Show me a good old American Barn and I bet I can find a barn cat or two there. Some are placed there by the family, to keep mice at bay, and some find their own way to a warm cozy barn. If the complete truth was known, some barn cats arrive at barns because litters of kittens are often dropped off at farms when no one is looking, by irresponsible cat owners.
Now that you have the barn, and the cat to go with it, how do you care for the outdoor working cat? If you want the cat to live a long happy life, care for it much the same you would an indoor kitty. Barn cats need quality food and a constant supply of fresh water. Even though you may be hoping that the cat will be hungry enough to do a job of catching potentially damaging mice, they still need to be fed a diet that will keep them healthy and strong. So what should you plan on when taking care of a barn cat? I put together a list of care requirements for the hard working barn cat.
1. First and most important, spay or neuter your pet. There are many consequences of having a fertile female or roaming tom cat on your property. In addition to the obvious, unwanted litters of kittens, non neutered cats tend to wander, get in fights, and bring disease back to your barn. Most communities have low cost spay and neuter programs available. Neutering a male cat cuts down on the wandering a bit and keeps him closer to home so he can do his job.
2. Vaccinations. Consult a veterinarian for the needed inoculations for your cats. A Rabies shot is a must for all animals and a requirement in many localities. Contact with wildlife puts your cat at higher risk for Rabies and Feline Leukemia in addition to other deadly diseases.
3. Nutrition. Did you know that cats are true carnivores? This means they need to get their nutrition from meat. Cats need protein. Cat food is higher in protein and fat, than dog food. Feed your cat a good quality cat food and your cat will perform better and remain healthier, with less allergies and less skin problems. No matter what you hear, cats do not thrive on catching mice alone. They still need proper nutrition provided for them. Try to give the cats a place to eat where the other animals won't bother them. Our cats have to eat on a shelf, overlooking the goats pen, because the goats will eat the cat food if given a chance. Also, racoons and other wildlife will be attracted to cat food so you may get some unwanted dinner guest. And most important- plenty of fresh clean water!
4. Breakaway collar or no collar. Outdoor animals run into the risk of catching their collar on branches or other objects. Breakaway collars are designed to break under pressure, so the animal is not injured. Other, more costly alternatives would be micro chip or tattoo ID marking.
5 Get to know your cat and its habits. Just as you get to know if your house pet is feeling poorly, knowing your barn cat's personality and habits can go a long way to ward off a problem as soon as it starts. If your cat normally greets you in the morning, it may ring alarm bells when the cat doesn't show up for breakfast. If your cat likes to crawl into hiding places, it may get locked in a shed or worse, driven away by an unsuspecting visitor. One time our cat ended up in the next state by accidentally hitching a ride with the equine dentist. After looking for the whole day and calling neighbors, I remembered that the dentist and the vet had both been to our farm the day Tigger disappeared. After calling and leaving a message with both parties, we heard back that Tigger had been found in the cargo area of the dentist's truck by his wife. The story had a happy ending but if I had not called, we may not have gotten Tigger back. You see, I recalled that he liked to get into cars when people left the windows open. Knowing his habits and behavior helped us have a happy ending.
6. Shelter- Presuming that your barn kitty has a barn to take shelter in, this would be sufficient shelter from weather, If there is no building for the cat to go in, please consider providing somewhere out of the wind and rain for the cat to snuggle into during extremes in weather.
All of our barn cats have been treated as hard working members of the barn family. They have a job and do it well. They greet us first thing in the morning to let us know that every thing is ok. Don't you just love it when they bring you the spoils of the hunt? Just kidding. At least we know that they are earning their keep!
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