How to Identify Feral Cats
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 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.
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
• Human Contact
• 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.
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.
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 Should I do if I see 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?
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 Cats?
Can Feral Cats Become 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.
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.
What can I do to help out feral cats?
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.
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.