At its most basic, a feeding station is essentially any time that you leave out food for your lost cat or dog. These are usually put out in a location where you suspect your lost pet is hanging out either due to sightings or scent concentrations indicated by a search dog. In the case of an escaped indoor-only cat, they will often be set up immediately outside the house or in the yard.
There is a lot of controversy among pet detectives over the use of feeding stations, especially for lost cats. Some of the arguments against using feeding stations include:
- Other cats may be attracted to the food, and they may decide to expand their territory to include this new food source. If this happens, the new cat may prevent your lost cat from coming to the food or even returning home if the feeding station is in your yard.
- Other wildlife such as raccoons, opossums and skunks may become accustomed to eating at the feeding station. These animals might frighten an escaped indoor-only cat or they might just be a nuisance when you decide to start trapping.
- Predators such as coyotes or fishers may be attracted to the food source and present a threat to your lost cat or dog.
- Strange cats and wildlife eating at the feeding station may transmit diseases to your lost cat.
The main argument for using a feeding station is that your cat or dog needs to eat, and if he can’t find food in his current location, he may travel elsewhere.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to make a feeding station more effective and potentially safer for your lost cat or dog. None of these suggestions are necessarily tested, so read them all and decide what would work best in your situation.
- For an escaped indoor-only cat, do not put out any food for the first day or two. Give your cat a chance to return home without the risk of attracting other cats to his yard.
- Don’t put a feeding station right next to a potentially safe haven where you think your cat or dog might be sheltering. In the case of an indoor-only cat, don’t put the food right next to the location that they escaped since they are likely to return to this location to try and return home.
- Place out a large quantity of food so there should always still be some left in the morning. This way any visiting animals will be less likely to guard the food source, and you can ensure that your pet will still get food even if they are the last ones to show up.
- In order to be effective, a feeding station must be monitored in some way to determine that your pet is indeed visiting the feeding station. A surveillance camera is most effective, but a driveway alarm or baby monitor may also work if the feeding station is around your home.
- Use lures rather than food. A lure is essentially anything that attracts an animal but cannot be eaten. These are less likely to repeatedly attract the same non-target cats or wildlife that might scare away your cat or dog. However, once you confirm that your pet is in the area, then you might choose to switch to a feeding station or trapping.
- Skip the feeding station all together and only put food out in a trap.
Very Important Information! If you have a hard to trap cat, you may end up using a feeding station for an extended period of time. In this case, make sure that you are putting out sufficient cat food in addition to any other food items that you are using such as the tuna and sardines that are frequently suggested. Cats require taurine for their dietary health because they are unable to synthesize this organic acid. For this reason, taurine is added to all wet and dry cat foods that are labeled approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).