Feral Vs. Stray Cats: What’s the Difference?

When you see cats roaming your neighborhood that seem to have no home, if you are a cat lover, you might become tempted to try and interact with one of them. It is perfectly normal to see a homeless pet and want to do something to help. However, before you do, it is wise to make an important distinction regarding the animal. Is it a stray cat or is it feral? This article will help you tell the difference between the two and guide you in what you should do next.

The Main Difference Between Stray and Feral

Generally speaking, a stray cat was someone’s pet at some point in their life. They have been socialized to being around humans. He or she enjoys companionship around people. A stray cat may be acclimated to human touch, smell, and sounds, which likely began when they were a kitten.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, feral cats have never been socialized to humans. Their feline crew that they often travel with is the only family they know. Feral cats generally do not want to live indoors or become adopted, as they are afraid of people.

Why Is It Important to Know the Difference?

No matter what type of cat you are dealing with, their level of socialization can vary greatly from one cat to another. Knowing whether a cat is stray or feral will help you determine the best way to help them.

If you think a cat is a stray, this means that it could be a good candidate for you or another family to potentially adopt. However, keep in mind that if a stray has been living with no human contact for a long period of time, he or she may become less socialized or even feral if the cat has been on its own for long enough.

Because adult feral cats are not socialized to people, bringing one into a shelter is likely just going to end in them getting euthanized. Allowing them to continue living outdoors is the best plan of action for a feral cat.

How to Tell the Difference

  • A stray cat may approach you, whereas a feral cat will hide from you.
  • A stray cat usually lives alone, and a feral cat travels with a colony.
  • A stray may walk with its tail up, and a feral stays low to the ground
  • A stray will make eye contact with you, and a feral will avoid it at any cost
  • A stray will meow or vocalize and a feral will keep completely quiet
  • A stray will be seen during the day and a feral at night

How to Help a Feral Cat

One of the biggest problems with feral cats is that they are constantly reproducing. A female can become pregnant as early as 16 weeks old and have 2-3 litters a year. One of the most humane ways to help a feral cat is to participate in Trap-Neuter-Return Programs.

Endorsed by ASPCA and the Humane Society, TNR programs humanely trap a feral cat, give the cat a thorough examination, perform vaccinations and then surgically sterilize the cat. The cat is then returned to its familiar surroundings where it lives most comfortably.

You may be wondering how it is humane to let a cat live on the street. Do you have one cat living on your property, or a whole colony? If it is the latter, call your local humane society if you are interested in becoming a caregiver to the colony.

If you have one outdoor cat roaming your property looking for food, why not consider putting the cat in a TNR program, and then commit to providing food and water to the cat on a daily basis? This is a feel-good action that you can do to spread kindness to the animal world every day.  

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