What is a Community Cat? | Lola The Rescued Cat
Monday, March 8, 2021

What is a Community Cat?

Welcome to the third post in our Community Cat Awareness series. In some of the webinars I have attended, one of the topics discussed was the fact that many people do not understand what a community cat is, or why they are in their neighborhood. For the cats’ health and safety, it is important to educate people on this subject.

In today’s post, we will be answering the question, “What is a community cat?”

what is a community cat?

What is a Community Cat?

I first became aware of the term “Community Cat” 2017 when I took a tour of Alley Cat Allies’ Atlantic City Boardwalk Cats Project. On the tour, Alice Burton, Associate Director of Animal Shelter and Animal Control Engagement, encouraged everyone to use the term “community cats” vs. “feral cats” because all cats in a colony may not be feral.

According to the ASPCA, “Community Cats" is a term used to describe outdoor, unowned, free-roaming cats. These cats could be friendly, feral, adults, kittens, healthy, sick, altered, and/or unaltered. They may or may not have a caregiver. By this definition, "the only outdoor free-roaming cats who are not community cats are those who have an owner.” The term "Community Cat" focuses on a lifestyle, the way in which the cats live, and not on a particular temperament or individual characteristics.

The term also suggests that there is some responsibility of community members to humanely address their needs.

Where do Community Cats Come From?

Free-roaming cats can include ferals, strays, and pets whose owners let them outside. In her book, Alley Cat Rescue’s Guide to Managing Community Cats, Louise Holton states that many cats end up on the street as a result of being abandoned either because they are just not wanted, or the owners cannot afford them. Rather than take them to a shelter where they may face euthanasia, the owners let them out on the street. Many other cats may have become lost and cannot find their way back home.

The evidence to determine exactly how many unowned cats are in the USA is limited, but in 2013 Andrew Rowan estimated that number to be in the 30 to 40 million range in 2013. The New York City Feral Cat Initiative states that less than 3% of community cats are spayed/neutered. 

what is a community cat?

A female cat can become pregnant at around four months of age and have her first litter between six to seven months of age. One unspayed female can be responsible for 100 to 400 cats (her descendants) after seven years. Intact community cats account for up to 80% of the kittens born each year.

Where do Community Cats Live?

Community cats live outdoors in groups called “colonies.” Within the colony is a social structure, with the cats relying on each other for protection, companionship, etc. Think of it as their feline family.

Colonies can form anywhere there is a food source and shelter (such as college campuses, a densely populated urban area, parks, warehouses, behind shopping centers, and even someone’s backyard.) The colony is usually managed by a caretaker, who feeds the cats daily, gets new cats spayed/neutered, and ensures their medical needs are seen to. 

Atlantic city boardwalk cats
Alley Cat Allies' Atlantic City Boardwalk Cats

Depending on where you live in the country, being a colony caretaker is not always easy to do. Many municipalities have laws against feeding community cats and TNR, and those who disobey the laws can face being arrested. We’ll be discussing TNR ordinances and laws in future posts.

Catnip Nation is a wonderful film that shines a light on people who are dedicated to taking care of their colonies. Many have faced huge obstacles, but they don't stop fighting for their community cats. I highly recommend this film to all cat lovers. 

Are Community Cats Okay Living Outdoors?

The short answer is yes. Community cats have adapted to living outdoors, and the outdoors is their home. Cats living in managed colonies can have happy, healthy lives and can have the same lifespan as an indoor cat. 

Unsocialized cats cannot live indoors and they are the first to be euthanized when taken to a shelter because they are unadoptable. Removing a cat from its colony and putting them into confinement can be stressful, and neither the cat nor you will be happy. Unsocialized cats don’t belong inside, they belong in their outdoor homes. 

what is a community cat?
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This is a brief overview of community cats. There is much more information to share, which we'll be doing in future posts. 

Stay tuned for the next installment in this series when we'll be discussing kitten season. If you've missed any of our Community Cat Awareness posts, you can catch up on them here. 



Holton, Louise. Alley Cat Rescue's Guide to Managing Community Cats. 2015.
Kortis, Brian. Neighborhood Cats TNR Handbook - The Guide to Trap-Neuter-Return for the Feral Cat Caretaker, 2nd Edition. 2013

Kortis, Brian. PetSmart Charities Community TNR - Tactics and Tools. 2014
Human Society of the United States. Managing Community Cats – A Guide for Municipal Leaders. 2014

Rowan, A. N. Cat demographic analyses in the USA. SAWA Conference on Cats, Tempe, AZ. 2013.

About the Author:
Dawn White is an award-winning writer/blogger and the author of Lola: Diary of a Rescued Cat.  Dawn has been writing in the pet industry for over seven years and has been a contributing writer for the Jackson Galaxy Project’s Cat Pawsitive Pro Program, BlogPaws, and Chewy.com.

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  1. Thank you for this article. It's one I wish could be published in a public news media. People simply do not understand Community Cats at all. And those who TNR, manage colonies, love the cats and try to see to their needs as best as they are able, deserve halos.

  2. A very good article Dawn. We have a two or three cat colony at our house. They were TNR last year and at that time spoke of a preference to living outside. Dad has food out and they live away from roads so we wish them health and wellness as they enjoy their lifestyle

  3. Beautifully written article, thanks so much. I like the term Community Cats, many of our clowder were not truly feral, just abandoned pets.

  4. Great informative post! Poor abandoned pets though x

  5. Dang, that was interesting but I may need to ponder on that. We have 11 ferals, since we trapped and paid to have them all fixed do we own them or are they still community cats?!?!

  6. Wonderful post ! It's often hard to understand the concept of "community cat" for people, and understand the difference between stray, feral, ... Purrs

  7. Great post! We had community cats in our townhouse complex in Vancouver. They were all Spayed/Neutered and part of a feeding program. Thee colony was about 10-12 and the majority of the cats were friendly. The colony was/is well cared for, as they were an integral part of the community and helped keep the rodent population down. I lived in another city a few years back that chose to have only licensed cats and cats were not to be allowed to roam free. After 15 years they have a massive rodent problem which has caused numerous grocery stored to have to be closed for pest removal (I am told by a friend one local store is closed at least twice a month because of mouse droppings) and they are considering going back to allowing cat colonies. Thanks for a very informative post! You are awesome.

  8. An informative and important article, Dawn, and I'd sure like to see the public become more aware of the needs of outdoor cats. We feed a variable number of unsocialized cats, and a few are becoming friendlier after several years.

  9. very informative i had actually never heard the term community cat!

  10. I like that they call these cats Community Cats. Seems a much friendlier term. ~Ernie

  11. I agree, community cats sounds like a much nicer term than feral. I wish it was used more often!

  12. Great post. It still breaks my heart that every cat doesn't have an indoor forever home. XO

  13. Thanks for taking the time to share this wonderful post with us. Just the number of thirty to forty million in the USA alone is just incredible. This was very informative and we always enjoy your posts. Have a wonderful rest of your day.
    World of Animals Rittenhouse

  14. It was such a relief when humans started using the term community cats, because it's far more accurate than some of the other things they were being called, like strays or feral.

  15. This is such important information that you’re getting out there. We have a few community cats in our neighborhood.

  16. We do like the term "community cat colony" better than "feral cat colony." It really is a better description for these kitties. Thank you for helping raise awareness about them, Dawn.

  17. Another great post! Even though the term seems so simple, it's still good to explain it.

  18. We have community cats at our office complex and there is a group of volunteers who feed and care for them.

  19. Managed colonies are wonderful - but around here, there is little patience or understanding of un-owned cats. In fact, most municipalities around here exterminate. When I first started blogging, I spoke up with facts and people were so hateful and nasty and ANGRY. This post reminds me ... maybe it's time to bring up the subject again publicly.


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