Stray Cats Vs. Feral Cats: What’s The Difference?

Millions of homeless cats live in animal shelters, but there’s even more who live outside. But there’s a big difference between the feral and stray cats that populate almost every neighborhood in the country. Can you tell the difference between stray and feral cats?

Feral Cats vs Stray Cats

Photo: Flickr/Mohamed Aymen Bettaieb

The most common misconception with strays and feral cats is that they are “wild” animals. Feral and stray cats are both domestic animals, although stray cats are socialized to be near people and are typically the product of abandonment or getting lost and separated from their homes.

What Are Feral Cats?

Photo: Flickr/koi ko

Feral cats are cats that have had little to no contact with humans and act accordingly. They have strong family bonds and live in tight-knit groups called colonies. Cats become socialized when they interact with people and are held, spoken to, and played with from an early age. Since feral cats don’t get this interaction, feral cats have a natural aversion to humans and more often than not they cannot adjust to living anywhere but outdoors.

What Are Stray Cats?

Photo: Flickr/Xiahong Chen

As for stray cats, over time they can become more wild 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 a while for them to acclimate, especially when they have been away from humans for a long enough period of time.

How Can You Help Stray And Feral Cats?

Photo: Flickr/Neal Fowler

Despite the difference in social interaction, both types of cats live in a generally harsh environment. They have to hunt for food and shelter or depend on the kindness of strangers. You don’t have to bring a cat into your home to protect it either! Building shelters or making areas they stay more comfortable with blankets and food can make a world of difference. You can also look up shelters in your area to find ones that will offer Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) services to keep the population down.

How Do You Identify Stray Cats Vs. Feral Cats?

Photo: Flickr/shizo

It is important to know how to identify what type of cats you may see around you. Strays are much more likely to come to humans and can be easier to take to shelters or adopt. Feral cats should not be approached however and should be handled by professional caregivers. Here is a guideline to help you distinguish between stray cats vs. feral cats:

Stray Feral
Human Interaction
Stray cats have been conditioned to be around people, and are likely to approach them for food, shelter, or just attention.  Feral cats will not approach humans and will likely have a hiding place to avoid contact with people and other animals.
Cat Interaction
Stray cats typically stay on their own and do not socialize with other animals. Feral cats will associate themselves with other cats and find unity within a group.
Body language
Stray cats will typically walk around like your average house cat. Walking with its tail up as a sign of friendliness. Like people, they will make eye contact, look at you, or blink. Feral cats are more reclusive, not make eye contact, and will crawl, crouch, stay low to the ground, and protect their bodies with their tails.
Strays will be active primarily during the day. Feral cats tend to hunt 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 feral cats, so they will have learned how to keep a clean, well-kept coat.

Visit The Humane Society’s website for more information on stray cats vs. feral cats. Thank you for helping keep our furry friends safe!

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