What is a Feral Cat?

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  • What is a feral cat?

    A feral cat is a cat that is born in the wild but is descended from domestic cats. Most feral cats have limited to zero exposure to humans, and avoid human contact. Feral animals differ from native animals as they are introduced. Examples of feral animals in Australia include pigs, camels, cats, rabbits, deer, horses and foxes.

    Depending on the abundance of food, feral cats can live on their own or in groups, known as colonies or clowders.

    What’s the difference between a stray cat and a feral cat?

    A stray cat is a formerly domestic cat that is now homeless. If a stray cat produces offspring in the wild, these will become feral, having little to no interaction with humans.

    Is it possible to tame a feral cat?

    Most adult feral cats are too wild and distrusting of humans to be domesticated. If caught during the important socialisation window, it is possible to tame a feral kitten. Some adults have been successfully tamed, but this is much less likely than with kittens as adults have already learned not to trust humans.

    Where do feral cats live?

    The feral cat is found in nearly all habitats across the globe. Some live in the country, woods, deserts, on farms and some in cities and towns. They survive by catching local wildlife (birds, rodents etc).

    It is not an easy life for feral cats. Humans, vehicles, disease, injury and predators all significantly reduce the lifespan of a feral cat.

    What can we do about feral cats?

    This is a challenging topic to address, with two sides to the debate. At the moment (in Australia) many local governments and local councils are working hard to eliminate feral cats. That may be a trap, neuter, return (to the wild) (TNR), poisoning or shooting them.

    Feral cat organisations have sprung up to try and help these cats. TNR is the preferred method and may include having people look out for these cats and provide them with food and water. There is an interesting article on TNR by the RSPCA in Australia and their take on the topic.

    How can you help

    Desex your pets and don’t abandon them. If you have the time or the money, contact feral cat organisations and see if there is anything you can do to help.

    Allie Cat Allies is a group that champions low-cost spay and neuter as well as provide Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) and Shelter-Neuter-Return (SNR) programmes for stray and feral cat populations.

    Did you know?

    Ear notch and ear tip on cats

    Some feral cats have the tip or notch missing from the ear, which is the universally accepted way to show that the cat has been desexed (spayed or neutered). The procedure to remove the tip of the ear is carried out when the cat is under anesthesia during desexing.

    Ear tipping enables caretakers, trappers and animal control personnel to immediately identify a cat as spayed or neutered which avoids unnecessary trapping and surgery.

    Further reading: Alley Cat Allies


    • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

      Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio