What are Feral Cats?


How old is My Kitty?  Caring for Ferals.  Taming Feral Kittens

Feral vs. Stray?

Feral, stray, and pet cats are all members of the same species; they are all domestic cats. But stray cats and feral cats are also different from each other in a very important way — in their relationship to and interactions with people.

We use the term “socialization” to mean cats who are friendly towards people — or cats who enjoy companionship with us in our homes. Pet and stray cats are socialized to people. Feral cats are not socialized to people. While they are socialized to their colony members and bonded to each other, they do not have that same relationship with people.
A stray cat is a cat who has been socialized to people at some point in her life, but has left or lost her domestic home, as well as most human contact and dependence. Over time, a stray cat can become feral as her contact with humans dwindles. Under the right circumstances, however, a stray cat can also become a pet cat once again. Stray cats that are re-introduced to a home after living outdoors may require a period of time to re-acclimate; they may be frightened and wary after spending time outside away from people.

A "feral" cat is unsocialized and tends to be fearful of people and keep a distance. Ferals are most often found living outdoors in groups known as colonies. The cats in a colony share a common food source and territory and may include not only ferals, but also strays. Most feral colonies originate from unneutered stray cats. Ferals, as well as strays, are increasingly referred to as "community cats" or "free-roaming cats."

Feral cats live in streets, alleys, and parks because of human neglect of their unaltered domestic cats, allowing them to roam and reproduce. Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return is the only humane, effective approach to community cats, and it helps them and the communities where they live.

Just how feral a cat is will depend primarily on four factors:
• Age - kittens less than eight weeks old, even though born to a feral mother, can usually be socialized within a short period of time. After eight weeks, socialization becomes a longer and more uncertain process. If a kitten is three months or older, she will likely retain some typical feral characteristics for the rest of his life, such as fear of strangers or change. A fully adult feral cat may require years to socialize, if they ever do.
• Number of feral generations - the more distance, in terms of generations, that separate a cat born outdoors from her original stray, once-socialized ancestor, the wilder that cat will be. In other words, feral behavior will tend to increase with each successive feral generation.
• Amount of human contact - cats who regularly interact with people are more likely to show at least some signs of socialization than cats who have little or no contact.
• Individual personality - cats, like all animals, are individuals with their own personalities. Some ferals are naturally friendly and will warm up to people quickly. Many colony caretakers have also observed that some ferals, after being spayed or neutered, begin to behave more like pets.

If a cat is truly feral to a significant degree, then the most compassionate choice may be to allow him to live outdoors with his colony mates. Trying to force him to exist indoors as a pet, or even worse in a cage, may be harmful to his psyche. Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return respects a feral cat's inner needs. By neutering the cats and providing food and shelter, a caretaker plays a role most supportive of ferals, giving them the opportunity to live among their own, be free and answer to their own unique natures.
The average life span of a feral cat
is less than two years on their own. It's a tough life out on the streets. Community cats who are lucky enough to live in a managed colony — a colony with a dedicated caretaker who provides spay/neuter services, regular feedings and proper shelter—can live a quite content life.
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