Farm cats are often forced to survive for themselves. Some ideas on how farmers can take better care of their barn cats to keep them healthy and give them longer lives.
Many farmers keep cats for mousers. Some of these cats are well looked after but many farm cats are not. Most farmers simply view cats as helpers, but not as companions. Some farmers view them as nuisances as their population numbers soon climb out of control. Often unvaccinated, not wormed, and sometimes underfed in the mistaken belief they will be better mousers, many farm cats die young.
In fairness to the cats as fellow living creatures, this is a proper guide to their care as small guardians of the farm.
Farm cats should be kept socialized to people. Some people think that by estranging a cat they will make it tougher and a better mouser. This is incorrect. In truth most people do not bother socializing their farm cats simply because they do not want to start letting the cats into the house. Cats can be kept friendly and kept outside too. A friendly cat is easier to catch if it needs to be taken to the veterinarian for any reason and will be social to kids or grandkids who come for a visit.
Cats, all cats, should be spayed or neutered once they reach the age of sexual maturity. For females this is six months of age, for males this is between eight and ten months of age. Spaying or neutering reduces a cats desire to wander, and will help them to remain healthier, in fact it removes the threat of them developing some cancers. More than anything desexing a farm cat slows the problem of the farm cat population from skyrocketing out of control (often farmers kill excess kittens if they don't starve to death first).
Vaccinations are also important. Sadly some rural people couldn't be bothered with the expenses of vaccinations, but vaccinations can save a lot of money in the long run. Some cat diseases can remain in the environment for long periods of time and will kill generation after generation of farm cat. Rabies is something very well worth vaccinating against as farm cats are often in contact with other animals, such as bats, rats, and so forth, who could carry this deadly disease.
Deworming is another medical consideration. A cat with worms needs to eat more to survive, but additionally it will shed worms into the environment, tapeworm is a particular concern because other species of animal can be infected too.
Cats should be treated for fleas if they have them. Fleas can spread tapeworm but also cause major distress and suffering.
Binx is a cat who was left on the farm when his owners who moved out. Photo by Author.
Feeding a cat does not make it a worse mouser. Sadly this is one thing that many farmers actually do not understand. So many think that by starving their barn cats they will be better mousers. In truth they will only kill as many mice as they need to survive, whereas a well fed cat will be more active and will kill out of fun, often killing more mice than the starving cat. Additionally cats forced to survive by eating mice alone will often be full of worms that they picked up from the mice.
Farm cats should have a fresh water source year round. Yes, they can go get a drink out of the water trough, but that usually requires them to perch awkwardly on the edge, risking a fall into the water (not good particularly in the winter). Instead farm cats should be provided with a proper water bowl, ideally one that is heated in the winter so it does not freeze.
Most cats are allowed into the house for the winter months (if not all year) but farm cats are seldom given this luxury. These cats should be given a warm place to sleep in the winter, access to a warm barn or shed. A pile of straw, or box with blankets, in the corner of the barn, or in the feed room, is a great place for a cat to sleep.
Ideally farm cats will be provided with a litter box in the barn for the winter time, otherwise they may use the barn floor, and nobody wants that.
Sadly many farmers view life and death on the farm harshly out of concerns with money. Expenses on a cat seem like unnecessary, especially since there are so many risks of death to a farm cat. One thing is certain though, many of the expenses actually reduce the possibility of death of these cats.
Farmers in need of cats would be wise to note that some shelters adopt out semi-feral cats at low cost or none at all, and these cats are usually already spayed or neutered, and up to date on their vaccinations, they just need a home.
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Ten Questions to Ask Before getting a Cat
Cats Not Using the Litter Box
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