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The Difference Between a Stray and a Feral Cat

I have often come across this question what is the difference between a stray and a feral cat. The answer is not as obvious as the question because most people see the two as the same and the difference between stray and feral is difficult. However, it is important to know the difference and what actions to take if you have one of these cats roaming around your home.

· A domestic stray cat that you can feed outside and will soon hang around and allow contact.

· A domestic feral cat will happily eat your food but will never let you near, so trapping is the method of choice.

The first and obvious need is to distinguish between the two types of cats. I should back up a bit and note that domestic cats have been living around humans for thousands of years, (the earliest record being 7500 BC) because farms provided prey for the cats. Most farm cats are feral unless the farmer tames them by providing food and companionship. This usually started with a litter of feral kittens, (called a kindle), and who can resist these little bundles of fur? So training them to be social with humans is how they became domesticated.

Domestic cats lived near farms and villages that attracted other small mammals and insects they could hunt. This created the relationship between felines and humans that remains to this day. Therefore, the house cat was once wild before it was fully socialized by humans. A stray cat is a socialized domestic cat that has unfortunately been abandoned or ‘removed’ from its owners.

Feral cats by nature do not interact directly with humans but have learned to coexist. Feral cats socialize with other feral cats and sometimes socialize with stray cats but not often. Like their ancestors, the wild cat, they tend to stick to their own and resist outsiders. They survive quite well without our help, but they can be a problem if your home is in their territory. The feral cat will likely be hostile towards you and your pets, which will cause your pet’s behavior problems.

Most shelters will not attempt to rehome an adult feral cat because the feral cat is not domesticated or domesticated like a stray cat. A few unique people can deal with them, but most are looking for that beloved cat, and an adult feral is not likely to warm your arms. If you get access to a wild kindling, (litter kittens) then there is a good chance you can tame them. Shelters are not a good place for a feral cat unless they have a program to trap, spay/neuter, mark and release. Most shelters are not set up for this and will destroy the animal instead as they are not likely to house them within the holding period.

Killing feral cats is heartless and most states have laws protecting domestic cats, both stray and feral. Scientific studies show that reducing feral cats in an area does no good because other groups of feral cats, (called clowders), will take over that area and continue to inhabit it. The spay and release back into their territory plan is best for feral cat population control.

There are people and organizations that specialize in helping feral cats through the trap and release program. Your vet is likely to put you in touch with local people who can help you. You can also get more information about feral and stray cats at Alley Cat Allies, (alleycat.org), a national online organization.

A domestic stray cat can be rehabilitated and become part of your family or placed in another home. The feral cat does not get along well with people and is best left alone unless it has become a nuisance. One should contact a local expert to deal with the feral cat.

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