Difference between Feral and Stray Cats

stray cats

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A feline friend is a stress buster and therapeutic for some people. More often than not, while keeping a cat as a pet, people prefer domestic cats. Domestic cats are a species of cats that includes pet, stray, and feral cats. Within this classification, there is also a unique difference between feral and stray cats. This difference is noticeable in how they interact and relate to human beings.

As an individual, learning how to relate to different animals is essential. It doesn’t matter if you are just a person in a neighborhood overrun with feral cats or a shelter worker. Deciding on the best form of interaction becomes easy when you learn the behavior unique to each type of cat. In this article, we shall learn the difference between feral and stray cats.

What is socialization?

Before venturing into the differentiation between feral and stray cats, it is essential to know what socialization is. If a cat loves being around people and is generally friendly towards all individuals, this cat has been socialized.

There are different means through which a kitten can be socialized. It includes various forms of interaction with people, such as being played with, held, and spoken to from the early development stages. For any kitten that does not get this form of care during this stage, it may become impossible for such a kitten to live in a human home.

How To Know If It Is A Stray Cat Or A Feral Cat?

A stray cat is typically a domesticated cat that has become lost or abandoned and is used to human contact, whereas a feral cat is a domestic cat that has been born and raised in the wild and is fearful of humans.

Stray cats may approach humans for food or attention, while feral cats typically avoid humans and are more difficult to tame or adopt as pets. Such differences are important to know while you consider helping them. Some basic differentiation that one needs to know between a stray cat and a feral cat is as below:

Stray Cats

  • A stray cat is a cat that has once lived under the constant care of humans and is socialized. It can also refer to a cat that was once domesticated but strayed or abandoned at one point.
  • A stray cat becomes a stray by leaving or losing its source of human care, contact, and dependence, as well as its home.
  • Although socialized, a stray cat can become feral if it lives on the streets for too long without human contact. The time spent on the streets is enough to bring such changes.
  • A stray cat, if found and cared for by humans, can still be domesticated to become a pet. However, domestication can be more challenging than adopting a cat that has never been stray or feral.

Feral Cats

  • Any cat that lives outdoors without the help of humans is feral.
  • These cats live in fear of humans as they are not familiar with their nature. Most feral cats have not enjoyed any form of human interaction in their lifetime.
  • It is possible to find feral cats that have once experienced human care but have lost the feeling of this interaction.
  • If a feral cat has kittens, it is possible to make these kittens socialize. Making an adult feral cat an indoor cat is a very rare occurrence.

What Are The Most Common Differences?

Careful observation of cat behaviors and interactions with other cats will teach you a lot. Now that you know the basics of identifying a feral cat from a stray one let us dig deeper into the core characteristics of these two types of felines. Besides the traits, there is also a difference in how you care for them.

The table below will simplify the characteristics of a feral cat compared to a stray cat.

CharacteristicsStray CatFeral Cat
ApproachThe behavior of a stray cat is similar to that of a house cat. They might wait and react to your approach.Initiating contact with a feral cat will cause it to flee.
ResponseWhen talking to a stray cat, you may get a vocal reply.There is no vocal communication from a feral cat, i.e., doesn’t expect a meow.
ContactThe opportunity to touch is available with a stray cat since there is a possibility of it approaching you.It is difficult to make contact physically with a feral cat. Crouching low to the ground is typical behavior in feral cats. It is very rare for a feral cat to make eye contact.
HabitatMost stray cats live on their own. However, you will mostly see them near houses and on the streets.There is a feral colony in which a feral cat may be a part. This colony will live far off from human habitation.

What Are The Key Differences Between A Feral And A Stray Cat?

Apart from the apparent signs, there is a much deeper understanding that you need to have for feral cats and stray cats. While these terms are often used interchangeably, there are key differences between the two. Understanding these differences can help you determine the best course of action for the cat, whether helping it find a home or ensuring it receives proper care as an outdoor cat. Let’s explore the differences between feral and stray cats, how to identify them, and what you can do to help them.

Differences In Behavioral Characteristics:

When it comes to feral cats, they will never approach you. They are usually very cautious and prevent coming into human contact at any cost. You can barely even make eye contact with feral cats.

On the contrary, a stray cat will itself make you know that it is a stray. Stray cats are popular for exhibiting their open and friendly behavior toward humans. Also, they will not run away from making eye contact. You can easily approach them, and they will react to your approach. Also, if they find that you are pretty friendly with them, they will not mind rubbing their head and body against your leg, even if you are a stranger.

Stray cats believe that humans are amiable creatures and that humans will bring food for them. On the other hand, ferals hardly think if you would give them food or not. They are well capable of finding their food in the wild.

A widespread behavior that you can find in ferals is that they tend to switch to their stealth mode. They will eventually crouch their bodies toward the ground while keeping their tails down. Their eyes start scanning the surrounding areas rapidly.

On the other hand, the body language of stray cats is amicable. These cats tend to carry their tail in a vertical direction. And this behavior tells you that the cats are more friendly to interacting with you. Also, you can find them moving in upright stances.

Differences In Physical Characteristics:

In addition to the behavioral differences between feral and stray cats, physical characteristics can help you differentiate between the two. For example, feral cats that have gone through TNR programs may have a tipped ear, which is a small piece of the ear that has been removed during the spay/neuter process. It can be a helpful indicator that a cat is feral and has been sterilized to help control the population of outdoor cats.

Stray cats, on the other hand, often have a more skeletal appearance due to their lack of reliable food sources. Unlike ferals, they are not skilled hunters and may struggle to find enough food to survive. It can make them more prone to scavenging from trash cans or relying on human handouts.

Interestingly, despite their shared status as unowned cats, feral and stray cats can have very different social structures. Feral cats tend to live in colonies and have a strict hierarchy, while stray cats may be more solitary and less likely to form social bonds. In fact, feral cats may even reject stray cats if they try to join a colony, leading to conflicts between the two groups.

Differences In Appearance Timing:

Another factor that affects the timing of their appearance is their level of socialization. Stray cats may be more socialized with humans and approach them for food or attention, even during the daytime. In contrast, feral cats are typically afraid of humans and avoid contact whenever possible.

This behavior can make it challenging to identify feral cats during the daytime since they tend to hide from humans and only venture out at night when the risk of human interaction is lower. Understanding these behavioral differences between feral and stray cats is vital for anyone who wants to help them.

While stray cats may be approachable and respond well to human interaction, feral cats require a more hands-off approach involving providing food, shelter, and medical care while respecting their boundaries. By recognizing the differences between these two types of free-roaming cats, we can work to improve their lives and reduce the impact they have on the environment.

Can a stray cat be transformed into a feral cat or vice versa?

When it comes to feral cats, they can be rarely tamed, especially if they are adult ones or growing kittens. Only a kitten under the age of six weeks can be socialized quite early. When it comes to stray cats, they might not turn into feral ones but can get wilder if they live outdoors for a long time. However, such stray cats can be socialized again if given proper care and time.

Ferals usually do not intend to become a pet. Hence, the chances of converting a feral into a stray are very low. But, on the other hand, even if turned wilder, strays will react to your approach if it is the right one.

Besides, both feral and stray cats can be skittish enough. Stray felines might run away if they are not socialized. On the other hand, ferals will even deny having eye contact with you.

Also, just like a feral, a stray cat might fight back if it is angry or scared. But the chances of taming down a stray cat are higher when they feel that you are not at all a threat to them. On the contrary, ferals will never show you any sign of friendship even if you feed them regularly. However, you can try to socialize a feral by following the correct method of taming them. But the success rate is poor enough.

What To Know Before Trying To Transform A Feral Cat Into A Stray One?

Now that you know that you can transform a feral cat into a stray one over the tame, there are some essential things that you need to know. Below are the possibilities that can happen after you start transforming a feral cat into a stray one.

  • A stray cat can adapt to staying around people, which makes it a common practice to adopt stray cats as pets.
  • Adult feral cats are impossible to adopt since they are not socialized. In most cases where animal control picks up such a cat, they are killed.
  • The degree of socialization is essential in applying the Trap-Neuter-Return technique to cats. Stray cats often get adopted, while feral cats are released outdoors.
  • If a cat is frightened or trapped, it will be impossible to identify accurately if it is a feral or stray cat. Socialization in cats is only noticeable if they are relaxed.

Is It Safe To Approach Any Cat You Find Outdoors?

Like every other animal, cats will bite if they feel threatened. This is why you need to be extra careful whenever you approach a cat you find outdoors. Cat bites and scratches can be harmful. Follow the cat’s lead and if it is friendly to you, take your time and get to know it to build trust.

Stray cats may tolerate touching, while feral cats will not – not even by a caretaker who feeds them. As you get to know a stray, it will relax over time, while a feral cat will remain tense. If they feel threatened, a stray will hiss, while a feral cat could lash out aggressively.

It is common to find feral cats living in colonies. These colonies usually have a territory. Defending the territory is the duty of every member of the colony. In most cases, their territory is generally in a location where they can access shelter and food.

Familiar places where you can find these colonies include areas near a restaurant dumpster and abandoned buildings. Although there is no form of physical interaction, feral cats often take refuge under the porch of an individual who provides food for them.

Steps To Help Out A Stray Cat

If you’ve come across a friendly stray cat and want to help, there are several steps you can take to ensure its well-being. While stray cats may have had previous contact with humans and may be more approachable, they still require careful handling to ensure their safety and health. By following these steps, you can make a real difference in the life of a stray cat and help ensure its well-being for years to come.

Provide Food

The first step to take when trying to help a stray cat is to provide food. Leave the food outdoors at the exact location and time every day. Gradually, it will become easier to interact with the cat. The cat will also begin to trust you as you interact.

It becomes visible when it allows you to pet it. Getting the cat the necessary shots at the vet is crucial if you decide to take it into your home. It is the first step to take. In addition to a health checkup, the vet will also give flea treatment and neutering. Another great idea will be a visit to the groomer.

Search For Owners

Scanning a cat for a microchip is a critical action. It doesn’t matter if you hope to adopt the cat or not. Why? A lot of these animals usually have owners searching for them. To make things easier, visit the local vets before sending an animal to a shelter. Provide a picture, description, and a flyer if you can.

Place the flyers in public places like supermarkets and local vet offices. Going around the neighborhood and asking questions can also be helpful. There are lots of resources at your disposal. Make use of Facebook. It is a powerful tool for helping owners find their lost pets. You can also find dedicated lost and found pages on Facebook.

Approach Respective Authorities

If you cannot find the stray cat’s owner, contacting your local animal control or animal welfare organization is another crucial step. They may help you locate the cat’s owner, or they may take the cat in if it’s in poor health or in immediate danger.

You can also consider reaching out to a no-kill shelter, which can take in the stray cat and provide it with necessary medical care and attention. It’s important to note, however, that many shelters have limited resources and may not be able to take in every animal they receive. In some cases, they may ask you to provide temporary foster care for the cat while they look for a permanent home.

Steps To Help A Feral Cat

If you have identified a feral cat in your neighborhood, it’s essential to take steps to help ensure its well-being. However, feral cats require a different approach than stray cats since they are typically not socialized to humans. Here are some steps you can take to help a feral cat:

Approach A Feral Cat Clinic

Do not approach a feral cat! Simply call or go to the local feral clinic. They usually offer a “have-a-heart” trap for rent. It helps in humanely trapping feral cats. When using this trap, you have to get the cat into the trap before the surgery. It is usually the night before, so you can stop it from eating.

You must call the clinic before taking any action. It will be an opportunity for the clinic to inform you about everything you need to know. It includes information on getting a cat neutered/spayed and trapping instructions. Before carrying out the trapping phase of a TNR, it is essential to schedule an appointment with a clinic. The duration for which you can keep a cat in a trap is a maximum of 18 hours.

Provide Shelter

Providing shelter for feral cats is an essential component of managing their welfare. Feral cats are not acclimated to living indoors and are accustomed to living in outdoor environments. Therefore, providing adequate shelter for feral cats is crucial to protect them from harsh weather conditions. In addition, it is essential to provide shelter after surgery, as they may be more vulnerable and require a safe space to recover.

Building a shelter for feral cats is simple, and many resources are available online to help you. Various materials can be used to create a shelter, including wood, plastic, and cardboard. Simple shelters can be made using plastic storage containers with insulation, such as straws, blankets, old clothes, or wooden pallets. The key is ensuring the shelter is well-insulated, waterproof, and sturdy enough to withstand severe weather conditions.

Once the shelter is built, it’s essential to provide food and water. The food should be provided regularly, preferably twice a day, and placed in a safe location for the cat to access. Giving water is also crucial, as it helps keep the cats hydrated and healthy.

Take Proper Care

The average lifespan of a feral cat is two years. It can be massively improved upon with proper care. It includes regular feeding and shelter. With such care, they can live up to ten years. There are some important things to note when deciding to take the caretaker role. One is to avoid any sudden movement in the direction of the cat. You should also avoid grabbing the cat forcefully. Since they fear any stranger, they will run as soon as you start getting close. The best solution is to allow them to come to you when they are ready.

You can also start a feeding schedule for the cats. All feral cats love a source of food that they can feed regularly. You should avoid placing food outside for too long. A schedule can be beneficial. While the cats may know when you set the food, they will still wait for you to leave before approaching. You are still a threat to them. Timing is essential. The food should not be left outside for more than an hour. This is to prevent it from attracting other unwanted wildlife. Discussing your plans with your neighbors is essential. Not everyone loves to see cats near their home as you do.

Opt For TNR programs.

To make a feral cat feel comfortable and safe, there are specific steps you can take. Trap-Neuter-Release is one of the most helpful human interactions for these cats. Assisting in TNR programs is always very helpful to humane societies and animal shelters.

To reduce the population of feral cats, trapping the feral cats, spaying and neutering them, and then releasing them to their outdoor homes is very helpful. This program does a lot more than reduce the population of these cats. It also enhances the quality of life that cats enjoy – both strays and pets, by minimizing the illnesses that feral cats can spread. To identify a cat that has been spayed or neutered, look for a notch in the ear of the cat.

How To Provide Shelter For Feral Cats?

You can also shelter them in a location where no people are living around. The internet offers an extensive collection of DIY cat-house projects which you can easily follow. Providing shelter is a great way to show care for a feral cat. If you have excellent technical skills, you can opt for an insulated shelter for extra protection in harsh weather conditions.

The location of the shelter doesn’t have to be in your home. Places, where feral cats pass through frequently, are excellent locations for the shelter. You will notice a lot of female cats coming with their kittens to seek refuge within the shelter. It is an excellent opportunity to get the kittens as soon as they are ready to move. Improving the probability of the kittens finding a home is a lot easier once they undergo rehabilitation from this stage.

The way feral cats live makes them quite interesting. They choose to live in areas with no human presence and take advantage of minimal intervention from humans. A feral cat can live a happy and long life after undergoing a successful TNR program and getting shelter and food from humans. Many people may not like the way of living these cats exhibit, but it is much better for them compared to living in homes.

You can also offer your feral cat ROCKEVER Outdoor Cat Shelter with Escape Door Rainproof Outdoor Kitty House to give it a lovely shelter. Additionally, if you like to facilitate shelter and take good care of feral cats, you can easily seek help from humane societies, shelters, and local rescue organizations.

What Are The Major Differences Between A Feral Cat And A Stray Cat While Attempting To Care For Them?

Differences between feral and stray cats affect how they should be cared for. If you’re trying to help cats in your area, it’s essential to know these differences and understand how to provide the appropriate care for each type of cat. This table will explore the prominent differences between feral and stray cats and offer tips on caring for them.

Well, have a look below.

Differences Feral CatStray Cat
FeedingTo feed feral cats, you must give them separate bowls in a safer and more protected place.Stray cats can be fed locally at any place without any requirement for extra protection.
ApproachingWhile approaching feral cats, ensure you take all the necessary precautions and maintain a safe distance so they cannot attack you. Also, never approach them while they are eating food.Stray cats can be patted and caressed anytime, even during feeding.
Giving shelterIt is recommended not to keep ferals at your home. Instead, make separate shelters for the outdoors.Strays can easily have a weekend fun while chilling with you sitting on your sofa. They are safer to keep at home.


In conclusion, being able to differentiate between a feral and a stray cat is crucial for anyone interested in helping cats in their community. Feral and stray cats have different needs and behaviors, and caring for them requires different approaches. Understanding these differences can make all the difference in providing appropriate care for these animals.

While feral cats may appear scary and unsocialized, they are not necessarily dangerous and have a right to live in a safe and healthy environment. On the other hand, stray cats may be more approachable and need immediate medical attention. Providing medical care and finding them home may be the best option for their well-being.

It’s essential to keep in mind that helping cats in your community requires patience, dedication, and resources. It’s a collaborative effort between individuals, organizations, and the community to improve cats’ welfare. By learning how to differentiate between feral and stray cats, you can make a positive difference in their lives and help reduce their impact on the environment.

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