Stray Cats and Feral Cats
September 3, 2020 by Lost Found Rewards in Blog

Stray Cats and Feral Cats

What Makes Stray Cats and Feral Cats Different

There are many people who think that all free-roaming cats are feral, but that is not the case because some are strays. If you know what makes them different, you will be able to interact better with them. In addition, you will find out how you can provide the best care for them.

Even if they appear to be the same on the surface, there are subtle and obvious signs you must look for to identify them. Their behaviour and physical attributes will also help you tell them apart.
Those who want to adopt cats should know what makes them different. Rescuers are also aware of how to identify if it is a stray or feral cat.


Why it Matters

Knowing what makes them different from each other can help you save them.

It is not ideal for a stray cat to live outside because they must keep readjusting to people. Recognizing a stray cat gives you a chance to give it a loving home or look for one if you cannot adopt it anymore. There are a lot of no-kill shelters where you can take them.

Feral cats will not be happy and safe living indoors, which is why they will most likely be euthanized when you bring it to a shelter. Knowing how to identify a feral cat gives you the chance to give it food and shelter outdoors where it is happier and healthier. If you are looking for assistance in managing feral cats, a Trap, Neuter, and Return organization can help you.


Stray Cats

Stray cats used to live with humans, but no longer do. They might have been abandoned or gotten lost. They are normally friendlier and more approachable compared to a feral cat, and you might even get to touch them. They will most likely have a dirty because they are stressed trying to defend themselves and fail to clean themselves. Strays make eye contact with humans and show a friendly body language, like raising their tail. They normally roam around areas where there are humans, and alone compared to feral cats that prefer to be in colonies. Strays can become comfortable with humans again.

However, they are not always friendly or approachable. It could be that they had a bad experience with humans before or after becoming a stray, and will have a hard time trusting humans again. If this happens, you need to befriend them so they can trust you.

Before you choose to bring home a stray cat, you must look for its owner. You can bring the cat to a vet for microchip scanning. If there is a microchip, you can advertise about the lost cat you found. You can adopt or take them to a shelter if no owner claims them, and you cannot take care of them.


Feral Cats

A feral cat does not have any contact with humans or it disappeared over time. They are not sociable with people and can survive outdoors on their own. Many feral cats may never become lap cats love being indoors. Feral cats have no or very little interaction with people. That makes them wary of humans, and could never be adopted. Feral cats could have kittens that can become comfortable with humans and get adopted.

The feral cat’s socialization and behaviour levels are not black and white all the time, especially if they recognize the person who cares for them. They could show signs of knowing you like raising their tail or hanging out on your porch. These behaviours are normally limited to the interaction with their caregiver, and this will only develop after a relationship has been built over time. You must remember that it does not automatically mean the cat is great with living outdoors.

Feral cats consider the outdoors their home. They live and survive in any landscape from the city to the rural farmland. Since they cannot be adopted, they should not be taken to animal shelters or pounds because they will mostly be euthanized.

Feral cats would avoid making eye contact and crouching to the ground while using their tail to protect their body.


Feral Cats Cannot Become Pets

In general, feral cats cannot become pets, which is hard for others to accept. Adopting a feral cat will only break your heart because they will not be happy indoors.

A feral cat’s survival instinct makes them avoid interacting with humans. They are better living outside if their basic needs are met. First-time rescuers try socializing with a feral cat and never really succeed in making them love being indoors. It should not be their goal to bond with a feral cat.


Can You Tame a Feral Cat?

Yes, it is possible. There are several ways how you can interact with feral cats so he or she becomes more comfortable with people. It takes a slow and long process which requires knowledge about feline behaviour, and experience. If the cat is younger, he or she is more likely to get accustomed and less aggressive towards humans. However, it does not always mean they can become pets.

In fact, many experts agree that an adult feral cat is best left that way because making them more sociable consumes a lot of time. This can stress them out. Feral cats can have a long happy life when they are given food and shelter, which is the best option.


How to Care for Cats in the Community

There are trap-neuter-return programs which are a humane way of controlling their population, but improving their general health is also important. A TNR program does not cost much, and it is the most effective and humane way of how organizations manage populations of feral cats.

The feral cats that are part of TNR programs are in better health compared to the ones who belong to unmonitored colonies. The sterilized cats in monitored colonies could have a life span of more than 10 years. The TNR programs also benefit neighbours and towns because they have a smaller feral cat population. Aside from that, they will not have nuisance behaviours that come with intact felines.

They catch the TNR cats, transport them to spay/neuter or veterinary clinics. Then, they will be sterilized, marked for identification, and vaccinated before returning them to the colony. There are TNR programs that take care of colonies, and provide the basic needs of the cats. At the same time, their health is monitored. The socialized strays and kittens are removed so they can go to a foster or permanent home which will be arranged by the TNR services.

Stray Cats and Feral Cats


Summary of the Key Signs


  • Stray cats usually look dirty and their coat is disheveled
  • Feral cats normally have a clean fur and they look well-kept in general
  • If a stray cat has been missing for weeks, they can look unwell and underweight
  • The male feral cats have a muscular frame with scars because of fighting



  • Stray cats might come to you with its tail raised high, which is a sign of friendliness
  • Feral cats avoid interacting with humans when they are approached
  • Stray cats might vocalize by purring or meowing when you touch them
  • Feral cats are will not vocally communicate with you
  • Stray cats may be seen during the daytime because they are seeking food and shelter
  • Feral cats can rarely be seen in the daytime, and they are mostly nocturnal
  • Knowing the differences between feral and stray cats will help them in many ways because their needs can be met.


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