Feeding the cats may be feeding the problem

By Elan Malette,

Hawaiian Humane Society representatives say they remain concerned about the overwhelming population of feral cats and their poor physical condition.

Feral cat with left-notched ear.

A feral cat at UH-Manoa has a left-notched ear, indicating it was neutered.

Bonnie Osaki, education director for the Hawaiian Humane Society, says stressful living conditions and overcrowding are causing the cats to suffer from respiratory illness. Osaki says it is up to the public to fix this on-going problem, not only to reduce the numbers of these animals but also to improve their quality of life.

With an estimated 45,000 O’ahu households feeding feral cats, joined with Hawai‘i’s temperate weather, Honolulu has become the ideal breeding ground for cats. Those who choose to feed but not neuter are actually feeding the problem.

The problem and the strategy

The Trap-Neuter-Return-Manage (TNRM) strategy, aimed at reducing the number of feral cats in the community, will only help the problem if the community is willing to get involved, Osaki said.

“Cats have an internal clock that causes them to go into heat after 10 or more hours of sunlight,” Osaki said. “Because Hawai‘i has such temperate weather, it gives the cats a perfect environment to reproduce, and often. To put it quite simply, in Hawai‘i cats can go into heat virtually all year round.”

“By feeding these animals and allowing them to reproduce, we are doing much more harm than good,” Osaki said.

Hawai’i’s mild weather also contributes to a higher survival rate in litters, which means that unlike the mainland, where they experience much cooler days, Hawai’i’s weather allows for more feral kittens to live longer, resulting in an even higher number of feral cats in the community.

“People need to understand that if you have one feral cat that is female, and you allow it to reproduce, and then allow her offspring to reproduce, and their offspring to reproduce, in seven years, you’ll have approximately 427,000 cats,” Osaki said. “This is why it is extremely important that we get these animals sterilized.”

 The importance of neutering 

According to Osaki, sterilization is important for many reasons other than simply reducing the number of cats in our community, and that TNRM can improve our community as well as the lives of these animals.

“There is a definite impact on the environment,” Osaki said. “Many people in Hawai‘i are concerned with native species. The cats are hungry and need to eat; because they are feral they are going to feed possibly on the native birds.

“There is also a sanitation issue,” Osaki said. “The cats are hungry they are going to scavenge, and many times it’s in garbage cans which can lead to the spreading of disease.”

 TNRM is the first step 

Osaki says embracing TNRM the first step if the community wants to fight this on-going problem.

“It’s simply a matter of borrowing a trap through an organization like ours, capturing the feral cat and bringing them in to be neutered and micro-chipped. Then, the cats can be re-released back into their colony,” Osaki said.

“It may seem like a lot of work, but we are the ones who caused this problem,” Osaki said. “It’s our responsibility to fix it now, before it’s too late not only for the cats, but for the welfare of O’ahu residents.”

TNRM relies not only on the community’s willingness to bring these animals in for sterilization, but on the dedication of colony caregivers who do more than just feed the cats. Many people who use the Humane Society’s feral cat sterilization services agree to actively manage colonies, ensure veterinary care and help to place feral kittens in homes.

How we can help 

“Obviously fresh water and food are always important, but mainly we want someone keeping a watchful eye on the colonies,” Osaki said. “ It may seem like a daunting task, but if everyone on O’ahu brought in just one or two cats, we would actually be able to fight this problem.”

Osaki says that for community members concerned about the costs of trapping and neutering, the humane society has a regular fee of $25 that includes sterilization and micro-chipping, and that there are regular specials that offer these same amenities for a $10 fee.


Osaki says the way to tell whether a cat has been sterilized is by its ears. According to the Humane Society there is an industry standard upheld by what is called ear notching. If the cat has a notch in its left ear, this indicates the cat is male, and if the notch is on the right ear, then the cat is female.

“The easiest way to remember is that females are always right, so if you see a notch in their right ear, the cat is female!”

Safety for the cats

According to Osaki, this is an issue of over-crowding and of safety. Because the number of feral cats on O’ahu has become so large, people have begun to view them as pests, which has resulted in inhumane treatment.

“There are people who actually use anti-freeze in cat food to keep these animals away from their homes,” Osaki said. “These cats have become very dependent on us, and it is so sad when the public sees so many of them, that they being to devalue their lives.

Living conditions causing illness 

Overcrowding, which is a contributing factor to the negative stigma attached to these animals, is not only having an adverse effect on residents, but on the cats too. Dr. Aleisha Swartz, chief veterinarian for the Hawaiian Humane Society, says that the overcrowding is getting worse and causing the cats to become ill.

“We are starting to see the feral cats come in with respiratory illnesses, which  unusual for cats living on the streets,” Swartz said.

According to Swartz, respiratory illnesses is generally seen when the cats are living in extremely close quarters and don’t have the room they need to live comfortably, which causes the cats to become stressed, and then ill.

Osaki explained, “What this shows us is that even on the streets, these cats don’t have enough room. There are simply too many of them.”

The Humane Society maintains that TNRM can serve as a solution to O’ahu’s feral cat problem, but that until the community takes responsibility for the sterilization of these animals, it will continue to be a problem for O’ahu.