What Is a Feral Cat?

There is a good chance that at some point in your life, you will encounter a stray or a feral cat. Many people have the wrong idea about these animals that live outside. Misconceptions continue to exist concerning stray and feral cats all around the world, regardless of whether you come across them in your backyard, around the park where your business is located, or when traveling overseas. Acquiring accurate information will assist in dispelling myths, putting an end to the unjust treatment of stray cats, and reducing the number of cats that end up homeless.

What Exactly Is a Feral Cat?

The majority of the time, a feral cat is born in the wild or outside with very little to no interaction with humans. Feral cats will hiss at you and/or try to get away if you come too close to them or try to pet them because they perceive your hand to be a claw that could hurt them. Feral cats are typically the offspring of other stray or feral cats.

What exactly differentiates the two from one another? First things first: a stray cat was once someone’s beloved pet that was either misplaced or given up by its owner. Some strays develop a dread of humans as they battle to survive in their new outside environment, and depending on their surroundings, some of them even adopt behaviors and characteristics of wild animals after some time has passed.

However, most strays are aware that humans provide food for them, therefore they try to remain near houses, carports, and other locations where people congregate. It is recommended that a regular caretaker take a friendly stray cat to a veterinarian to have the cat scanned for a possible microchip when the caretaker first finds the cat. In some fortunate cases, the owner of the stray cat and the cat can be joyfully reunited.

How Do Wild and Stray Cats Differ From One Another?

The difference between a feral cat and a stray cat is that the former was born and raised in the wild, while the latter was formerly a domesticated pet but was either lost or abandoned. Cats who have been abandoned by their owners are typically friendly and used to interacting with humans. They will regularly seek out human interaction and engage in behaviors such as purring or meowing to express their interest.

Feral cats, on the other hand, are characterized by their notable silence and their avoidance of human contact. It’s not uncommon for stray cats to look for shelters close to human habitation, such as in car garages, front porches, or backyards. The following are some examples of general disparities in behavior and appearance:

  • Stray Cat
  • Could make their way to you.
  • Could start approaching the meal that was offered as soon as possible.
  • Stray cats are more vocal.
  • Could appear untidy or unkempt.
  • Can be witnessed at any time of day.
  • Feral Cat
  • Will not come near you in any way.
  • Will not approach the food until you have moved away from the area.
  • Silent
  • Will give off the impression of being groomed
  • Typically active only at night

Ways to Determine if a Cat Is Feral

You may have noticed several cats congregating near a corner. Or, an odd cat may have taken up residence on your front porch because it seems to be the ideal place for it to slumber. You need to find out if these cats are wild or if they are just strays wandering about by themselves first before you approach them. Continue reading if you are unaware of how to determine whether or not a cat is feral, how feral cats differ from stray cats, and what you can do to help the feral cats in your area while simultaneously preventing the population from spreading. You will also learn about activities you can do to aid feral cats in other areas of the country.

Is It Meowing and Come to You?

If a cat comes up to you and starts meowing at you, you can be certain that it is not a stray. Domesticated cats will only meow when they are engaging with a human since they have learned that humans respond to vocal cues. Feral cats, on the other hand, will not meow. The fact that it is meowing at you indicates that it is either a stray cat or a cat that does not have a home.

Does the Cat Appear to Be Afraid of Human Beings?

It’s not necessarily the case that a cat that runs away when you approach it is wild. The cat may be a stray that has been mistreated in the past, which has caused it to develop a fear of people. It’s also possible that the cat has a home and just doesn’t like people that come to visit. You can learn more by seeing how the cat reacts whenever you remain in the room with it. A stray will likely start to unwind. A feral cat will run and hide, but if it senses that it is in danger, it will attack.

How Does the Cat Look?

If a cat that is filthy and untidy shows up on your doorstep, you can bet that it is a stray cat. A stray cat may often disregard its cleanliness as a stress response to the trauma of being lost or abandoned. Feral cats are accustomed to surviving without the assistance of humans and will retain their furs, even though the texture of their furs will appear coarser than that of an outdoor cat that has a home.

A feral male will have a thick neck, a large head, and spikey fur. It may be a feral cat that was altered as part of the “trap, neuter, and vaccinate” program if its ear has a notch in it. TNR stands for “trap, neuter, and return,” which is an all-encompassing initiative within certain communities to humanely trap free-roaming cats, sterilize them, and then return them to the community. This greatly cuts down on the number of kittens that are born in certain places.

It is common practice for feral cats that have participated in a Trap-Neuter-Release program to have an ear tip, which is a universal mark that can be used to identify free-roaming cats who have been spayed or neutered and vaccinated. While the cat is under anesthesia for the spay or neuter procedure, the ear tip can be surgically removed without the animal experiencing any pain. Other TNR programs might use ear notches, or they might focus on the right ear rather than the left.

What Time Did You See It?

If you encounter a cat out and about at night, there is a good chance that it is a feral cat. The behavior of feral cats is typically more active at night. Cats that are seen roaming the neighborhood during the day are more likely to be strays or outdoor cats that have a home. Crepuscular animals, such as strays and housecats, are those that tend to be more active in the early morning and late evening.

Consider the Body Language

Is it moving near to the ground or is it walking upright with its tail in the air? Does it stop moving if you move? It is most certainly a feral cat if it is hunched over and uneasy. Unlike stray cats, which are less prone to surprise people, feral cats will appear hypervigilant.

Are There a Group of Cats?

Large numbers of feral cats will gather together. Cats are sociable animals, and because of this, the socialization that a formerly domesticated cat would normally receive from people has been replaced with the socialization that they receive from other cats in the colony. They share a home and a hunting territory; however, they do not hunt together even though they do share the territory.

It has been observed that feral females will take turns caring for the kittens, but it has also been experienced that males will take turns caring for the kittens. In most cases, an older female cat is the alpha in the colony, and she will exhibit behaviors such as social grooming. After a time of engagement, feral colonies will even accept non-feral strays or other lone cats as members of their community.

Where Do Feral Cats Originate?

The vast majority of feral cats are the progeny of stray cats that have not been neutered and have reproduced outside. A cat that has become lost or abandoned and now lives outside without any human companionship is called a stray. Stray cats, much like feral cats, avoid people and may end up being part of a colony of wild cats. When they see a human, feral cats will normally run away, but if you offer them food, they will approach you. Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to rehabilitate wild cats, particularly adult cats. This is especially true for older cats. In the majority of instances, attempts to rehabilitate wild cats do not result in any beneficial outcomes.

What Causes Feral Cat Colonies?

Even though some stray cats choose to live alone, the majority of them organize themselves into small colonies near sources of food. The majority of feral cat colonies have a hierarchical structure that is extremely lax and lacks linearity. This indicates that none of the colony’s leaders or members hold a position of higher rank inside the colony. However, members of the colony will always recognize their own and will occasionally get into fights with those who are not members of the colony. After a series of interactions with the other cats, a stray cat may eventually be admitted into the colony.

The Benefits of Feral Cat Colonies


Cats face a distinct variety of dangers when they venture out into the open air. The most dangerous are those that feed on prey, such as stray dogs, dingoes, coyotes, caracals, and birds of prey. In addition to this, they must fend off attacks from neighboring colonies that are after their food supplies. By congregating into colonies, feral cats guard both themselves and the resources available to them. By doing so, they can project a more menacing presence, which deters potential predators as well as other cats. They also communicate with one another to provide warning of any potential dangers that may be approaching.

Sharing of Resources

Wild cats that live in colonies cooperate to find food and other resources for the colony as a whole. In this manner, they can search a larger area and find sufficient food for all of the members. These resources consist of a place to sleep, drinkable water, and food.


The number of cats living in a feral cat colony is normally between 3 and 15. However, the population of some feral cat colonies can grow to far higher levels. Cats’ mental and behavioral development is greatly aided by their ability to socialize, which is made possible when they live in groups. The cats in the colony build deep social bonds with one another through activities such as grooming, playing, and hunting. When there is a high level of familiarity between colony members and there is no internal struggle for resources, colonies function more effectively.

Territorial Claims

Cats, like other members of the cat family, are very territorial animals. This trait is a survival strategy that cats adopt to protect their resources and hunting grounds. Feral cats benefit from living in colonies because it makes it simpler for them to defend and grow their territories. However, the cats will continue to hunt and consume their prey on an individual basis, except at times when they have a particularly strong social relationship.

To Reproduce

The members of the colony mate to generate new members. There might be anywhere from one to twelve kittens born to a mother cat during each of her reproductive cycles, and she can have as many as five litters a year. Living in colonies increases the number of potential mates available to the members and boosts the hybrid vigor.

The adult females in the colony, who are collectively referred to as “queens,” are the ones responsible for rearing the young and defending them from potential dangers. They care for their young by nursing and grooming them until they reach maturity, at which point the now-adult kittens join the colony as active members.

Do Wild Feral Cats Need Our Assistance?

Yes, feral cats require our assistance; yet, the majority of feral cats living in colonies may survive without any care from humans for two to three years. However, because they live outside in harsh surroundings, feral cats are vulnerable to a variety of dangers such as traffic, infections, and other animals. It is our duty as human beings to assist these stray cats in whatever way we can.

How Can We Aid Feral Cats?

Offer Food

You can contribute to the feral cats’ well-being by feeding them, provided that you are willing to take on the responsibility of caring for them. Wet food contains the same amount of nutrients as dry food, but in addition to that, wet food also contains some level of hydration.

Maintain a clean feeding area to avoid attracting any unwanted pests. Also, remember to leave some clean water out for the cats so that they can stay hydrated. Cats have a high susceptibility to becoming dehydrated.

If you feed stray cats, you should make sure the feeders are located in a quiet area so as not to bother your neighbors. If you feed the cats on a regular schedule, it will be easier for you to prevent them from going into garbage cans since they will always have a source of food available to them.

Provide Shelter

When the weather gets severe, feral cats want a haven from which they may hide from the elements. Even though they won’t voluntarily enter your house, you may still offer them a place to set up camp if you construct a makeshift building for them. It is not necessary to go to great lengths; all that is required is a tent or a few storage containers filled with grass straws. Even if they are accustomed to being outside, feral cats still require a warm place to retreat to when the temperature begins to drop.

Providing a place to stay warm throughout the winter is simple and doesn’t cost very much. You may need more than one shelter, depending on how many feral cats are in the colony. A common do-it-yourself alternative is to use either a plastic container that has had a doorway cut into it or a Styrofoam bin.

An insulated dog house could be a great alternative if you have the space and a little more money to spend on it; however, you will want to lower the size of the opening to make it more manageable for the feral cat. Fill the shelter with straw and make it as small as possible while yet meeting its functional requirements for the best possible insulation against the cold.

Because of this, their body heat will be able to warm up the area. Raise the base of the shelter so that it is no longer resting directly on the soil. You should either try to select a location that is protected from the rain or you should cover the shelter with a tarp so that it remains dry if it snows or rains.

Think About Adopting a Feral Kitten

If you see a young cat among the colony of cats that comes to your porch looking for food, you might want to think about taking them in as pets. You can make domesticated cats out of kittens if you put in a little bit of work and have a lot of patience with the process. Kittens are still malleable. This ensures their safety while also helping to control the number of stray cats in the area.

Trap, Neuter, and Return

The population of stray cats can be helped the most if their numbers are kept from increasing. The cats should be humanely trapped, vaccinated, and spayed or neutered before being returned to their territory. Doing so will assist improve the colony’s overall health and prevent the population from growing any further.

The practice of sterilization has advantages in addition to those associated with population control. It will lead to a reduction in the incidence of some cancers as well as a lessening of aggressive tendencies. This is one of the most effective methods that you can assist the wild population, and it assumes that you are already dedicated to providing care for them.

If you are already providing the wild cats with food and shelter, you will be in a position to evaluate their state of health and may even be able to maintain a vaccination regimen for them.

Why Adopting a Feral Cat Is Not an Option?

There is widespread consensus amongst animal experts that mature feral cats simply cannot be domesticated. They are free-living creatures, just like raccoons, for example. They typically avoid interaction with people, will hide during the day, and are notoriously challenged to socialize after being adopted. It is imperative that you do not attempt to pick up a stray cat in the same way that you would never try to touch a raccoon. Make a phone call to the local humane society or any other animal welfare agency assistance.


The presence of feral cat colonies is rather common in most neighborhoods across a variety of countries. These felines are dependent on us for assistance and care to lead happy and healthy lives. Therefore, the next time you come across a stray cat, rather than trying to scare it away, try offering it something to eat instead. In addition, give some thought to taking part in the TNR program so that you can make a significant contribution.

The feline’s attitude toward its human neighbors is the single most essential aspect in determining whether or not it is a stray or a feral cat. Because feral cats have not been socialized by humans, they should be treated as wild animals. It is very, very difficult to get acquainted with an adult feral cat to live as a house cat; but, you may have success in feeding a feral cat and meeting its fundamental requirements in this way.

Feral cats, on the other hand, do share numerous resemblances with cats that are kept as pets, much like domesticated cats do. When approaching an unfamiliar animal, whether it’s a feral cat or a stray cat, it’s important to remember to practice extreme caution at all times.