Am I Dealing With A Feral or Stray Cat?

FK_FeralVsStray_400x325You’ve noticed that ever since spring has sprung, you have seen an increase in felines frolicking in your neighborhood. It could be that your neighborhood is where the “cool cats wanna be”, but in reality the increase of cats in your neighborhood could be due to the fact that cats mate in the winter, leading to kitten season in the spring.

But before you try to befriend and take all these new and possibly lost kitties to the animal shelter, keep in mind that not all of them are homeless and some may be feral. It’s important to know the difference and how you should interact with them, or if it’s just a good idea to let them be.

First things first, feral and stray cats are both domestic animals, however, instead of being lost or abandoned house pets, feral cats have not been socialized amongst humans. Feral cats have become dependent on themselves, and though they create bonds with other cats in family groups called colonies, they are not accustomed to human contact.

Cats become socialized when they interact with people and are held, spoken to, and played with from an early age. Since feral cats do not get this interaction, one should be wary, because feral cats have grown to become apprehensive of humans and may be happier living on the streets than in our homes.

Secondly, feral cats are capable of finding their own food and shelter. They like being outdoors, and are least likely to want to become a house pet. However, kittens who are born to feral cats are still capable of becoming house pets if they are socialized at an early age and adopted into a home.

As for stray cats, over time they too can become feral as their contact with humans dwindle. But unlike a cat who was born into the feral lifestyle, stray cats have the ability to become house pets once again. By slowly re-introducing them to your home after living outdoors it may take awhile for them to acclimate especially when they have been away from humans for a good amount of time.

The Stray Cat Handbook explains, “A stray cat is a domestic cat that has been abandoned or has ‘strayed’ from home and becomes lost. Stray [cats] were once pets and they can usually be successfully rescued and placed in homes.”

Despite these tips, it still can be difficult to determine what type of outdoor cat is feral or a stray. But you should start your sleuthing by observing cats on their own outdoors. Here is a guideline that can help you decipher what type of cat you’re dealing with:

Stray Feral
Human Interaction
Familiar with human contact, stray cats may be timid at first but will approach people, houses, porches, or cars. Most feral cats will not appraoch you and will likely find a hiding place to avoid contact with people.
Cat Interaction
Like feral cats who fend for themselves, when it comes to other cats, stray cats will tend to live alone and not be part of a group (i.e. colony). Feral cats will associate themselves with other cats and find unity within a colony.
Body language
Stray cats will walk around like your average housecat. Walking with its tail up is a sign of friendliness. Like people, they will make eye contact, look at you, or blink. Feral cats will be more reclusive, not make eye contact, and will crawl, crouch, stay low to the ground, and protect their bodies with their tails.
Schedule
Strays will strut their stuff primarily during the daytime. Just like their wild cousins, feral cats will revert back to their feline instincts and travel by night. You may catch a glimpse of them during the day, but they are likely to be nocturnal.
Physical Features
Just like how we’d feel if we were lost in an unknown area without familiar resources, strays will tend to look dirty and disheveled. The outdoors have become the way of life for ferals, so they will have learned how to keep a clean, well-kept coat.
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