I have been feeding a feral cat for 7 years and now we are moving 6 hours away to an environment that is much colder, and has more predators. I feel I cannot leave her, she’s become dependent on food from us and the new owners may want to dispose of her, however I’m worried that the 6 hour ride along with being in a much colder environment may hurt her—am I doing the right thing taking her? She will never come in our home and will have to live in a barn.
It is never a good idea to move a feral cat. But it might or it might not be a good idea to move a stray cat. The definition of stray and feral is not well established but I would say if she allows you to touch her and sleeps in your presence, she is more of a stray than feral. I compose this answer assuming she is stray, i.e., she allows you to touch her.
This is a question very hard to answer to. Only the important points to consider can be given.
Pros for moving
- She is happy with you
- She might be dependent on you
- You might be dependent on her
Cats are usually not dependent on us. They are very resourceful when it comes to hunting or getting some other household to take care of them. But given the age, which is at least 7, she might not be as agile as she was.
Our dependence to the animals are usually overlooked but it is of as much prominence as their dependence on us. It definitely comes into equation.
Cons for moving
- Adaptation to a completely new surroundings
- Colder environment
- More wildlife, more competition
- Other people looking after the cat
These are all legitimate concerns but all of them are alleviated by the fact that she will have a barn available to her. Adult cats can survive harsh weathers as long as they are well fed. Make sure that she can get in and out of the barn at will, i.e., have an opening or install a cat flap. Also, make sure that she has another shelter in the barn, with a very small opening, small enough for her to fit to. Put some blankets in as well. Cats can heat up such spaces with their body heat quite easily. During colder nights, you can put a hot water bottle under the blankets to help her heat herself. This set-up is better than some housecats get, so cold would not be a big issue.
Similarly, a chipped cat flap would easily help her defend herself against the wildlife. Even if you cannot afford one, or even if you cannot have the stray cat microchipped, other wildlife would be hesitant to pursue her into an unknown surrounding, i.e., the barn. The extra shelter in the barn would offer extra protection as well.
There are several principles when it comes to moving a cat. One of them is to carry the furniture the cat uses with you. If you have a couch or patio furniture or a blanket that the cat usually sleeps on, move it with you, even if it is old and dirty. Cats love similar scents and this will help her with getting used to the new surroundings.
Stray cats usually have several people taking care of them. Make sure that she is not taken care by anyone else in the neighbourhood. Use a paper collar and wait if anyone responds if you are unsure. Someone might be giving her more care than you give to her and if this is the case, you will be hurting the animal.
I wouldn't worry about the ride. It is indeed very long and it will be stressful, but it is temporary and there are ways to make it easier for her. Contact a vet about this.
At the end, it is impossible to know the correct move with certainty. Make sure that you take the decision you are more comfortable with. Bad things happen to stray cats frequently and they might happen to her if you leave her or if you take her. As long as you do everything you can, it is not your fault.