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How to Care for a Barn Cat: Barn Cats 101

How to Care for a Barn Cat: Barn Cats 101 GraphicI am the Barn Cat Lady, right? So, I feel it is my moral imperative to educate people on the care and feeding of the most well-known working cat in the world: barn cats. (Or farm cat if you prefer) If you’re a beginner to barn cat care or even an expert, everyone can learn something here!

Welcome to Barn Cat 101.

In this post, you’ll learn:

  1. Origin of the Barn Cat
  2. Barn Cats Today
  3. How to Choose a Barn Cat
  4. 11 Barn Cat Care Tips
  5. Summary

Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian and this is not meant to diagnose or treat your cats’ specific ailments. This is for informational purposes only and you should always consult a veterinarian before giving your cats any medications.

Disclaimer #2: There are suggestions in this post for medications not labeled for cats. Never, ever use anything not labeled for cats without knowing what you are doing, preferably by contacting your vet. Some very common and safe medications for dogs will kill your cat. Many safe foods for humans, such as garlic, are toxic to cats. Do NOT self-treat without knowing if it is SAFE!

Disclaimer #3: This post contains affiliate links. This simply means I receive a small commission for qualifying sales at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting the kitties!

Origin of the Barn Cat

Barn cats, or farm cats, are actually the ORIGINAL domestic cat.

Before they even became the semi-domesticated animals that sit and purr in our laps, wild cats more than 9,500-12,000 years ago decided that living in and around humans was a pretty great idea.

Why?

Humans had food stores. Food stores attracted mice (and other rodents). Cats wanted to eat mice. So a human settlement’s food stores were the easiest place for our opportunistic felines to gather to catch and eat mice!

Humans, being the opportunistic beings we are, noticed this quite fast. Humans aren’t a fan of mice eating their hard-earned food stores, right? They’re even less of a fan of mice POO in their food supply.

So humans encouraged the cats to keep hanging around, probably by leaving out some meat.

Cats were, in fact, such efficient pest control that humans ended up sailing all over the world with our feline companions.

There are very real reasons why cats were worshiped in Egypt, kept on ships, encouraged to live around farms, and eventually brought into our yards and neighborhoods, and finally, homes. As little as 70 years ago, almost all cats lived outside, as pets or pest control. Indoor cats is a very new phenomenon.

I personally believe the cat hasn’t quite adapted to it, yet. That is why indoor cats must have proper stimulation to mimic outdoor life. It is healthier for them, mentally. (This is not a suggestion to let your pets run around the neighborhood.)

Somewhere around this time, they started to become domesticated. This first becomes apparent with the emerging patterns in the cat’s fur. The splotched tabby cat was the first sign of domestication and it only occurred for the first time in the Middle Ages.

The domestication of cats wasn’t because they were cuddly creatures, at first. It was because they are danged good at rodent control.

It is also believed that they domesticated themselves, not the other way around. We simply liked the benefits.

Black and White Barn Cat on a Fence

Barn Cats Today

The barn or farm cat tradition continues to this day. Even people who don’t really like cats often will have cats around their barns. They’re efficient at dispatching mice. They’re efficient at killing young rats. Their very presence will cause rodents to avoid the area. Well, I should say, their PEE will convince rats and mice to not move in.

Having a few cats is almost a requirement.

Some barn cats are beloved companions of their humans. Some are mostly feral cats who hide from any human contact. But in both cases, they are necessary for the working barn.

With the explosion in unadoptable outdoor cats around the United States, many shelters and rescues are starting “Working Cat Programs.” These are cats that are normally unable to be adopted into loving homes that need to have a place to go and be cared for.

Working Cat Programs are perfect for this. In exchange for feeding and caring for the cat, the cat will keep your barn, warehouse, workshop or whatever rodent-free.

It is also a great way to get feral cats off the street and into a better life.

Working cats are cats that are unsuitable for indoor pet life. These could be cats that are poorly socialized to people or cats that simply prefer the company of other cats instead of people. It could be cats that have never adjusted to indoor life after being outside their entire lives, no matter how friendly they are. Sometimes cats with inappropriate urination issues are often put to work, once medical issues are ruled out.

Cats that are NOT appropriate for working cat programs are declawed cats, indoor-only cats, adoptable cats, and kittens.

All working cats are spayed and neutered and vaccinated before being placed. Some are microchipped as well. Most adoptions of working cats are without a fee, only an application.

In exchange for feeding the cats daily, shelter, and routine veterinary care, cats are ‘put to work’ eradicating mice.

This gives ferals and unsocialized cats a better life than out on the streets. It also helps these ’employers’ of working cats keep the rodents under control. A win-win for everyone!

How to Choose a Barn CatWhite Tabby Barn Cat Relaxing in Leaves

There is no magic formula for choosing a perfect mouser. Some cats hunt more than others. But even the ones that don’t hunt will discourage mice from taking up residence.

I recommend getting two (or more!) barn cats. Cats do better living in an outdoor setting with company. Plus, two cats are twice as effective!

Please, please, don’t just grab a free kitten from Craigslist or Facebook and dump him outside in your barns. Save those poor guys to get adopted into indoor homes.

I recommend checking out your local animal control or feral cat group to find out if they have any cats that need barn homes. These groups ALWAYS need barn homes for feral or outdoor cats that have had to be relocated and barns are absolutely perfect for them.

Not only will you be getting a mouser for your barn, but you will also be saving their lives.

The sad fact of barn cat life is that they do not often live as long as indoor cats, so if you’re interested, I have started a Barn Cat Network group for those of us who can take in displaced feral and community cats that need a new home!

It’s a great way to help rescue these animals AND get barn cats you need!

Barn Cat Care Tips

If you are thinking of getting a barn cat (or already have one), there are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Barn cats need care too.

They are at your farm, barn, homestead, warehouse, whatever you have, and they are helping you keep rodents in check. They are as much a part of your farm as your cows, horses, sheep, and working dogs are, and should be treated with the same care.

They are not ‘just animals’. Even feral cats are living, breathing, FEELING creatures and deserve the same respect and care you’d give any animal in your care.

2. Barn cats need to be fed daily.

Preferably, twice a day at scheduled times.

That’s right, folks. You DO have to feed your working feline. It is a complete myth that barn cats ‘hunt’ better hungry or will survive off mice alone.

If nothing else, a cat who isn’t being fed or taken care of is NOT likely to stick around your barn. Cats domesticated themselves, remember? They will move on down the road to someone who will feed them.

Secondly, a well-fed cat is likely to hunt for fun, not food.

Related: What is the Best Food for Outdoor Cats?

3. Provide your barn cats with water.

It doesn’t have to be fancy, but they need access to clean drinking water at all times, especially in the summer. Cats aren’t big drinkers (most of them anyway) but they do still need to drink.

4. Spay and Neuter!I Support Spay and Neuter Barncatlady.com Graphic

Not only do you not want to be drowning in kittens and cats, but it is more humane for the cat and less of a hassle for YOU.

5 Reasons Barn Cats Need to be Fixed Too

  1. Cats can have 3 litters a year of anywhere from 1-9 kittens a litter. Cats can go into their first heat at 4 months and have their first litter at 6 months. 1 unfixed female had TWENTY CATS in one year, all unfixed, at the barn I worked in.
  2. Fixed cats don’t fight or spray as much as unfixed cats do. Less yowling when cats are in heat, too!
  3. Fixed cats are less likely to roam around the countryside looking for mates and spend more time in your barn hunting and playing with mice.
  4. Your barn cat will not get an infected uterus or breast cancer or prostate cancer.
  5. Your barn cat will get into fewer fights with other cats, reducing the chances of catching Feline Leukemia (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).

I can come up with a TON more, but those are big ones.

Related Post: Why is Spay and Neuter Important in 2019?

I read a conversation on Twitter last month that scared me. A bunch of people who had barns and farms were talking about why they don’t spay and neuter their barn cats.

Because they don’t live long enough anyway so it never gets out of hand.

If that is the case, you are NOT caring for your barn cats.

Barn cats who are left to breed should be overrunning your farm. If they’re all dying so you only have one or two, you have a serious problem. It’s grossly negligent to have animals dying like that, even on a farm.

5. Do not leave food out overnight!

As I mentioned in a previous post, you should have some sort of feeding schedule in place. Part of this reason is to avoid leaving out food at night.

You won’t just be feeding cats if you do.

Raccoons, opossums, mice, rats, roaches, ants, and a million other things will be attracted to that food. Possibly coyotes, too.

Look, I love animals. Especially, cats, obviously, but that does extend to wildlife. But we do them no favors feeding them and can cause a LOT of harm if we do.

I’ll go over this more in a different post, but suffice it to say, feeding wildlife can be dangerous to you, your cats, the animals you feed, AND your neighbors.

  • Regular feeding encourages more breeding and more surviving babies. That’s too many animals to survive without being fed.
  • They come to ‘rely’ on you for food and thus become less and less fearful of you and ALL humans, which endangers their lives and endangers HUMANS lives.
  • Raccoons are not always friendly with cats and can kill them.
  • Raccoons are a source of rabies.
  • Opossums are pretty awesome, but you don’t want them in your barn because it is suspected they cause a horse disease called EPM (Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis).
  • Raccoons, rats, and mice can cause property damage to your barn, your home, and your neighborhood, especially when they start reproducing like mad and are no longer so scared of humans.

Please feed responsibly.

Begging Raccoon

6. Deworm your barn cats regularly

Barn cats, even those you don’t think are eating their kills, will get worms. The two most common worms barn cats will get are roundworms and hookworms, and the medication you’d get from your vet is pyrantel pamoate suspension. This is the yellow dewormer they give your pet cat (or dog) every year when you bring them in for an exam. My vet will sell me a 1oz bottle for somewhere around $13 and it lasts a while. Or you can buy it from Amazon.

Pyrantel Pamoate Dosage: 0.2 ml per pound of body weight in the 50 ml solution. If your cat is 8 lbs, it would get 1.4 ml of pyrantel pamoate. One dose is enough for adult cats as long as it is done regularly. Repeat once every two weeks until 16 weeks old in kittens.

If your barn cat is more feral than friendly, you may sneak it in some wet food.

I would deworm monthly optimally as barn cats are often exposed to parasites but every other month is fine too.

7. Pay attention to your barn cat’s poop!

I know, gross, right? But barn cats with diarrhea? They usually have worms or a different type of parasite. Sometimes you’ll even see worms in their poo! Eww!

If the diarrhea is severe, please have a vet see the barn cat.

Here’s my protocol for diarrhea in barn cats:

The first thing (if it has been a while) is I deworm them with the pyrantel pamoate suspension. Give it about four or five days to be double sure as dewormers can cause diarrhea, too. It should start working after 48 hours or so to resolve symptoms if the culprit was roundworms or hookworms (and whipworms).

If diarrhea still isn’t resolved, my next go-to dewormer is fenbendazole. This is the medication in Panacur or Safeguard dewormers. This will take care of hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, some species of tapeworms, and Giardia. Giardia is a protozoan parasite that causes frothy or greasy looking diarrhea.

The reason this isn’t my first choice is that: one, it is more expensive than pyrantel pamoate, and two, it takes dosing the cat every day for 3 days for hookworms and roundworms and 5 days for Giardia. It tastes like crap to cats too. This one might be harder to hide in food.

Fenbendazole Dosage: 1 ml for every 5lbs of body weight in cats, once a day for 3 days (roundworms and hookworms) or 5 days (Giardia).

I’d wait at least 48 hours after the last dose to make sure the dewormer works.

If that didn’t help, it is time to see a vet. They can do a fecal exam to determine what exactly you might be fighting. Even if the fecal test is negative, they may still prescribe a parasite treatment based on your cat’s symptoms and the other medications you have tried, so be honest with your vet about what you have already tried.

There are two other common parasites barn cats can get: coccidia and tapeworms.

Coccidia, similar to Giardia, is a protozoan parasite that needs a prescription treatment from your vet.

Tapeworms, which are transmitted when your cat ingests an infected flea, are another common parasite barn cats can get. These may show up in the feces of cats as little gross rice looking things. That is the tapeworms ‘segments’. If you ever see these, contact your vet. They will prescribe you a treatment for them.

8. Rabies vaccinations are necessary!Rabies Vaccinations in Syringes

It’s also required by law. When you get your cats fixed, you will be getting them vaccinated against rabies as well, because the vet or spay and neuter clinic will insist.

If they are feral, it is unlikely that you will be bringing them in for their yearly checkups and vaccinations, and that’s fine. It is more traumatic for them to be trapped and brought in every single year than it would be for a house cat. And let’s face it, barn cats with care can live a good 12 years, definitely. Some even longer. But some only 5 years.

If your cat is friendly, you may consider bringing them into the vet for the core vaccines that cats usually get. Or have your horse or large animal vet do it if they take care of a lot of your animals. Or do it yourself as farm supply places often have vaccinations.

9. Provide emergency veterinary care

It is a dangerous world out there for a cat. With the proper care, your barn cat can live a happy number of years. But it is still dangerous and accidents happen.

If your barn cat is injured or sick, please bring him to the vet for care. They are not ‘just animals’.

10. No training needed!

Barn cats don’t need training.

I know, right?

They really don’t. A cat is either a hunter or he is not. Even if you don’t think your cat is hunting, chances are he probably is. He just might be more lazy about it. And even if he doesn’t hunt at all, his presence will help discourage rodents from moving in.

This reason is why I recommend two or more barn cats, too.

Most cats happily hunt, especially those that have lived outdoors their whole lives. But there is the rare one who doesn’t. Hunting rodents is completely instinctive to cats of all flavors. They don’t need to be taught to do it. They just do.

11. Confine your barn cats at night!

I highly recommend you feed once towards the evening, especially wet food, to get the cats to come inside during the evening. Feed them in a tack room or something similar that you can lock up at night. You can release them in the morning.

You can even spruce it up some, give them hay bales or straw bales to lie around in their little room. Heck, confine them to a feed room instead and they’ll make sure mice aren’t eating and pooing in your feed!

Coyotes and mountain lions and wolves will eat your barn cats, especially if they’re prowling around your property and not hiding in the barn.

Protect them from some of the dangers of living outdoors and confine them to a safe spot in the evenings, if possible.

Barn Cat Peeking At Night

Summary

Exciting, isn’t it? The history of the barn cat, where to find a barn cat, and how to care for barn cats, all in one spot!

Want a quick list to reference for all the tips I recommended here?

  1. Barn cats need care too!
  2. Barn cats need to be fed daily.
  3. Provide your barn cats with water.
  4. Spay and Neuter!
  5. Do not leave food out overnight!
  6. Deworm your barn cats regularly
  7. Pay attention to your barn cat’s poop!
  8. Rabies vaccinations are necessary!
  9. Provide emergency veterinary care!
  10. No training needed!
  11. Confine your barn cats at night!

Did I forget one? Do you have a recommendation? Leave me a comment below!

Lovies!


14 thoughts on “How to Care for a Barn Cat: Barn Cats 101”

  1. Thank you for sharing on how to take care of the barn cats (it is really a 101 class that we all need to know) I love the origin of the barn cats lol I used to manage a restaurant and we used to have a cat roaming in our food storage area (dry food of course but those mice are vicious!) 

    I did not know that their pee scares the mice away! Wow. Raccoons are scavengers and aggressive, they really eat anything. Will make sure not to leave food out.

    Thanks for writing such an informative post!

    1. Thank you!  Mice are definitely a pest!  Cats, even domestic cats, are predators by nature and the mice will smell that in their urine.  There still will be some, of course, but it is never as many as when cats move in!  Thanks again!

  2. Hey there barn cat lady! I too live on a farm and have had two barn cats that I caught and adopted. Wonderful article and very well written! I must say that you cover completely every aspect of barn cats and then some more- be proud of yourself for such an informative write. This is an inspirational article to look at for how to write a well written and visually appealing article.

    I am an advocate of the colloidal silver for animals as an antibiotic that is more natural and not needed for the vet to subscribe. Could you maybe look into this wonderful alternative medicine and maybe add it to your article for those in need of antibiotics for their barn kitty? Let me know!

    1. Hi!

      I don’t use colloidal silver because all of the claims it makes have been unproven or proven to be false.  In fact, it can actually be harmful over time. Both the FDA and the FTC have been getting onto a lot of colloidal silver manufacturers for making unfounded claims. 

      My main concern with it is that it can often make the absorption of antibiotics lower so that if an animal is seriously sick and needs antibiotics to save his life, colloidal silver can counteract some of those antibiotics, making them ineffective.

      There is also not one known benefit of silver taken as a supplement as it isn’t actually an essential mineral like magnesium or iron is.  

      But thank you so much for the suggestion!  I have researched some things non-veterinary related to help the kitties, but I try to stick with proven methods of care.

  3. Hello Rochelle, thank you for taking the time to share this well detailed and structured article and guide on how to care for barn cats. I must admit that I learned so much about barn cats; how they should be treated, their importance and benefits when placed in our barns and how we can effectively take care of them. This post is educative in regard to this as well.

    Regards!

  4. Hey, Barn Cat Lady. I think that is actually a pretty cool superhero name, have you considered getting yourself a costume and maybe trying to save the world by spreading your knowledge that way? You could get like a Catwoman suit or something like that.  I had no idea that cats were so useful for humans. I didn’t know that they actually served any purpose aside from pets. And I had no idea they were so good at actually catching mice. I can see why farmers would find that very valuable and why people would want to use them.

    1. Thanks!  And yes, cats are excellent mousers.  They even kill snakes too, the crazy fuzzy creatures!  Thanks for visiting!

  5. Hi! I greatly appreciate your post and one of the main reasons is that you briefly explained the benefits of fixing barn cats. I have been trying to explain this at the farm I work and we all agree to some points but they don’t seem enough. From your post, I have gathered 2 points more: 

    1. It reduces the chances of catching Feline Leukemia (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).

    2. Cat won’t get an infected uterus, breast cancer or prostate cancer.

    1. Hallelujah!  Someone who understands the value of spay and neuter!  Outside of the obvious concern of so many kittens being born, plus the whole fighting, spraying, and mating behaviors, it really is healthier for the cat as you pointed out here.  It’s almost always an unneutered tomcat who gets sick with FeLV or FIV when I’ve come across them in my TNR work.

      I should point out though, that it reduces breast cancer chances in both dogs and cats if done before the first heat cycle but it doesn’t completely eliminate the risk.  It’s just very, very minuscule in spayed females.  Probably about the same chance as a male has of getting breast cancer.

      Thanks so much!

  6. Hi Rochelle. Finally, I found an article about cats. I have a site about these wonderful creatures. I really liked the way you write about cats on the farm. The care tips you give are indispensable to those who live on the farm and have cats. You said that they are not just cats. I once had a cat that brought a mouse into the house (I lived in the block at the time) and gave it to her nephew (who was a kitten). I guess in order to teach him how to hunt.

    1. Hi!  Yes!  Cats will bring first dead mice for kittens and then live mice to help teach the young ones what to do with a mouse!  Usually, it IS the Mama cat who will do this, but oftentimes in colonies, cat mamas will share nursing of other kitten litters so that make sense!

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  7. Thank you for the good tips you shared here about properly taking care of our barn cats. Sadly, a lot of people think that cats are invulnerable with sayings like cats have 9 lives. The truth is, they too are vulnerable.

    If I get two cats, should I get one male and one female like they’re a pair instead of cats with the same gender?

    I noticed that cats are territorial especially among the same gender. The cats of my neighbors quarrel frequently with one almost killing the other and I don’t want to happen that to my pets. Or, maybe can you suggest ways of making pets or cats of same-gender live life together peacefully?

    1. Hi!  Thanks for the question!

      Cats are definitely territorial, you’re right.  But it isn’t because of the sex of the animal, exactly.  They don’t like ANY strange cat coming into their territory.  This aggression gets infinitely worse if the cat coming into the territory is an unfixed male cat, though.  

      If you get two cats, if they are spayed or neutered, it will not matter what gender they are.  Tomcats (unneutered male cats) are the aggressive members of the domestic cat species, usually.  They are the ones the other cats will refuse to allow to enter their territory and they will attack other males viciously. Yet unfixed females can be just as vicious and unfixed females going into heat will draw unneutered tomcats from miles around.

      Spaying and neutering is the only way to stop all of the aggressive fighting in a group of cats.  It doesn’t completely stop it completely, but catfights will be rare and less vicious if everyone is neutered.

      So my suggestion is to get a pair of cats that know each other and fixed.  You can introduce two strange cats to each other and they will eventually get along.  This helps if one or both of them are kittens.  But male or female, it doesn’t matter much. 

      If you want to know more about how spay and neuter helps cats, please read Why is Spay and Neuter Important in 2019?

      Thanks again!

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