How to Keep Your Barn Cats Healthy

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Photo by Adobe Stock/Mariusz Szczygiel
Even skittish barn cats will benefit from a bit of TLC, including food, shelter, and vaccinations.

I have some outdoor mousers on my property that mostly keep to themselves and sleep in the barn. How should I care for these nearly feral felines?

They’re tough. They’re loners. They rebuff your attempts at affection. It’s easy to leave barn cats to their own business and let them care for themselves. But the truth is, these integral residents of your barn do need your care and attention. They’re susceptible to disease and illness just as much as your other livestock. If you take the right precautions and care, you can have faithful ratters and mousers for years to come.

If you’re starting with kittens, take time to socialize them with everyone in the family. Some people think that socialized barn cats will want to come into the house, but that’s not usually the case. Barn-dwellers can be people-friendly and perfectly happy in the barn if all their needs are met. If you end up with an unfriendly cat — such as a rescue or a feral cat — try to socialize it. It may not come around right away, but don’t give up too easily. Some cats take years to warm up to people.

Regardless of their level of affection, to keep your barn cats healthy, you’ll need to think about vaccinations, spaying and neutering, and even feeding. Killing mice probably won’t provide them with all the food they need to maintain good health. In fact, a healthy, happy, and full cat will be more inclined to hunt, even if it only hunts for fun and not to eat the mice.

If you don’t care to purchase dry or canned cat food, another option for feeding your mousers is a natural, raw diet. This type of diet approximates what wild cats eat.

If you choose to use dry cat food, you can keep it in the barn at all times for free feeding. With both dry and wet food, you can also schedule the cats’ feedings. A great way to get the cats into the barn at night, where they’ll be protected from predators, is to feed at night. Eventually, the cats will learn to come into the barn at night for their food, where you can shut them in and predators out. Your cats may be tough, but they still need shelter.

Feral cats can survive in our world with no assistance from humans, but their life spans are often short. All animals are susceptible to illness and disease, but a couple of devastating sicknesses only affect cats, such as feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus. Before you bring any new cats into your barn, be sure they’re tested for both illnesses. And, of course, be sure to vaccinate your existing cats.

Besides illnesses, barn cats can be plagued by parasites. Your cats should be dewormed by a vet to prevent an infestation of tapeworms. They’ll also need a heartworm preventative pill and a flea-prevention treatment. These parasites can be detrimental to your cats’ health, but some can also infest your barn and affect people and other animals. As with illnesses, prevention is key.

To prevent poisoning, keep possible toxins out of reach of cats. These include antifreeze, batteries, fertilizer, rat poison, and moldy feed. If you keep farm equipment, such as tractors, be sure the radiators aren’t leaking.

Despite your best efforts, your cats may become ill and require vet care. Observe your barn cats for signs of sickness. The sooner you notice and treat an illness, the better chance the cat will have of recovering. Look for changes in eating habits, weight, and activity.

Finally, unless you want to be overrun by kittens each spring, you’ll need to spay and neuter your barn cats. If left to their own devices, just two cats can multiply to as many as 50 cats within two years. Their gestation periods are short, just three months, and they can birth up to eight kittens per litter. Plus, neutered cats will fight less, thus minimizing injuries that could require medical care.

Having cats in the barn is very rewarding. No farm is complete without at least a couple of good mousers or ratters. These cats provide a valuable service that keeps your barn and farm in good working order. Reward them with excellent care.