - these are too coarse) may be used for adult cats; but many sawmills use potentially toxic chemicals on wood; sawdust should never be used for kittens or for sick cats.
If commercial litter is not available in your area, soil or sand may be used if it is first sterilized in baking trays in a very hot oven; if solids are removed, it may be re-sterilized in the oven.
It is not advisable to use reuse sand/soil from a cat which has diarrhoea or an infectious illness; do not give reused litter to a vulnerable (sickly) cat or to kittens.

Veterinary Care

Register with a veterinary surgeon or clinic who will advise on feline health care/welfare and provide routine treatment and emergency cover.
Assess each new admission for health and condition, signs of illness, parasites, injuries, dental disease, overgrown claws etc.
Monitor all cats for signs of anorexia, depression, fighting or being bullied - these indicate stress; segregate a cat immediately from any stressful situation.
Keep good records of the progress of each cat to ensure that any change in health or condition is quickly noticed, record any treatment given - whether routine (e.g. worming) or special (vet visit, giving birth).
Seek veterinary assistance if there is a problem - immediately for serious problems/problems of unknown cause/injury, or during regular clinic hours for minor problems.
Loss of appetite may be the first sign of illness, diarrhoea may indicate illness or internal parasites.
Regular grooming is therapeutic for most cats and useful for checking for flea infestation, ringworm etc.
Eyes, ears and nose should be checked regularly (discharge, ear-mites etc); treat cats regularly for parasites (worm treatments, flea treatments)
medical box essentials: flea control preparations, wormer, hairball remedy, cat laxative, claw-cutters, plunger-section of syringe for liquid medication, pill-cutter or pill-crusher; most can be obtained from your vet or a pet supplies store. Your vet may also allow you to keep small supplies of certain prescription items.
Do not use human medications for cats - some are toxic or deadly to cats.
Kitten essentials: feeding bottle with rubber teats (nipples) or plunger section of syringe, powdered cat milk replacer (make sure it is in date).
Stout leather gauntlets are useful when handling fractious cats where handling is unavoidable; these will protect the handler.


Unneutered cats breed; breeding means more and more cats become homeless due to feline overpopulation.
The alternatives are destruction or neutering; sadly feline overpopulation means destruction of large numbers of healthy but homeless cats and kittens and the abandonment of many more by their owners.
All cats leaving your shelter must be neutered or the owner must sign an agreement to have the cat neutered when it reaches the appropriate age.
All neutering contracts must be followed up i.e. the owner must send you veterinary confirmation that the cat has been neutered.
All unneutered homed cats must be accounted for on your records so that you can "chase up" owners (e.g. a book stating that neutering done/cat died/cat lost etc)
Consider early neutering of kittens at 8 - 12 weeks before homing them; this costs money initially but can reduce euthanasia rates by two thirds by taking decision out of adopters' hands.
Population prevention will never put you out of a job, but it could prevent you from being overloaded and prevent healthy well-adjusted cats from being destroyed.


Isolation Pens

Isolation pens are used for sick/injured/post-operative cats, for cats isolated pending the results of FeLV/FIV tests, for quarantining/observing newly admitted cats.
You may have different isolation pens/areas for these different types of use.
Isolation pens must be well insulated; preferably they should be heated though frequently changed heat pads/hot water bottles can be used.
Isolation pens must be easy to clean and disinfect (see previous notes); as sick/injured cats may produce blood, pus, mucus, vomit, liquid faeces.
Smaller isolation cages without runs may be needed for cats requiring strict bed rest after major operations/amputations or after debilitating illness.
Larger isolation pens with runs may be required for cats recovering from other operations or with non-infectious conditions, but which are under observation.
Isolation pens/cages must be situated well away from the main accommodation, preferably in a separate building or room, or in a separate part of the shelter - they must be well away from kitten pens as kittens are vulnerable to infection.
If a separate room is impossible, then washable curtains sprayed with disinfectant might be used as an infection barrier - this is far from ideal and you must consider better arrangements for the future.

Isolation Equipment

An isolation area requires its own equipment which must be kept separate from other equipment to reduce the risk to other cats.
If separate/disposable items are not feasible, then all equipment must be capable of being sterilized at high temperature (e.g. in dishwasher/boiling water) or soaked in sterilizing solutions.
You require: separate (or sterilizable) food and water dishes, separate (disposable) bedding, separate (or sterlizable) litter trays and separate (or sterilizable) utensils.
Disposable gloves are recommended when handling infectious cats; these are inexpensive.
Disposable plastic aprons (as used by nurses) are recommended or could be fashioned from large bin bags.
Hygiene precautions when entering and leaving the isolation area: hand-washing, protective clothing (which remains within the isolation area), disinfecting footwear (footdips or spray).
Arrange your shelter routine so that you do not handle sick cats or enter the isolation area until you have dealt with all the healthy cats (unless a veterinary emergency arises); alternatively a separate individual should tend to isolated cats and should not then handle healthy cats or kittens.

If There Is An Outbreak of Infection (e.g. Feline Infectious Enteritis, Cat Flu)

Seek veterinary advice at once; if taking the cat to the vet surgery warn that it has an infectious illness and cover the carrier with a sheet out of courtesy to other cat owners in the waiting area.
Do not admit cats into the shelter or home cats from the shelter as this risks spreading infection; the exception is if a sick cat must be transferred to a cat-free foster home for nursing (or to a foster home where all cats are fully-immunized against the infection in question).
Do not admit visitors into the shelter as they may not know good shelter hygiene habits and could spread infection from cat to cat through attempting to pet the cats.
When handling infectious cats, wear protective clothing and disinfect hands (or use disposable gloves), footwear (or use disposable overshoes) etc when entering or leaving each building/room
Use separate shoes and overalls in each building/room; non-disposable clothing must be washed after use.
Disposable bedding (e.g. a supply of old towels) and food dishes should be used for each cat and not reused by other cats (or seek veterinary advise on whether sterilization techniques can be used for dishes)
Disposable dishes need not be expensive - microwave meal containers can be washed and stored for this use.

FIV/FeLV and other Conditions

Testing incoming cats for FeLV/FIV is recommended but expensive.
Cats which test positive must be kept separately from any uninfected cats and either kept in isolation or euthanised.
FeLV positive cats should only be rehomed to indoor only households with no other cats (or with FeLV positive cats) to avoid infecting healthy cats.
FeLV positive cats may survive up to two years (average) with proper care; the new owner must be committed to providing care, keeping the cat indoors and euthanizing the cat when its condition deteriorates.
Rehoming/keeping FeLV cats may deprive healthy cats of homes so euthanasia should be considered as being in the collective interest of the cats in your area.
Note: 80-90% of FeLV positive cats die within 3 years of diagnosis according to the UK's Feline Advisory Bureau
FIV positive cats may survive much longer and can be rehomed to indoor only homes (or to homes with a fully enclosed exercise area); they must not be rehomed into households with uninfected cats; the new owner must be committed to providing care, keeping the cat segregated and euthanizing the cat when its condition deteriorates.
Cats with non-infectious conditions can be rehomed to suitable households provided the new owner undertakes to provide proper care for the cat's specific needs; this may be expensive.
Be careful if promising to pay for an otherwise unhomeable cat's veterinary costs after it has been rehomed unless you set down very carefully what costs are included and which are excluded; you may find yourself seriously out of pocket.

Euthanasia Policies

Define your euthanasia policy at start-up and stick to it, however hard it may be.
Each case must be considered carefully as circumstances will differ.
Caring for seriously ill cats is expensive and time-consuming with no guarantee of survival.
Assess a cat's chances of survival/recovery and its expected quality of life very carefully; weigh these against any risks to the health of other cats e.g. if it has an infectious illness.
Consider the financial implications and those running a shelter must decide whether realistically, the veterinary treatment can be afforded.
If it cannot, then it is cruel to allow the cat to suffer and, in these circumstances, euthanasia is the only kind option.
Can you afford to treat one sick/badly injured cat? Will this deprive several healthy cats of accommodation, care and rehoming?
You must not prolong the suffering of a cat or a kitten just because you find the idea of euthanasia distressing or distasteful.
Failure to relieve suffering equals cruelty; do not become so emotionally involved that you ignore your original good intentions.
Some treatable conditions will be prohibitively expensive; make sure you can afford to complete treatment before starting to treat a cat.
Be realistic and recognise financial limitations; if you fail to pay your vet he may refuse to do any more work for you and the cats may suffer in the long term.
Some cats will be unhomable due to age, temperament, illness or disability; have a realistic and humane policy for these cases and stick to it.


You can only help as many cats as your finances and accommodation permits.
Financial/space/experience constraints may mean establishing admission criteria e.g. cannot take in pregnant/disabled/elderly cats, specialising in certain cats (e.g. purebreds, moggies/mongrel-cats, older cats); this may make you unpopular with some owners, but may be necessary if you are to help any cats at all.
You may wish to establish a waiting list and to refer people wanting cats to people on that waiting list.
Some cases will be higher priority e.g. owners moving/died, cat abandoned; contact people at the top of the list when a space becomes available.
Try to keep one or two emergency spaces available; sometimes there will be more emergencies than there are spaces.
Sometimes you will have to say "no vacancies", even if it means the cat will be euthanized.
Ask other shelters in the area if you can refer owners to them; if they call to say they are full then respect that they too have no spaces; try to establish a network of contacts and be prepared to take in cats they refer to you (if you have room).
Do not be tempted to double up cats in pens simply so you can admit more cats - this leads to stress, disease and suffering and may result in the deaths of several cats, rather than the euthanasia of one cat.
Do not be tempted to use any available converted crates, bird cages, chicken runs or rabbit hutches to temporarily accommodate cats; temporary quickly turns into permanent and this leads to suffering and potentially to cruelty charges and the closure of your rescue operation by animal welfare/control authorities.


Unhomeable cats occupy pens which could be used for homeable cats.
Life in a cage is a life of misery; euthanasia may be kinder if it is the only alternative to caging for life.
Life in a large compound allowing natural feline behaviours is acceptable to some cats but expensive; seek sponsorship of "resident cats" if you decide on this route.
Some cats cannot tolerate life in a compound; euthanasia may be kinder in these individual cases.
Consider a trap-neuter-release/relocate policy for ferals or a policy of homing semi-ferals as barn-cats.
If the cats are unhomeable due to FIV/FeLV etc, they must be kept in a separate compound to cats unhomeable for other reasons (which may possibly get a home e.g. on farms)
Can you afford lifetime care for a cat with a terminal disease or disability? If so, can you provide them with suitable accommodation?
If you wish to work with ferals, see the sections related to
feral cat work for basic information. 


Pregnancy Policies

There are never enough homes to go round and one of the most difficult decisions is whether to allow another litter of kittens to be born.
Provision of isolation facilities for new-born kittens and their mothers is costly and may deprive other cats of accommodation if general purpose pens are pressed into maternity use and tied up for several weeks.
In addition to the costs of caring for a nursing mother and a litter of kittens, the accommodation will not be available for other cats that may be in urgent need of assistance.
There is no guarantee that homes will be found for all the kittens, especially during the summer months when so many kittens are being born.
Termination of the pregnancy should be considered as a sensible and humane option; the female can be spayed at the same time and be available for rehoming (or releasing if feral).
Establish a policy on how late into a pregnancy you will decide to terminate; some vets do not like to do terminations on almost full-term cats where the kittens are already viable.
Your decision should weigh up availability of homes, finances and the cat's condition and stage of pregnancy - whether to prevent kittens from being born or whether to destroy older, homeable cats due to lack of accommodation; it is emotionally harder to destroy kittens during their first weeks of life because they are "surplus".

Pregnant cats and kittens

Looking after kittens means careful attention to disease prevention; you will require a maternity area away from other cats since kittens are vulnerable to agents which cause few or no symptoms in adult cats.
The maternity area requires its own food/water dishes, litter trays, bedding and cleaning utensils; never mix these with equipment for adult cats.
Kittens must be kept in and isolated maternity area until old enough to be rehomed or until fully vaccinated (if finances permit vaccination).
Kittens from different litters should never be mixed as this greatly increases their risk of disease; exceptions may need to be made when fostering orphan kittens. Calculated risks may possibly be taken if acclimating two healthy single kittens to each other for companionship (to promote healthy play if they are bored and depressed alone).
Growing kittens are very active and room to play and explore outside the confines of a pen e.g. a securely enclosed run; they need toys for play and a scratching post for climbing on.
Kittens must be handled by several different people in order to become socialised with people in general.

To reduce infection risk, the youngest kittens should be cleaned out first each day, followed by older kittens, then adult cats, and finally any sick cats; alternatively if you have enough volunteers, separate individuals can do these tasks.
Kittens must be wormed regularly and treated for fleas.
Sick kittens require immediate veterinary attention since they can die very rapidly.
Once weaned, kittens require several small meals a day and must have access to fresh drinking water at all times; but should not be given milk (except for cat milk replacer or commercial cat milk drink) as this can cause dietary upset.
Weaning food - if kittens are slow to wean, offer cat milk replacer, later mixed with a liquid food such as Liquivite ™ into which cat food is later mashed until the kittens are eating regular cat food; dried food can be introduced by providing it in soaked form (using water or Liquivite) to begin with.

Early Neutering of Kittens

Consider neutering kittens at 8 - 12 weeks.
Although this costs money, some US shelters reported a 68% decrease in euthanasia rates following introduction of early neutering.

Elderly cats

Age itself is not necessarily a reason for euthanasia if the cat is otherwise healthy and likely to get a home.
Quality of life must be the prime consideration when assessing the needs of the elderly cat.
Elderly cats require easy access to a warm, draught-free bed which must be placed where they can sleep comfortably without disturbance.
Ready access to a cat litter tray is essential.
Environmental stress must be kept to a minimum.
Since their resistance is often reduced, older cats are more susceptible to disease.
Even though medication is available for a wide variety of diseases and conditions, each case must be viewed individually so that quality of life can be maintained for as long as possible.
Wherever possible, elderly cats are usually better placed in foster homes rather than a shelter environment until a suitable permanent home can be found.
If it is impossible to home elderly cats in your area, then euthanasia is preferable to lifelong caging.
It may be feasible to have a "Golden Oldies" enclosure and to seek sponsorship for resident senior cats (pensioner cats); this must not be allowed to become overcrowded and the cats should still be available for rehoming should a suitable home become available.


Really this section should have been at the beginning, but most people want to find out about the "cat side" of work first. Failing to meet certain legal requirements could result in costly fines and even in the closure of your premises.


Accurate records of all cats entering and leaving your shelter must be maintained; keep records and paperwork simple or people will avoid doing them.
A computer is useful make back-up copies of records in case of theft, loss/corruption of data, human error (accidental deletion) or a power cut.
Keep an up-to-date inventory of all equipment; check equipment regularly to see if any repairs or replacements are needed or any items are missing.
Store food in vermin-proof areas/containers; make sure it can't become contaminated and that it remains dry.
Store drugs and medication in a locked cabinet accessible by nominated keyholders only; record stored drugs in a register or notebook.
If you store needles or syringes (e.g. for diabetic cats), these must be kept under lock and key.
Clear instructions must be given to staff to ensure correct administration of drugs and medication; only regular staff should be authorised to do this.

Employment Legalities and Insurance

Where applicable, the laws of your own country will override the suggestions in this section.

Premises and contents (phone, microwave oven etc) should be insured against damage, theft, flood, fire etc.
Consider insurance provision for employers', employees' and public liability cover (according to your country's regulations) or you risk being sued if someone injures themselves on your premises..
Employment law and health and safety legislation is complex and professional advice is recommended.
Seek professional advice on employment contracts if you are employing paid staff; distinguish in writing between salary and payment of expenses or you may have problems in dismissing staff since salary implies an employment contract.
Seek professional advice about income tax, national insurance (or equivalent), paid sickness and holiday, health and safety, environmental law.
Children love animals and may be eager to help out or work for low pay; the legal position on employment of children is usually complex (child exploitation laws, minimum pay laws)
If a child below the age of consnet works on your premises as a volunteer or as part of work experience scheme, get parent's permission in writing first.
Children must never be allowed on the premises unless under the direct control of an adult as they lack the experience of age.

Health and Safety

Provide a first aid kit and make sure volunteers know where to find it; kits are available from drugstores or High Street chemists; the contents must be replenished when used and out-of-date items replaced.
An employer is expected to provide a safe working environment; the same is generally applied to organizations whose staff are volunteers.
A volunteer's disclaimer or waiver may not stand up in court in cases of serious injury sustained at the shelter.
Staff and volunteers must follow safe working procedures to ensure their own safety and the safety of visitors; written guidelines are advisable - this may be only a single sheet, but may provide legal defence if something goes wrong.
The shelter should have a written health and safety policy; this should be reviewed regularly as legislation changes over time (especially if your state/country legislation is overruled by federal/European directives).
Workers must be made aware zoonotic diseases (e.g. ringworm, toxoplasmosis) and how to reduce risk of contracting or transmitting these.
Workers should be vaccinated against tetanus at a minimum; in some areas rabies and hepatitis vaccination is recommended.
Workers must take additional precautions when handling sick, aggressive or feral cats as these present a greater risk of injury or infection.
Protective clothing must be provided by the shelter e.g. overalls, rubber gloves, leather gauntlets unless a written contract says that the employee supplies his/her own clothing and equipment (e.g. if worker is self-employed).
Precautions must be taken to protect the cats and premises from the risk of fire and workers must be trained in evacuation/emergency drills and in use of fire extinguishers.
Fire extinguishers must be checked regularly e.g. by your fire department; other safety equipment must be checked for signs of deterioration and maintained in good working order.
Battery or rechargeable torches (flashlights) must be available for use in a power cut or night-time use in poorly lit premises.
Never use candles as these are fire risk; do not burn waste on bonfires - these are a fire risk and may contravene local environmental legislation.
The shelter should be a no smoking area for the health of the cats and as a fire precaution; if a smoking area is provided it must be well away from cat pens and be non-flammable (e.g. a paved area).


There is a large amount of information already on the web about humane feral cat population control, so this will be a brief overview only. Feral Cat Welfare organisations are listed in the links section of the Cat Resource Archive and plenty more are listed by search engines.


TNR is Trap-Neuter-Return

For untameable cats
For desirable semi-ferals (e.g. farm cats whose presence is wanted by farmer)
Where taming is possible but too time-consuming (or ties up shelter spaces better used for pet cats).
Where the pet population is such that finding enough homes is not possible.

TTR is Trap-Tame-Rehome (or TTH - Trap-Tame-Home)

For tameable adult cats, where suitable (patient, quiet) homes are available.
For young kittens and for cats which are not essentially feral (strays which have joined feral colonies, but which have not reverted to full wildness).

Introduction to Feral Welfare Work

Neutering projects need to be well organised, well funded and well monitored.
You will need time, energy, enthusiasm, finances, manpower, research and forward planning.
You will need the right equipment (traps and crush cage plus gauntlets) and a vet willing to work with feral cats (some won't).
Be realistic about what you can achieve - cats breed prolifically and you cannot save every cat or resolve every problem.
Feral cat numbers can be controlled either by neutering or destruction; neutering is more efficient and cost-effective in the long term.
Preventative measures are required to prevent recurrence of problem - education and encouragement of responsible cat ownership is needed since stray/feral problems recur if abandonment is considered acceptable.
Many local authorities are unaware of feral cat problems or of the cost/effort involved because cat carers tackle the problem without notifying them.
Effective lobbying may lead to local authority recognition and support of your work and possible financial help or a local authority grant.
Inform local authorities/private landowners of your activities since cat-haters or residents may ask pest control firms/local authorities exterminate the cats and you will see your neutered ferals destroyed by pest controllers unaware of your hard work.
Newspapers and local media may run articles to influence and educate their viewers, readers or listeners and may help overcome opposition to your work.
If the colony is on private or local authority land, obtain the consent of the land-owner/local authority, preferably in writing, before starting to trap the cats - or you may be charged with trespass, criminal damage and a variety of other charges.
Co-operation and communication is required between all parties involved: voluntary organisations (you may be one of several tackling the problem), vets, pest control firms, land-owners and/or local authorities and residents.

Fact Finding Before You Start

Research the area and assess the problem - how many cats, are they all feral, are they breeding or are cats also being dumped there, are they part of a larger distributed colony (spread over several linked sites) etc?
Identify any feeders or carers involved with the colony and obtain their co-operation; they may regard the cats as wild pets.
Decide how many cats are to remain on site; is their presence tolerated by other people?
Tame domestic strays and tameable kittens may be suitable for rehoming through a conventional shelter.
If homes are scarce for domestic kittens, early neutering of feral kittens allows them to be returned to site with no need to re-trap them at 6 months of age.
Euthanasia is recommended for sick, injured and diseased cats to prevent further suffering and to protect healthy cats from infection - it is cruel to confine ferals while nursing them (many simply lose the will to live) and uses pens needed for homeable cats.
Decide on criteria for euthanasia before beginning feral work and make this plain to everyone before they get involved (so they can opt out if they disagree)
All parties involved must agree on what will be in the cats' best long-term welfare interests; this may conflict with some people's personal feelings.
All situations differ so adopt policies appropriate to the current circumstances.

Out in the Field

Work as a group - feral work is often tough and sometimes depressing with difficult decisions; you may be out late at night with manually operated traps.
Be aware of any safety issues in the area if you work alone or late at night; some areas have higher crime rates than others.
Do not be sentimental; your aim is to allow the ferals a good quality of life in their free-living state; when this cannot be done, you must provide a pain-free release from any suffering.
Establish a regular feeding routine (time and places) to make trapping easier and the cats less suspicious; discourage casual feeding which attracts other cats into the area (pets), makes the cats sated so they don't enter traps and which attracts foxes, rats, hedgehogs, racoons etc
Community support is essential - cat-lovers must refrain from feeding cats during trapping or the cats will not enter baited traps.
Notify nearby residents/companies, and feeders and carers of plans to trap cats for neutering; ask local cat owners to keep their cats in during set trapping times - or to identify their cats with collars even if they do not normally do this (so you can release identified cats if accidentally trapped)
Cats being returned to site following neutering must be healthy; there should be continued monitoring and maintenance of the colony (if local circumstances permit).
Ensure there is some form of shelter for cats returned to site and preferably feeders (controlled feeding reduces influx of new cats and reduces vermin which would be attracted to leftovers)
Identify neutered cats e.g. ear-tipping or ear-tagging and keep records of all cats neutered, cats rehomed/relocated, cats euthanised and of other treatment given.
If possible the colony should be monitored by carers (these may be the people who originally fed the cats) though this is not possible in all countries or all locations.
If after-care is possible, keep feeding stations clean, remove dirty dishes and uneaten food and provide drinking water; if litter trays are provided (e.g. factory cats) keep these cleaned and disinfected.
Ask feeders/carers to alert you to newcomers to the colony, or visit the colony periodically to assess this for yourself - newcomers may be tame strays or may be unneutered cats and these should be dealt with at the earliest opportunity to prevent the colony from becoming a problem.