Stable & Pasture

What is a barn cat, and why might you want one?

Farmers, equestrians, and those who dwell in the countryside have long known the value of the barn cat.

But what exactly is a barn cat, and why might you want one?

Let’s dive deep into the world of these feline overseers of the stable.

A barn cat is a cat that lives primarily outdoors, or in structures such as barns, sheds, and stables.

But they are more than just outdoor cats; they are working animals with a specific role to play.

Many barn cats begin as strays or ferals, but not all. Some are adopted into the role because of their temperament or circumstances.

The most cited benefit of barn cats is their ability to control rodent populations.

Barns, with their stored grain, hay, and other food sources, are magnets for mice and rats.

Cats are natural predators and can keep these populations in check.

While barn cats do need some care (which we’ll discuss shortly), they tend to be less demanding than indoor cats in terms of attention and playtime.

In comparison to professional pest control services, maintaining a barn cat can be more cost-effective in the long run.

While barn cats may be working animals, many also enjoy the company of humans and other animals.

They can become friendly fixtures in a farm setting, offering companionship and even a bit of entertainment.

Caring for your barn cat:

  1. Shelter: Even though they’re outdoor animals, barn cats need protection from extreme weather conditions. Ensure they have a warm, dry place to sleep and escape from rain, snow, and cold.
  2. Food and water: While barn cats will hunt, they shouldn’t rely solely on what they catch. Provide fresh water daily and cat food to supplement their diet.
  3. Medical care: Just like any pet, barn cats need regular check-ups, vaccinations, and treatments for parasites like fleas and worms. They also should be spayed or neutered to prevent unwanted litters.
  4. Safety: Barn cats can face dangers like wild animals, machinery, or toxic substances. Be mindful of potential hazards in your barn or stable area.

What regular medical care does a barn cat need?

Regular medical care is essential for barn cats to ensure they lead healthy lives and don’t become a source of disease or parasites.

Despite their outdoor, rugged lifestyle, barn cats are not exempt from the usual feline vulnerabilities.

Here’s a list of recommended medical care for barn cats:


  • Rabies: This is essential, especially for outdoor cats, as they’re more likely to come into contact with wild animals.
  • Feline Distemper (Panleukopenia): Protects against a deadly disease.
  • Feline Calicivirus and Rhinotracheitis (FVRCP combo vaccine): Protects against upper respiratory infections.
  • Feline Leukemia (FeLV): Especially important if the barn cat might come into contact with other unknown cats.


This prevents unwanted litters and reduces certain unwanted behaviours and risks.

For male cats, neutering reduces the urge to roam or fight.

For females, spaying prevents pregnancies and reduces the risk of mammary cancer and pyometra (a severe uterine infection).

Regular parasite control

  • Fleas and ticks: Regular treatments, especially during warmer months or year-round if you live in a mild climate.
  • Worming: Cats that hunt are at a higher risk of internal parasites. Regular de-worming can prevent roundworms, tapeworms, and other intestinal parasites.
  • Ear mites: Keep an eye out for signs, which include excessive scratching of the ears and head shaking.
  • Regular check-ups:
  • At least once a year, barn cats should have a veterinary check-up. This can catch potential health issues early and ensures they’re up-to-date on vaccinations and parasite preventatives.

Injury care

Due to their environment, barn cats are more susceptible to injuries, such as abscesses from fights, cuts, or injuries from machinery or other hazards. Regularly checking your barn cat for injuries and seeking prompt veterinary care if needed is essential.

Dental care

While barn cats may have some dental benefits from their diet, especially if they’re catching and eating prey, they can still develop dental problems. Regular dental check-ups, and addressing any dental issues, can prevent more significant problems down the line.

FeLV and FIV Testing

Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus are contagious among cats. Testing, especially if your barn cat is newly acquired or has been in fights, can ensure they’re not carriers, which would put other cats at risk.


While not a medical necessity, microchipping your barn cat can help in the event they get lost. Barn cats can roam, and a microchip can aid in their return.

While barn cats might have a more independent lifestyle than their indoor counterparts, their medical needs are just as important, and regular care ensures they remain healthy, happy, and effective in their roles for many years.

Where to get a barn cat for your stable.

  1. Rescue organizations: Many rescue groups and shelters have barn cat programs. These cats may be feral or semi-feral and aren’t suited for indoor living but are perfect for a life in the barn.
  2. Local Farmers or neighbors: Sometimes, neighbouring farms have an abundance of barn cats due to natural reproduction. They might be willing to part with one or two.
  3. Online platforms: Websites like Craigslist or local Facebook groups might have listings for barn cats in need of homes.
  4. TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) programs: These are designed to manage and reduce feral cat populations. After trapping and fixing the cats, TNR programs often look for barn homes where these cats can live out their lives.

In conclusion, barn cats are a boon to those with stables, farms, or barns.

They not only keep rodent populations in check but also add a unique character to the countryside environment.

Adopting a barn cat can be a win-win for both the cat and the caretaker.

What traits to look for in a cat or kitten to see if it might be a good mouser?

When seeking out a good mouser, you want a cat that possesses certain physical and behavioural traits.

While no single trait guarantees a cat will be an excellent mouser, a combination of these qualities increases the odds:

  1. Prey drive: Watch the cat or kitten’s reaction to toys, especially those that mimic small moving creatures, like feather toys or small balls. Cats with a high prey drive will often “hunt” these toys with enthusiasm.
  2. Alertness: Good mousers tend to be alert and curious about their environment. They are quick to notice small movements and sounds.
  3. Agility and speed: Speed and agility are essential for chasing and catching fast-moving prey. Cats that are quick to pounce on toys, able to change direction swiftly, and demonstrate good balance are often effective hunters.
  4. History: If adopting an adult cat, ask about its history. Some cats may already have a proven track record as mousers. A cat that has lived outdoors or has had exposure to barn environments may already be accustomed to hunting.
  5. Size and build: While cats of any size can be good hunters, many successful mousers are of a medium build – not too delicate but also not overly bulky. This body type allows for agility and quick reactions.
  6. Retractable claws: All domestic cats have retractable claws, but observe how a cat uses them. Cats that readily extend and retract their claws during play often use them effectively during hunts.
  7. Independent nature: While not a strict rule, many effective mousers are somewhat independent. They are content with exploring on their own and are patient when it comes to stalking prey.
  8. Experience: Kittens raised in barns or other similar environments often watch and learn from their mothers or older cats. If a kitten has had exposure to this, they may be predisposed to hunting.
  9. Temperament: Ideally, a good mouser should be confident and not overly skittish. While a timid cat can still hunt, a bolder cat might have more success in various environments, especially if there are other animals or disturbances around. A very shy barn cat might also be very difficult to give medical care to.
  10. Sensory abilities: Good mousers usually have keen senses. Bright, clear eyes and erect, twitching ears indicate that a cat is paying close attention to its surroundings.

While these traits can indicate a potential mouser, not all cats with these qualities will necessarily hunt or catch mice.

Some cats may chase but not kill, while others might not be interested at all.

Each cat is an individual, and their environment, upbringing, and personal preferences will influence their hunting habits.

If you’re looking for a mouser, consider adopting from a barn cat program or a rescue that can provide insight into a cat’s hunting abilities.

Remember, even if a cat turns out not to be a proficient hunter, they can still provide valuable companionship and joy in many other ways.

When to retire your barn cat.

Deciding when to retire your barn cat involves careful observation and consideration of their well-being.

The life of a barn cat can be rigorous, and as they age, their ability to endure extreme weather, evade predators, and hunt effectively might decline.

Here are some signs and factors to consider when determining if it’s time to retire your barn cat:

  1. Age: While age itself isn’t the only factor, older cats generally have reduced stamina, slower reflexes, and may develop age-related health issues. Most cats start to show signs of ageing around 10-12 years old, though this can vary.
  2. Health issues: Chronic illnesses, frequent infections, dental problems, arthritis, vision or hearing loss, or any other significant health concern can make life in a barn difficult for a cat. If your barn cat is constantly sick or in pain, it might be time to retire them to a more comfortable setting.
  3. Decreased hunting ability: If your cat’s primary role was pest control and their hunting skills have diminished, it may indicate that they’re slowing down and could benefit from a more relaxed environment.
  4. Physical limitations: Watch for signs of mobility issues, such as limping, stiffness, or difficulty jumping and climbing. Arthritis and other joint problems can make the active life of a barn cat painful.
  5. Weight loss or gain: Rapid weight loss can indicate health problems, while weight gain might suggest the cat is no longer active or hunting.
  6. Behavioural changes: If your previously independent barn cat becomes overly clingy, agitated, or hides more than usual, these might be signs of discomfort, pain, or anxiety.
  7. Safety concerns: Older cats might become more vulnerable to predators or accidents due to slowed reflexes or decreased awareness.
  8. Weather vulnerability: Older cats, or those with health issues, may struggle more with extreme temperatures, whether it’s the cold of winter or the heat of summer.

What does “retirement” look like for a barn cat?

When we talk about retiring a barn cat, it typically means transitioning them from their barn environment to a safer, more comfortable setting.

If the cat is sociable, consider bringing them into your home. Provide them with cosy bedding, toys, and all the luxuries of indoor living.

If the cat is not suited for full-time indoor living, set up a sheltered, heated, or cooled area where they can still enjoy the outdoors without the challenges of the barn.

If you can’t provide a suitable retirement space, consider finding a trusted person who can take in the ageing barn cat and provide them with a safe and comfortable home.

Every barn cat is unique.

Observing them closely and recognising changes in their behaviour or health is crucial.

Remember, retiring a barn cat is an act of compassion, ensuring they enjoy their golden years in comfort and safety.

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