Difference between Feral and Stray Cats

stray cats

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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 the way they interact and relate to human beings.


As an individual, learning how to relate to different animals is important. 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 be learning the difference between feral and stray cats.


What is socialization?

If a cat loves being around people and is generally friendly towards all individuals, then this is a cat that has been socialized.


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


Differentiating between a stray cat and a feral cat

Any cat which is a pet or one which is considered a stray cat has a similarity which is the fact that they have been socialized.


On the other hand, a feral cat is not socialized. Since they live in colonies, they are usually socialized with the members of the colony. The relationship they share with members of their colony does not exist when it comes to humans.


Stray cats


  • Any cat which has once lived under the constant care of humans and is socialized is a stray cat
  • A stray cat is also one which was once domestic but strayed or was abandoned at one point
  • Leaving or losing its source of human care, contact, and dependence, as well as the home is what makes a stray cat
  • It is possible for a stray cat to become feral
  • A stray cat can still be domesticated to become a pet


Feral cats


feral cat


  • Any cat which lives outdoors without the help of humans is a feral cat
  • These cats live in fear of humans
  • 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 totally 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 noticeable differences?

Careful observation of cat behaviors and interactions with other cats will teach you a lot. Here are a few things you may learn;


  • Initiating contact with a feral cat will cause it to flee
  • The behavior of a stray cat is similar to that of a house cat.
  • When talking to a stray cat, you may get a vocal reply
  • There is no vocal communication from a feral cat i.e. don’t expect a meow
  • The opportunity to touch is available with a stray cat since there is a possibility of it approaching you
  • Crouching low to the ground is a common behavior in feral cats
  • Most stray cats live on their own
  • There is a feral colony in which a feral cat may be a part of
  • It is very rare for a feral cat to make eye contact

What are the significant differences between a feral and a stray cat?

Apart from the apparent signs, you can also rely upon some of their characteristics to ensure which cat is coming across your path. So, here are the differences that you need to know between feral and stray cats.


  • 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 at all 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 very common behavior that you can find in ferals is that they tend to switch to their stealth mode. They will eventually crouch their body toward the ground while keeping their tail 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:

Recognizing ferals and strays become easier when you focus on their physical attributes. Ferals may come with a tipped ear, which is done in TNR programs.


However, stray cats appear much skinnier. Also, strays are not good hunters, which makes them have a hard time scavenging their food.


But do you know what is a funnier fact about cats? The feral community tends to reject strays often. Also, these stray cats are more involved in altercations than ferals.


Feral cats have great expertise in hunting in the wild. They are healthier enough as they do not need to wait for others to give them food. They just search for food and hunt it down on their own.


  • Differences in their timing for coming out:

Stray and feral cats have a unique behavior of coming out at different times of the day. When you see a cat in the late night or early morning, it is more likely a stray one. Stray cats tend to roam around both the night and daytime.


On the other hand, feral cats mostly come out of their territory at night. It is so because they sleep all day long and become active at night. However, they tend to stay within their home range only and do not go far away.  It helps them maintain a safe distance from humans.


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.


Why is this important?

  • It is possible for a stray cat to 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 important 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

Helping feral cats around your neighborhood


Using the Trap, Neuter, Return program

Do not assume a cat is feral simply because it lives outdoors. The behavior of a cat is the best way to identify a possible feral cat.


Is it safe to approach any cat I find outdoors?


feral cats



Like every other animal, cats will bite if they feel threatened. This is why you need to be extra careful anytime you decide to approach a cat you find outdoors. Cat bites and scratches can be harmful. Follow the lead of the cat and if it is friendly to you, take your time and get to know it to build up 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 usually in a location where they can access shelter and food.


Common 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.


What help can I provide?

·       The first step to take when trying to help a stray cat is to provide food. Leave the food outdoors at the same 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. This becomes visible when it allows you to pet it. Getting the cat the necessary shots at the vet is important if you decide to take it into your home. This 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.


·       Scanning a cat for a microchip is a very important 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 a lot easier, you can pay a visit to 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 very powerful tool in helping owners find their lost pets. You can also find dedicated lost and found pages on Facebook.


·      Trying to find an owner may not yield a positive result. Getting in touch with a no-kill shelter will be your best alternative in this situation. Find out if they are accepting animals at the moment. A lot of shelters often receive tons of requests during kitten season. This is why they turn down a lot of requests.


·      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. This helps in trapping feral cats in a humane manner. When using this trap, you have to get the cat into the trap before the surgery. This is usually the night before so you can stop it from eating. It is important you call the clinic before taking any action. This will be an opportunity for the clinic to inform you about everything you need to know. This includes information on getting a cat neutered/spayed and trapping instructions.


·      Before carrying out the trapping phase of a TNR, it is important 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.


·      Assisting with a shelter for feral cats after surgery can be very helpful. If you are short on ideas, a quick internet search will bring up websites that teach you how to build excellent outdoor shelters for cats. Once the shelter is complete, providing food is the next step. The food should come regularly at a specified time and water should also be included.


  • The average lifespan of a feral cat is two years. This can be massively improved upon with the right care. This includes regular feeding and shelter. With such care, it is possible for them to live up to ten years. There are some important things to note if you decide to take up the role of a caretaker. 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 to this is to allow them to come to you when they are ready.
  • To make a feral cat feel comfortable and safe, there are certain 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, 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 reducing the illnesses which feral cats can spread. To identify a cat that has been spayed or neutered, look for a notch in the ear of the cat.


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 very helpful. While the cats may know the time you set the food, they will still wait for you to leave before approaching. You are still a threat to them. Timing is very important. The food should not be left out for more than an hour. This is to prevent it from attracting other unwanted wildlife. Discussing your plans with your neighbors is important. Not everyone loves to see cats near their home as you do.

Provide shelter in a location without people

The internet provides a large collection of DIY cat-house projects which you can easily follow. A great way to show care to a feral cat is by offering shelter. 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. This is a good opportunity to get the kittens as soon as they are ready to move on their own. 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. Choosing to live in areas with no human presence and taking advantage of minimal intervention from humans. It is possible for a feral cat to live a happy and long life after undergoing a successful TNR program and getting shelter and food from humans. A lot of people may not like the way of living that 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 let it have 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 caring for a feral cat and a stray cat?

Similar to the behavioral and physical differences between these two types of cats, there are also some differences in their care. So, do you want to know these major care differences?


Well, have a look below.


Feral Cat

Stray Cat

To 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.
While approaching feral cats, make sure you are taking all the necessary precautions and maintaining a safe distance so that they cannot attack you. Also, never approach them while they are eating food.
Stray cats can be patted and caressed at any time, even during feeding.
Giving shelter
It 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.




Individuals need to learn the difference between feral and stray cats as this will help them in understanding how to interact with them. This will save a lot of headaches in the long run. The information in this article is certain to be of help to individuals looking to note this difference.




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