Feral cats?! Are you FUR-REAL? Oh gosh, don’t leave.
That was bad I know. As you have probably gathered, today I want to talk to you a little about feral cats.
I’m sure you have heard me mention in some other blog posts about how some of my cats were originally feral. Well, I wanted to dive deep into this subject and explain to you what makes a feral cat, “feral”, what you can do, and how you can help.
What is a Feral Cat?
First, what is a feral cat? A feral cat definition is a cat that is considered an unsocialized cat, or a cat who is fearful of humans.
These cats typically live outdoors in little groups called colonies. These colonies will normally stick together and help feed, protect, and shelter the group. These feral colonies are becoming known more and more as community cats or free-roaming cats.
The best way I like to think of feral cats is if there are a large group of cats together who scatter when they see humans, there is probably a good chance that these cats are feral.
These cats have either never been around humans or have been separated from human connection for so long that they forget what humans are like.
Feral Cat Meaning
I also want to call out that not all feral cats are the same. There are different levels of feral cats which are classified by a handful of characteristics. Some of these characteristics are:
Generations of Feral Cat
History with Humans
Age can tend to play a role in the level of “ferality” (I don’t actually think that’s a word but you know what I mean). The younger the cat is, the easier it is to socialize a feral cat. If you find a cat as a kitten, you usually can socialize the kitten in a few weeks or months. The older the cat gets, the more “feral” the cat tends to me and the longer it takes to socialize it. An older adult cat can sometimes take years to socialize, if at all.
GENERATIONS OF FERAL CAT
Another thing to consider what thinking about how feral a cat is, is its ancestry. If a feral kitten is from only one generation of feral cats, it is normally less feral than longer generations (This means that a cat was abandoned and had kittens, the kittens would only be at most one generation “feral”.) Basically, this means, the more often that feral cats reproduce, the wilder the cats become.
While feral cats are considered feral because they are fearful of humans, some come into more contact with humans than others. Sometimes feral cats are fed by humans, and even seek shelter in human’s properties. These feral cats, while still fearful, are around humans more often than those who have never seen a human before in their lives. The more often that a cat is around humans, the tamer they tend to become. Some people are even able to pet their feral cats after years of patience.
Next, one thing that can vary from cat to cat is their personalities. This is true for feral cats as well. Sometimes a cat’s personality can be wilder than others. That means that you can have a first-generation kitten, that still has some wild behaviors in them years after being socialized.
This does not necessarily mean that you did anything wrong.
You may just have a wilder cat. I know our kitten (and by a kitten, I mean almost two years old) still has some traits of her old feral life. To this day, we still have a hard time picking her up because she just has never liked being held.
The “feral” cat side of her still does not like being held. It requires a lot of patience and effort on our part to work on her being comfortable being held.
And some feral cats just have a tamer personality.
Heck, I know some people who find feral cats that are indoor/outdoor cats after nearly a month just based on their personalities. Every single cat is different and unique, as is their personality.
HISTORY WITH HUMANS
Finally, one thing that can impact the wild-ness of cats is their history with humans.
If a cat has had negative experiences with humans the few times they have interacted with them, they will probably take longer to social than a cat who was fed by the first humans they met.
It is important to remember that you have no idea what this feral cat’s past is like. They could have been thrown out by humans, or abused, or anything. All you can do is try and make their future with humans as positive as possible.
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What is the Difference Between a Feral Cat and A Stray Cat?
Some people see an outdoor cat and will automatically think it is a feral cat. However, that may not always be the case. Sometimes outdoor strays can be socialized and therefore not feral. The biggest difference you would notice is how they act around humans.
As I mentioned before, feral cats tend to be more fearful of humans. You will very rarely see a feral cat immediately rub up against as a normal house cat does.
How To Tell If A Cat is Feral?
I always like to use my two cats as exampled when explaining the differences.
My parent’s cat Penny was a feral cat, whereas Phoebe was a stray. When we found Penny, it took her quite some time to warm up to us.
However, when my grandpa found Phoebe, she first off was following him, so the first indicator that she was not a feral cat. And secondly, she wanted attention from him, she would rub up against him and purr.
There was no fear in humans for Phoebe. So if they warm up to you almost immediately, probably a stray cat that was lost or dumped.
What To Do With A Feral Cat
If you see a feral cat, there are a lot of things that you can do to help them.
First, you will want to see if that cat is actually feral, or if it is a stray cat. You can use the section above to help you with that. If the cat seems nervous of humans, then you can probably guess it is feral.
Some of the best things I can recommend for feral cats are patience, shelter, food, and water.
The fastest way to build trust in cats is to feed them.
It may take some time, but if you lay food out for the cats, then they will begin to trust you. I mean, you can’t be all that bad if you’re feeding them daily, right?
About a Feral Cat Shelter
Another recommendation that I like to make is providing shelter for them to sleep in at night.
Whether that be a makeshift shelter or a shed that they feel comfortable sleeping in, anything is better than nothing. It is something to keep them safe at night from predators, as well as build trust in you.
When we found Penny, my parents had a heated outdoor cat home that they would put outside.
(Keep in mind it was winter, which was why they went with heated, there are plenty of other outdoor shelters that are not heated). This kept her safer at night that out in the open, she was warm, and it also started to build the trust even more.
Finally, patience and kindness will be the biggest things for feral cats.
They have zero trust in humans.
It could take days, weeks, months for them to start to build up trust in you. You cannot get frustrated at them, or they will lose any trust they may have gained during that time.
Can Feral Cats become House Pets?
Can Feral Cats Become tamed house cats?
Simple answer, in most cases, OF COURSE!
If you are patient and slowly begin to build trust with this cat, then they can definitely become house cats. The best example I can describe, again, is my parent’s cat, Penny.
She was the definition of a feral cat. She wouldn’t even come near us in the beginning. Then slowly she came closer and closer and eventually to our door.
How To Tame A Feral Cat
I remember sleeping on the hardwood floor one night because she didn’t trust us enough to come inside without the door open and for short periods of time. So, I would lay on the floor until she wanted to come in, then pet her for a little while, and let her back out when she wanted.
Eventually, we built up that trust with her that now she climbs into our arms and sleeps belly up in our living room.
It all happened because we were patient and willing to put the work in to earn her trust. So if you see a feral cat that you have fallen in love with, the last thing you want to do is try and force it inside forever.
That will only cause the cat to want to run and lose trust in you, with one exception that I will talk about later. Forcing them into things they are not ready for will add stress and to the negative experiences with humans later on.
Patience, trust, and love are the three things that will help feral cats become your family pet. It certainly did with ours.
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What Can I Do to Help Out A Feral Cat?
Hopefully, if you are like me reading this then you probably are asking yourself how you can help these cats? And while it would be great if we could adopt all of the cats. But for some weird reason, my fiancé thinks it would be “crazy” to have 50 cats…odd right? So, I have had to think of other ways in which I can help these cats and help you help them. Obviously, this blog is one of the ways I have found to help them, but hey, that’s not helpful for you is it.
You can feral cats around in many ways. First, you can provide safe shelters for them to sleep in, leave out food, water, and blankets so they are safe and fed. If there is one outdoor cat in particular that you are wanting to bring into your home, you can work towards that using some of the steps I have talked about above.
Feral Cat Rescues
There is also a technique that is becoming more common throughout the nation that I am really hoping catches on.
One of the biggest problems with feral cats is that they are not spayed and neutered.
This causes them to breed babies at an alarming rate, which causes even more feral kittens to be on the street. One thing that we can do to help with this is something called ‘Trap, Neuter, Release’.
And shockingly enough, it is exactly what it sounds like.
It involves groups of people who trap feral cats, take them to the vet to be neutered, and release them back into the wild. Often, vets will also clip a small section of their ear while they are under as a way of tagging that the cat has been neutered.
Then, humans can work on preventing too many feral kitten births each yet, spend time focusing on helping the outdoor cats, and eventually make sure all the cats have homes.
Alright, well maybe the last part went a little too far, but the rest of it is true! There are so many ways people can help with the feral cat population and oftentimes, it really doesn’t involve too much work.
Feral cats are not creatures to be feared or taunted. All cats have the desire to have a home, just some have not yet had the experience of what a loving home feels like.
It is important that we learn the ways to tell if a cat is feral or a stray. And then use those tools to allow us to help the cat begin to trust humans, stay safe, and live a long and happy life.
Thank you for the wonderful article. I started feeding two feral cats that started coming around our home last summer after my 12 year old boxer pasted away. I started feeding them so they would leave the birds alone and at the same time my husband started trapping the raccoons so they would leave the cats alone and because of the nasty stuff raccoons carry. The last two winters I have mahe shelters for the cats, this year we used 3″ think c
Sterofoam coolers which we placed inside the top and bottom of a large dog bed filled with straw, and bedding which are up against our home, I also have straw and tarps over and around them to help with the wind. Plus I have a sleeping bag and three blankets on top of that where the cats come and eat. I probably feed around 5 pr 6 cats and a couple of possums. I will bring the blankets in the basement and put them by the heater to dry and warm up. I also purchased 2 pads that I placed inside the shelters that are supposed to help the cats stay warm they work with the cats body heat. One of the cats we think was a stray since she ( we named her Patches she is a calico) likes to come into the basement for a while and get pets and warm up then wants back out. The other long haired calico will also come in and rubbed against us but if we try to pet her she will sometimes claw at us. There is one other cali o, a long haired gray cat and a black and white cat that come around. During the summer they would come up on the deck and sit at the door to let us know they were ready to have dinner.
For some reason Gladwin, MI has a large feral cat problem and it makes me sad that people just drop off there cats instead of taking them to the shelters.mThank you and Merry Christmas, Melanie
You are such a wonderful human! I am so happy you are helping take care of the kittens outside! There needs to be more people like you! Merry Christmas Melanie! <3
Admiring the commitment you put into your site and detailed information you provide. It’s awesome to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed material. Excellent read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.
Thank you for your information about feral vs stray. It helps me understand my 19 year old cat!
Quite helpful, actually. Cheers!
Meow meow 😻😻
You’re a real precious person…I have a Ragdoll male cat and now two male cats from my neighbor whom is very irresponsible with the cats he brought home from the humane society only to catch the rats on his property.
He feeds the birds only for the cats to catch the birds and feed themselves. Puss ( we named him upon adoption) came to my outdoor cat house crying in pain, I called the neighbor and told him about Puss this person is a doctor…we put Puss in my cat carrier and he took him to Humane society expecting free service. Humane society don’t do that anymore. Needless to say I followed that doctor there…he said he didn’t want Puss anymore, I told the lady at Humane society I’ll take him. Off to the hospital…Puss has bladder issues and he was a Feral cat…
and another named Mazekein.
We ship in cat food to feed that person’s cats outside on his sidewalk.
Wish me luck…gonna try to catch Angel a Siamese… it’s been over a year now, and still trying.
For the life of me I cannot see animals miss treated…and my husband feels the same.
We have two outside rescue dogs, inside one Shih Tzu, three cats.
Let’s all make a difference…be kind to animals.
Thank gosh for people like you. I started feeding 2 cats outside around 2 years ago. Now I believe I’m up to 17 OMG!! I’m in Westminster, Colorado and we just have such a horrible issue with people abandoning their animals. My heart is just too big too watch these Fur babies suffer. I have beds everywhere and feeding stations. God bless the people that make a difference and Care for those that don’t have a voice.
Thank you for the well informed information. I consider myself a rookie advocate for Feral Cats. Lol. I’ve gotten about 20 fostered and adopted and trapped a couple as well. Wish I could save and spoil them all. My favorite Cat to date is a Black Male Cat that I trapped and had neutered. He lives outside and roams the wild but will run into my apartment and sleep on his back in the blink of an eye. Things like that make me want the best for these animals.
I’m looking for comments/support from animal lovers and people that pay attention to the harsh realities of animals trying to survive outside, specifically cats that have been branded ‘feral’.
The cat you’ve allowed to go outside because you think it’s ‘happier’ that way, is the ‘feral’ cat that shows up in my yard, starving or dying of dehydration. It is , in the words of a dedicated rescue worker I know, an ENDLESS cycle.
Why? Because we are constantly saving animals at the back end of the problem. -TNR, community cats etc.
I want to suggest to my city council, a leash law for cats. It works with dogs in my community and given time, would decrease the cat population outside and save millions of birds and other creatures. The Audubon Society has chilling numbers on how many birds are killed by feral cars every year. Cats are defined by the Mn DNR as a domestic animal, therefore being protected under city ordinances. Releasing a cat after T&N is NOT humane in winter conditions.
Please comment on this idea and let’s start this conversation in our communities-thank you
I have 4 feral kittens just a couple or 3 months old. I don’t know why we no longer see the momma cat… (just hope she’s not pregnant again!) I have been feeding them since they were out & about from under a shed out in the backyard. I now have them coming to the back sliding door waiting to get feed twice a day… first thing in the morning & again about 8:30 or night at night… I have 1 that will come to the bowl while I’m talking to them & have even touched it’s ear, but it (they) still want come close to pet… they are all gray with yello eyes… just like their momma! I call them: Eenie , Meenie, Miny, Moe!
I don’t know which is which… lol
I’d love to have at least one that I can pet … but I’m scared to actually try to grab it… (& I could) but don’t want to get bit Or scratched…. How can I get the more relaxed with me & let me pet it or them??? They stay in my carport (which is a storage shed closed on both ends with tarps & a tarp for a door on the side! I will be putting a blanket out there before cold weather gets here… ( I’m in SC ) Not sure if I can keep feeding 4 cats!!!
My cat Hooter passed on Thanksgiving day 2005… & my husband would not let me have another …. Until these showed up & first time in years I’ve seen him care for them … as far as feeding them if I’m late getting up… 🥰
& he needs something like this to care for…
(He has on set of dementia…) so taming these kitten would be great!!
My name is Marcia
I have varying degrees of feral cats… I live in the country and sadly some people get a kitten or cat and when the are too much trouble or scratch the furniture – they take them out an dump them. They struggle to survive, and because they are confused and hungry, they learn to hunt….but they have also learned not to trust “people”. My first showed up on my porch in 2016….soaking wet – first long haired cat I ever had. I didn’t know that a whole litter had been dumped – and by the time I spotted the rest of the family they were TOTALLY feral. Sammy was about 6 weeks when we found him – and of course brought him in. My other cats didn’t know what to think of him…the vet was amazed – he was a Norgegian Forrest cat – very beautiful and majestic! Then…I started spotting more of his brothers and sisters that had been dumped – and left food out for them, but was never able to gain their trust enough to get “hands on”…. Then, the one I referred to as “Beautiful One”….had her kittens, Chocolate Chip Brownie, Potato Chip and Nacho Chip (who was NOT YO FRIEND unless her sisters were around! Chocolate Chip had her kittens in a dog house I had for her, but the raccoon got 2 of her babies one night so I snatched her baby (Carmel Chip) and moved them to my garage, complete with heated cat house. Potato Chip went to my sons house across the street to have her babies…and I have Tater Tot, Grayson and French Fry…and Potato was taken to the vet so no more babies. Chocolate Chip Brownie also did the vet visit. No one has ever been able to put Nacho into a crate to take her to the vet – but as fas as I know she has not had more babies….so maybe someone else took her…but she still comes back to my place…she likes the cuddles and food selection! Nacho’s first batch of babies included Fanny May, Princess Bandito and Midnight… very sweet kittens, who also made their trip to the vet. Before I got Fanny May there she had a litter…long story, she was not good momma material, and the dad – named Daddy….is the first male cat I have ever seen that was superinvolved with his kittens! I keep trying to lure Fanny May in the house and she wants NO part of it. I snatched up her babies Freddie, Mac, and Who Done it – but Houdini was so much like her daddy…very feral and skittish. Sadly, last week one of the neighbors that does not feed her dogs or take care of them, came to my house and attacked Miss Houdini…and she was too feral to catch so she is gone. Anyway….long story….but ALL of my cats started as feral….12 in the house, 4 in the garage, and 4 or 5 outside ones that will NOT come inside ANY building – but that doesn’t mean I’m giving up. And…the Lord sent a HUGE dog that someone dumped…and I tried so hard to run her off….but she backed into the dog house the cats had used and said “I AM HOME”…..and miracle of miracles….she loves the cats, and they love her! There are times that they even eat out of the same bowls. One feral, Panther….took too long to let me close, but as soon as I could get hands on, we went to the vet…but he was in kidney and liver failure…but at least at the end, he was not hungry, he knew he was loved, and he went gently. All they are really asking, is a chance. Some are easier…..some take more time – but just like each and every one of us – they deserve a chance! So, I am proud to be known as the “Crazy Cat Lady” and “Feral Whisperer”….because they are my friends and they know I love them.
There are millions of feral cats her, and 3 are living in my house.
One was taken in four weeks old, sick and motherless, and the other two, Princessa and Amiga, were grownups. But it’s a matter of personality. Princessa still scratches and bites me when I try petting her, although she’s been with me for years, and Amiga follows me, jumps on my lap, and would stay there all day long if I let her.
So whether or not a feral cat will socialize with humans has to do not just with how old she was when adopted, but also with her personality. Some cats are friendlier and more trusting. There are very few feral cats who let strangers pet them, although they’d never had contact with humans before. I have videos of me petting feral cats in my blog. They’re everywhere, in yards, parks, the streets, and the beach.
Hello, my wife and I captured.6 kittens and what we thought were the parents. Turns out the second parent was another pregnant female. We adopted one of the kittens and kept the rest. The two adults are basically still feral. its been a few years and I can get them to smell my hand and they both do the slow blinking at me. We have 2 from a shelter, adopted a few from 0utside, and my wife feeds the strays and neighborhood cats.