What Is A Feral Cat – How To Fall In Love With One

Posted: November 19, 2020 by Anita

shrek feral cat

I had my mind made up. I was going to adopt the dainty Clara. I was offered Shrek (free) as part of the package but was warned that he was a feral?

What is a feral cat?

And I was warned that he loved giving love bites.

Okay?! This was not a ringing endorsement.

“Just think about it”, the nice lady told me. She had to do a house inspection before she gave over Lady Clara. Again, she said “think about taking Shrek too. They are the best of friends.”

Not one to break up a team, I eventually said yes – with some trepidation wrapped in a bit of fear. I didn’t want to be bitten by this creature that looked (and walked) like a drunk haggard old man in a cat’s body.

He had the eyes of a wise older man who had lived an interesting life. 

He was a wise old man in a cat’s body who taught me a thing or two about what it means to be a cat lover.

And Shrek taught me about the awesome responsibility it takes to be a good cat owner. I no longer have Shrek (or Clara) in my life – which is a long story that I will share in another article.

But I learned a lot from that old man cat. In a lot ways he has prepared me for Theo (my current feral kitten).

It is a lesson that still, to this very day, sticks with me.

In this article, I discuss feral cats:

  • What is a feral cat?
  • Stray cat vs. feral cat
  • Feral cat behavior
  • The lifespan of feral cats
cat love bites

What is a feral cat?

Definition of a feral cat is a wild cat that hasn’t been socialized to humans.  Feral cats tend to be afraid of humans.

A feral cat is different than a stray cat.  What makes them different is their relationship with humans. A stray cat is usually a lost house pet that has had human contact at some point.  A stray cat can become a feral cat after years of not socializing with humans. 

Both strays, ferals, and outside cats (cats whose owners allow outside) hang out in packs or colonies. These colonies or packs of cats make up what is called free-roaming neighborhood cats or community cats.

Feral cat behavior

The ASPCA defines feral cats as “any cat that is too poorly socialized to be handled…and who cannot be placed into a typical pet home”.

How can you tell if an outdoor cat that you come across is a feral?  Here are some behaviors that feral cats exhibit:

  • Won’t make eye contact
  • Will not approach humans. If the cat is feeling cornered, any attempt at human contact will be met with aggressiveness such as scratching, biting, hissing, etc.
  • Obsessive cleaning of the coat
  • Nocturnal, sleep during the day.
  • Run in packs or a feral cat colony
  • Acts wild
  • ear might be tipped (which means neutered by a TNR program)

Stray cat behavior

According to “The Stray Cat Handbook“, “a stray cat is a domestic cat that has been abandoned or ‘strayed’ from home and become lost.”

  • might approach you or hang out by your house
  • acts friendly (vocalizes, tail up, eye contact when spoken to)
  • visible during the day
  • ear not tipped
  • may or may not be part of a colony

How long do feral cats live?

The lifespan of feral cat is thought to be a short one.

But is it really?

Some cat advocates feel that with access to an adequate food supply, shelter, and basic veterinary intervention (such as neutering), feral cats can live anywhere from 8 years on up.

Where do feral cats live? There are cat colonies for domesticated “cats in the wild” that caring souls manage. These managed cat colonies provide food, outside shelter, and healthcare to community cats.

These awesome caretakers do not own the cats that are part of the managed cat colonies. But the cats are shown love by these extraordinary people that have taken it upon themselves to care for these community cats.

Why are feral cats a problem?

According to PETA, there are 60-100 million feral cats in the US. Feral cats are the offsprings of lost and abandoned cats (previously owned) that grow up with no human contact.

A female cat can come pregnant as early as 16 weeks old – a mere kitten! That female cat (kitten) could go on to produce 2-3 litters a year until the end of their reproductive cycle – about 7 years.

Her offsprings could go on to produce their own kittens. One female cat can be responsible for the birth of 420,000 cats!

What issues do community cats face? Why are feral cats a problem to humans?

Issues community cats (stray and feral cats) face

Community cats face a load of issues – it’s not an easy life.

  • homelessness
  • starvation
  • endless pregnancies
  • extreme temperature
  • infections, diseases, and parasites
  • attacks by other animals
  • killed off by – animal control and government agencies, frustrated homeowners, and cruel humans

Issues humans face with community cats

There are issues that humans face when the population of community cats have exploded.

  • odor from cats marking territory with urine
  • random cat poop (a neighbor’s cat loves pooping underneath the tree in my yard – true story)
  • flea infestations
  • devastation of garden or yard from cats digging
  • noise from cats fighting or mating

What to do with a stray cat/feral cat

What to do with feral cats/stray cats has been the topic of many debates between cat advocates and others, such as environmentalists, who believe that feral cats should be euthanized.

Feral cats are treated differently depending on where you live in the world.

In Australia, lets just say feral cats aren’t looked upon favorably.

In the UK, it is against the law to harm feral cats.

In Canada and the US, there are no set guidelines on how to handle feral cats. The treatment of community cats is dependent upon the laws of the local government and municipality.

I believe that a large impact on the issue of community cats can be dealt with on a local level; through targeted initiatives.

The question is what can be done about community cats in your area? What are those targeted initiatives? Adopting at least one of these suggestions will help your community with free-roaming cats.

Keep your cat on the inside (or outside enclosure)

The first thing you can do is not contribute to the problem of roaming cats by:

It is safer for your cat to be home either in an outside enclosure or in the house. If your cat tolerates it, you can walk him outside on a harness and leash. Click here to check out cat harnesses and leash from Amazon.

Check out this video from Jackson Galaxy on how to slowly get your cat use to the cat harness and leash then eventually walking.

It is a dangerous world out there for cats. And some people are just cruel to cats – for no reason. Protect your cat by keeping them inside. And some people are just cruel to cats – for no reason.

  • Get your cat neutered (or spaded). I got Theo neutered which was covered through the pet insurance (which includes a wellness plan) I purchased for him. I pay $50 a month – I got the most expensive plan; there are cheaper plans offered. It covered his neutering surgery and 90% of his kitten wellness shots, flea treatment, exam, etc. Click here for more information.
  • Get your cat microchipped. If your cat gets lost your chances of getting him back increases if he is microchipped. A microchip implanted underneath your cat’s skin identifies your cat, identifies you as the owner and your contact info – should your cat get lost.

Don’t feed the feral cat unless…

Don’t feed the feral and stray cats unless you’re ready to take full responsibility for the whole community of cats that you’re going to attract.

Why do I say that?

Providing just food to a community cat is a short term solution to a more complicated issue.

That feral/stray cat that you’re thinking about feeding needs a long-term solution that goes beyond just feeding.

(Okay I sort-of repeated myself).

Here are some questions to ask yourself and links to the solutions for when you come upon a cat:

  • Is he a stray or feral cat? To help you figure out which one, read this article.
  • Next, either trap the cat yourself or call your local cat advocacy group – so they can do this part. Your local humane society can then take it to a vet for the next steps, which could include shots, medical assessment, neutering, and return or reunited with its owner.

Taking in a stray cat

  • Do you want to keep this cat? This should only be an option if you know the cat is not a feral.
  • If the cat isn’t feral and you want to keep it – take it to the vet. To make sure things are okay with your new cat. Need medical and wellness insurance for your new cat? Pet’s Best InsuranceCover up to 90% of your pet’s vet cost; check out their wellness plans; click here for more information!

Feral cat rescue

The truth is most feral cats don’t want to be rescued.  A lot of communities have moved to trap-neutered-release of feral cats. 

So instead of taking them from their natural habitat and locking them up in a shelter, or killing off the feral cat population, a lot of communities have moved to this more humane and less traumatic practice.

Check out how one organization, Neighborhood Cats, got started with their T-N-R (trap-neutered-release) program.

what is a feral cat

Why bother with a feral cat?

Yeah, that was my question. But I’m glad that I went with my gut and said yes to adopting Shrek.  He’s still a work in progress.  However,  every day he becomes less Shrek the semi-feral cat and more Shrek, the domestic cat.  So have an open mind when the adoption center presents you with a feral cat that’s been socialized.  They can bring a lot of joy to your life. And you can ensure a better life for a cat that was probably on its way to a short lifespan.

what is a feral cat

How to tame a feral cat

If you’re really brave and you’re looking to give the neighborhood feral cat a chance at a good life.  Here are some reasons why domesticating a feral cat is a good idea:

  • It’s humane – the life of a feral cat is usually a short one.  It’s life and cat health is in danger every day.  Taking a feral cat off the street saves a life.
  • Feral cats love to hunt birds so they can be a threat to endangered bird species.
  • When a feral cat is taken off the street, spayed/neutered, it cuts down on the overall feral cat population by decreasing feral kittens.

The process of taming a feral cat isn’t easy and I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert at it.  Instead, I recommended these resources:

what is a feral cat

Shrek is amazing.  And I’m not just saying that because I’m biased….okay well perhaps I am biased.   A lot of feral cats don’t make it to the adoptable stage.  Or once adopted, they are given back to animal shelters because of human’s preconceived notions of how a cat should behave.

Shrek has taught me some things about life.  Love comes in all shapes and sizes.  Imperfection is not a bad thing.  Kindness and patience are key factors in love.

Want to read more about rescue cat adoption, read my post “Adopting a Rescue Cat”

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