How to Care for Barn Cats

Barn cats are more than just farm-dwelling feral cats. Learn what barn cats are and how to properly care for them.


Walking around a farm, you likely will catch a glimpse of a few barn cats scurrying around, watching farm animals or lying about in the grass. Don’t let their laid-back appearance fool you—barn cats are hard at work! Read on to learn about their lifestyle and how best to care for them.

Horse with barn cat

What Are Barn Cats?

“Generally speaking, barn cats are independent cats who prefer to limit their interactions with humans,” says Angela Speed, vice president of communications at Wisconsin Humane Society in Milwaukee. “However, the degree to which they keep their distance varies from cat to cat and may change over time. Even those who prefer to keep their distance may develop bonds with their caregiver after positive encounters with people.”

And while these kitties might be shy around humans, they are not to be confused with feral cats.

“Feral cats are much less domesticated and socialized, and rarely develop bonds with humans,” Speed says.

Also unlike feral cats, barn cats are actually on the clock working. In fact, these cats can be referred to as “working cats.”

“The term ‘working cat,’ to us, is defined as a cat that provides a job—mousing/rodent control and/or companionship for barn animals and people—in return for the safety and care provided from an owner,” says Julia Doane, community animal welfare specialist and barn cat coordinator at Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) in Methuen, Massachusetts.

For these cats, their rodent-fetching talents aren’t limited to the farm. They also can provide mouse control in stables, warehouses, wineries, brewers and even garages.

Care for Barn Cats

While barn cats may spend most of their time outside, they still require care. Unlike caring for feral cats who truly rely on their environment for survival, these cats need food, shelter and veterinary care.


Your barn cats might spend their days chasing mice, and even snacking on them, but with all the running around, it’s important to keep them nourished and healthy. Feeding these cats a high-quality cat food will help supply nutrients for those days they especially are hard at work.

“Because barn cats tend to live independent lifestyles, most have free-choice access to dry cat food, [so] pick a high-protein option,” says Jennifer Coates, DVM, from Fort Collins, Colorado. “Try to provide wet food from time to time (daily if at all possible) to promote adequate water intake.”

And if you think regularly feeding these cats will make them lazy when “on the job,” think again.

“Cats will continue to hunt, even if they have access to adequate amounts of food, so don’t worry about your rodent population exploding if you feed your barn cats well,” Dr. Coates adds.

In addition to food, barn cats need regular access to clean water to keep them hydrated, Dr. Coates says. During colder months, she recommends using a heated water bowl to prevent freezing.


You’d think a barn would be a cat-napper’s dream shelter since they usually have cozy places to sleep in and horse supplies to cuddle up on. But it might be best to provide your kitty with her own personal space and shelter, especially if your barn is not climate-controlled.

“If your barn cats have access to a climate-controlled tack room or something similar, you can simply provide them a regular indoor cat bed—self-warming varieties are nice—or a simple, unheated cat house for them to rest in,” Dr. Coates says. “Cats who are more exposed to cold temperatures should have access to a well-insulated, heated cat house.”

When you first get a barn cat, experts suggest keeping him confined in a secure area in the barn until he’s had time to acclimate to his new environment, usually a couple weeks. The space should include all of the basic necessities: cat litter box, food, water and a bed. (Make sure the litter box is away from food and water bowls, as well as their cat bed.) This also will help teach your cat that the barn is his “home base,” according to the Kitsap Humane Society in Silverdale, Washington.

Veterinary Care

Providing regular veterinary care is another important necessity for your barn cats, especially preventative healthcare.

“They need to be kept up-to-date on their rabies, feline leukemia and FVRCP (feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia) vaccines,” Dr. Coates says. “They should also be on monthly broad-spectrum parasite control that protects them against heartworms, fleas, ticks and intestinal parasites.”

In addition, you’ll want to get your barn cats spayed or neutered. This helps limit overpopulation and benefits their health, such as reducing the risk of cancer, according to the Amercian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Safety and Well-Being

Providing a healthy and safe environment is essential. That might be difficult to accomplish if you have too many cats or if some of the cats do not get along well with others.

If you find that your barn cats are overwhelming you and you can’t provide proper care, take a moment to decide what is best for you and your felines.

“If a cat is unable to return to [their] colony, or there are too many [barn cats] to maintain in this environment, they may be considered for direct rehoming to a new barn,” Doane says.

If you have an overpopulation problem, you may have to turn to Trap, Neuter, Return/Release (TNR). Many organizations and cat rescue groups organize local TNR clinics for barn cats to be fixed and then returned to their colonies at a low cost, Doane says.

If you find that your barn cats are not getting along or there is an aggression issue, reach out to a behaviorist and the rescue or shelter where you got your barn cats.

“Each case is different, and aggression can stem from different things,” Doane explains. “Some big questions to ask are: Have there been any changes to the environment? and Have you tried offering the cat a quiet space to restart?

“Depending on the behavior,” she says, “we would recommend different behavior plans.”

On top of that, Doane suggests consulting with your veterinarian to see if there are any medical issues that might be causing unusual behavior.

Life With Barn Cats

Two barn cats
T-Rex left, Matlida right. Photo courtesy of Kathryn Krische

So, what’s life like with barn cats? Kathyrn Krische, a farm owner from Crossville, Tennessee, shares her experience.

“I currently have two barn cats,” she says.

Matilda is a 6-year-old female tabby, and T-Rex is a male cat in the Siamese family whose age is unknown. As far as personalities go, Matilda and T-Rex are polar opposites.

“Matilda is a little more standoffish but likes to meow loudly at me if I don’t feed them fast enough!” Krische says. “T-Rex loves to ride on the golf cart and follows me around when I do barn chores.”

For Krische, it’s hard to imagine a life without her barn cats.

“I don’t think you can have a proper barn without a couple cats in it,” she says. “A barn cat is really a valuable farm team member. They have a job to do, and a good barn cat is very valuable for rodent control!”


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