Can domestic cats survive in the wild?

A little story may help to answer the question in the title. My mother owned a ginger cat. At about three years of age he left his home and went to live on the golf course opposite. Despite my mother’s best efforts he never returned until he was about 15 years of age when he wandered in, riddled with arthritis, wild and tired, and plonked himself down in the sun in the living room.

He had lived outside, independently for about 12 years. He had done very well to survive. It suited him. But when he became infirm he realised that he had to rely on domestic life once again. He had gone from domestic to semi-feral to domestic again although he was less domesticated when he returned.

The point of this little story is that some, individual domestic cats can survive in the wild. However, their lifespan in the wild is likely to be shorter than it would have been in their owner’s home.

The fact that there are an estimated 80 million or so feral cats in America must surely tell us that quite a few domestic cats have in fact learned to live in the wild. This is because a number of these feral cats are domestic cats who have turned feral. The majority of them are cats which have been born in the wild. However, in the beginning, there would be no feral cats but for domestic cats turning feral and surviving.

Cat lovers are divided on this issue. I have read that some cat lovers believe that the domestic is simply unsuited to living in the wild. Their domestication makes them unsuited. They have lost the skills necessary to survive in the wild. That may be true for some cats. However, the domestic cat is barely domesticated. They have within them all the skills to survive but it will be harsh and dangerous and some will not survive for very long.

Most cats are random bred cats. They are not part of a cat breed. Of the cat breeds, cats like the Persian cat, are less likely to survive in the wild in my view because they are more docile and less equipped for the job at hand. The contemporary Persian cat has inherent health issues such as breathing difficulties because of their flat face. Their coats are unnaturally long. These factors automatically make it harder.

Then there are the millions of domestic cats who have been declawed. Every cat owner and cat lover would agree that it would be unlikely that such a cat could survive in the wild because they cannot defend themselves.

Then there’s the country. In some countries like America there are predators who prey upon domestic outside cats. This makes it harder to survive. In the UK there are no predators of domestic cats. This makes it easier.

Then there’s the weather. In extreme weather conditions it is much more likely that a cat will perish. In the UK the weather is relatively benign nowadays and the winters are not very harsh. Neither are the summers that hot. This favours survival for the domestic cat who wishes to revert to the wild.

I’ve always felt that certain types of random bred cats are more likely to survive in the wild. I’m referring to ginger tomcats. I feel that they have a certain character, an independent and slightly more bold character which makes them more suited to living in the wild. My mother’s cat was a ginger male tabby cat.

Regrettably, quite a lot of people who wish to give up on their cat and throw him/her away abandon them by leaving them out in the wild, say in a wood. They believe the cat will survive. This is untrue. The cat might survive but there’s a good chance that the person is putting their cat onto a course of a slow death.

What percentage of domestic cats would survive in the wild? Although there are no surveys or statistics on this, I would speculate that around one third of domestic cats would manage to survive for a reasonable length of time. I think that you will find that most domestic cats who leave their home might live in the wild for several months but then find another home to live in. Some will become one of the millions of feral cats.

In conclusion, some – a relatively small percentage – of domestic cats could manage to survive in the wild for a reasonable length of time, perhaps for the rest of their lives in rare cases. But those lives will normally be curtailed because, as for the wild cats living in captivity, the lifespan of cats when cared for by humans is longer than when they have to care for themselves.




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Can domestic cats survive in the wild? — 6 Comments

  1. That’s quite an extraordinary story about your mom’s cat. And I wonder why the cat chose not to return home all those years, but lived close by, on her own. I wonder if she just lived on live prey, or if fed by someone else. Or if your mom left food out?

    Thanks for sharing.

    • He was a he and he lived wild hunting and catching prey. He looked knackered when he came in 12 years later and busted up. He walked sideways because he had bad arthritis. Some cats just decide to live like their wild cat ancestors. It is in the DNA; their genetic inheritance.

  2. I think the number of stray and feral cats worldwide is testament to the fact that a great many of them survive, with little to no assistance from humans. However I do agree with you that declawed cats and those afflicted with breed ‘traits’ would be seriously handicapped for a life on the streets.

    Cats are only domesticated in the sense that they have a temperament which can adapt to living alongside humans. They are born wild. Otherwise their would be no need for early socialisation with humans in which to ‘tame’ them. Personality probably plays a part too, as I’ve had some pet cats who were ‘wilder’ than others.

  3. A very thought provoking article. Too many people take for granted that a cat, as a natural predator, will automatically survive in the wild. That’s not always true. Only the ones who have been taught by their mothers stand a chance, and only those who are really great hunters. All the rest will either starve, be eaten, or die from exposure.

  4. Please get your definitions correct. Any cat of the Felis catus species, bred by humans for human purposes, is termed a “domestic” or “domesticated” cat. No matter how far removed from human contact and no matter how many generations from that contact with humans, no matter how feral; it is, and will forever be, a “domestic/domesticated” cat due to its unique genetics created by human intervention.

    You need some serious education. Even first-year high-schoolers know what you apparently do not. Relentlessly spreading misinformation and ignorance does nothing for your credibility.

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