You might’ve heard the terms feral cat and stray cat. But do you know the differences between feral vs stray cats? On the surface, a feral cat probably seems the same as a stray cat. But there are a lot of ways you can tell which is which. And recognizing the differences is important when it comes to caring for these beautiful animals should you ever encounter them.
Here’s some information on how to tell the difference between a feral cat and a stray cat, and what to do if you come across one or the other.
Not Your Average Domesticated Cat: What’s The Main Difference Between Stray Cats And Feral Cats?
A stray cat is considered a domestic cat. That means they’ve been socialized to humans. A stray might have wandered from home and become lost. Even worse, the stray may have been abandoned. Feral cats, on the other hand, have never had that socialization – and, in the vast majority of instances, they have no desire to ever be socialized.1
A stray cat can be friendly or can, over time, take on the personality of a feral cat. The less human contact the stray has, the greater the likelihood they will take on feral tendencies. However, strays can also become loving members of a human family. A feral cat, on the other hand, will likely never want to have human contact. However, a feral kitten can be socialized if introduced to humans early enough in life.2
Feral Vs Stray Cats: Other Ways To Tell One From The Other
Stray cats are often friendly cats. They might come up to you and want you to pet them. Even though the cat may live alone, a stray may act a lot like the average house cat. They’ll keep their tail straight up and down, which is a sign of being friendly. A stray may even try to communicate with you through vocalization.3
A feral cat, on the other hand, will do whatever possible to stay away from you. If you approach feral cats, they’ll probably run away. You might see a group of feral cats, known as a colony. They won’t try to communicate in any way with you, and will probably even avoid making any eye contact. Feral cats also tend to walk low to the ground when they’re around humans.4
The Feral Cat Colony
The colony, or group, is extremely important to a feral cat. They may try to avoid humans, but that doesn’t mean they only live in remote, wooded areas. You might see a feral cat colony near a structure such as a barn or an abandoned office building.5
Feral cats are often trapped by animal rescue organizations, given vaccinations (including rabies shots), spayed or neutered (in order to control the feral cat population), and then released. They often have a small v-shaped split at the top of one ear. This is because the ear is clipped (while the cat is under a gentle anesthesia) before the feral cat is placed back into the wild. Clipping the ear helps identify a feral who’s been spayed or neutered.6
Community Cats Can Be Feral Or Stray
Do you live in a neighborhood with a community cat? This is a cat that goes from home to home because they know they’ll have a food dish or water bowl waiting for them. Some of the time this cat “belongs” to someone in the area – this animal is also known as a “free-roaming” cat. Other times, though, the cat is, unfortunately, unwanted.7
A community cat may be well taken care of – or could have a really rough life. There are instances where there might be a group of feral community cats roaming the area. They typically have to deal with harsh weather, dodge animal control officers, and more. But if they have some sort of caregiver, they’re spayed or neutered, and they get regular food, they can actually be fairly content.8
What To Do When You Come Across A Homeless Cat: Can And Should You Help An Outdoor Cat?
If you encounter a homeless cat, the actions you take will largely depend on whether they’re a feral cat or a stray cat. If the cat seems friendly, meowing at you and rubbing across your legs, then they’re probably just an outdoor cat who wandered away from home. There’s a good chance the cat will find their way back where they belong.9
There are some situations, though, where it might seem impossible to leave a cat roaming around the neighborhood. It might be extremely cold outside, or severe storms may be coming. You might be in an area with a great deal of traffic, and you’re worried that the cat’s life could be in danger. If that’s the case, and if the cat is friendly enough to allow you to pick it up, you might consider bringing home temporarily (if not, you may want to call your local animal rescue center).
Just make sure you keep the cat in a separate part of your home, away from any other pets you may have. First of all, you want to make sure the stray is healthy. Second, you’ll want to avoid any potential altercations.10
The next thing to do is to take the cat to the vet to see if the stray has a microchip. The chip will have information on the owner so you can reunite them. If the cat has no chip, then you should post bulletins around the neighborhood with a picture of the cat.
How To Help A Stray Cat Find A New Home
If you don’t get a response from the bulletins, and the cat doesn’t have a chip, call your local rescue organization or no-kill shelter. They can work to help the cat either find a new home or help reunite them with their owner.
But if no one can find the owner, and you don’t want to take the cat to a shelter, maybe you can adopt. You could have a wonderful new pet cat as part of the family. Have your vet thoroughly check to make sure there aren’t any health issues.
Tips On Taking Care Of A Feral Cat
As you’ve already learned, a feral cat is completely different from a stray cat. Feral cats typically don’t want anything to do with humans – in fact, they’re often terrified by them. If you have any reason to believe the cat in your neighborhood is feral, trying to catch, or even pet, the cat could be extremely dangerous.
Talk to your vet, shelter, or rescue organization to get their advice. The rescue group might be able to set a humane trap so the cat can be vaccinated and spayed or neutered before being released back into their original environment. If there is a feral colony, with a mother cat, kittens, and other cats, the organization can tell you the best way to make sure they have food and water.
Thankfully, the vast majority of people are extremely compassionate when it comes to helping an animal. Whether you come across a feral or a stray cat, do whatever you can to make sure they are safe and protected from any potential danger.