Difference between stray and feral cat

Difference between stray and feral cats

The difference between stray and feral cats is important because stray cats have or had a human companion and should be reunited with that person provided, of course, the cat wants to be reunited and the person is a satisfactory cat caretaker. Whereas feral cats are essentially wild cats. They have had little or no connection with people.

However, there is a distinct overlap between stray and feral cats, as shown in the diagram. Sadly, I think it fair to state that feral cats have a lower status than stray cats in the minds of people. This is because they are seen as less useful. In fact, they are seen as a nuisance and a burden on society by many people. People may be misguided in this thought. Feral cats are often euthanised at shelters because they are unsocialised whereas, in contrast, there should be attempts to rehome or reunite socialised, stray cats.

Although stray cats are, or were, socialised1 and feral cats are not, it can be tricky telling them apart because (a) of the reasons stated in the chart and (b) under TNR programs or when the cats are interacting with strangers the stray cat might become fearful and start behaving like a feral cat.

One obvious distinguishing feature between the two is the clipped ear of the feral cat that has been through the TNR process. However, as I understand it, the percentage of TNRed feral cats compared to the whole is low.

Stray and feral cats are similar sometimes

Here is a table showing some differences between stray and feral cats:

Stray Feral
Less fearful of people and so may approach people. Will normally hide from people except for a person who is feeding feral cats as part of a TNR program or for humane reasons.
Will have a more confident body posture and show more relaxed body language. Fearful, secretive body language and behavior.
Usually solitary and not part of a colony. Individual cats might be part of a colony.
More active in daytime, More likely to be noctural and active at dawn and dusk like a wild cat.
Dirty coat. This is probably because of not being able to cope as a permanent stray cat. Not yet adapted. Clean coat as settled in his/her environment.
Has tips of ears intact. Ear clipped at tip signifying part of TNR programme.
Most domestic cats turned stray are neutered and males have a more delicate appearance to that of an unfixed male feral cat. Unneutered males have a stocky appearance. Thicker neck and larger head.
Females less likely to be pregnant. An outdoor pregnant cat is more likely to be a feral cat.
When trapped, stray cats may (a) behave like ferals but are more likely to be less fearful and may be touched (b) may become friendly and rub inside of cage (c) may be responsive to interactions from person (d) may hiss and show defensive/aggressive behavior. When trapped a feral cat (a) will be at the back of the cage (b) can’t be touched (c) may bang around the cage and climb cage and hurt himself (d) will be tense (e) may lash out showing defensive/aggressive behavior

 

Notes:

  1. “Socialised cat” – a cat that was raised around people, other cats and other animals so that he is relaxed in their company and able to fully integrate.
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Difference between stray and feral cat — 46 Comments

  1. Beautiful explanation, Michael.

    It’s pretty easy for me to spot a stray. The biggest clues for me, as you write, are my ability to approach them to varying degrees and that they are solitary; sometimes there will be a pair.

    These are the cats that I worry about most. It’s unlikely that they are experienced in foraging for food, finding shelter, or avoiding some of the dangers. If they are declawed, my worry will turn to panic. They have to come off the streets immediately.

    There is an occasional stray that will enter a colony if they have been on their own a while because managed colonies have food. However, they stay on the outskirts and behave passively. It’s the only way they can eat in a “members only club”.

    • …my ability to approach them to varying degrees and that they are solitary; sometimes there will be a pair.

      It is very nice to have your knowledge through first hand experience that the stray cat is likely to be solitary and approachable. Appreciated, Dee.

      I agree that the straying very domestic cat is vulnerable.

  2. Very interesting, I love the differences table, it’s amazing how many people call all cats living outdoors feral.
    Dorothy’s Yellow Cat is beautiful and just goes to show how dedicated people like her can make a big difference to the lives of true feral cats.

  3. Thank you Ruth, and thank you Michael. Yellowcat is a perfect example of a feral cat. Like many wild animals (thinking of the fox for instance) will come to rely on human intervention. Yellowcat is just that. A wild cat, who has become very comfortable and trusting that there will be warm shelter and food at her bidding. And….even if she wants it, she will not allow you to touch her. Even after all these years. A finger sniff and gentle nose touch is the extent. But I see the love and appreciation in her eyes. With the cold weather starting it warms my heart to see her emerge from her heated shelter in the morning to come for her grits.

    Marvin was born into Yellowcat’s colony. They are probably related. He is a good example of a feral gone semi domestic. Nothing scares him except for cars.

    Bigfoot was a stray, probably abandoned. The first time I invited him into the house, he settled into the room of his choice and has hardly left it in four years!

    This photo is a good comparison of Yellowcat today, and the photo above of the beginnings of my relationship with her.

    • Absolutely beautiful cat, Dorothy. I have a feral, I won’t say own as you can never own a feral, or any other cat for that matter 🙂 who came to me from a colony we care for, he has been with me a year and a couple of months ago decided that I was worthy of his love. Amazing feeling, he won’t allow any other human near him though, we think it’s because he had become partners in crime with a neighbours cat and she went missing so the affection he was getting from her he decided he would now get from me.

      • Interesting Vicky. Yellowcat and the neighbor’s cat Shadow are complete partners. He eats here every day with her and they lounge around in the yard most of the day. She is so affectionate toward Shadow. I wonder if that would transfer to me if he wasn’t around. I hope he is around as long as she is because they provide so much entertainment and joy as a view out my kitchen window.

        Not so good photo of yellow and shadow sharing breakfast.

        • How lovely for you watching those two cats, I think it’s good your neighbour’s cat Shadow gives Yellow Cat companionship, she must trust you as she comes so close to eat. Will Shadow let you stroke him?

        • The most Will would do before Cilla went missing was nose bump my hand, and that was after months of me feeding him, and if I so much as moved my hand while he did it he would run. Then out of the blue he just let me start stroking him, found out a week later that Cilla had been missing for a week and a half. Luckily Cilla is ok, she decided she was moving in with an old couple and just would not go home to her original owner (my neighbour) any more. They have three other cats but Will won’t have anything to do with them.

    • Beautiful and the “then” and “now” pictures show a true difference in her.
      You may never cuddle with her, but I can see that she has made strides in her ability to trust you.
      Eye contact is very important. You have worked hard and consistently with her.
      Great job.

      • Oh yes Dee. He insist on some stroking. He steps into the house, gets a few pets with Yellow watching intently, every movement. I think she appreciates him getting attention. It doesn’t register that it could be her too. I tested the waters once when it was raining. I put the two bowls down inside the house, opened the door and stepped back. They both came in and ate. She is much more brave when Shadow is around.

          • That would be nice Dee. I’d love to post a photo some day of Yellow in my arms, but I would never push that on her. It’s all up to her. Dee, you would be interested to know that both Marvin and Yellow were part of a TNR program in this small community, organized by a wonderful woman like yourself. It worked. Marvin and Yellow are two of maybe four remaining cats of that program. It was 11 or 12 years ago I am told. TNR works, but it isn’t instant gratification. It takes years. There are no feral colonies here in this neighborhood any more. In another part of town there is, near a grain mill. Fortunately, it isn’t huge, but it will be if steps aren’t taken. Some have been domesticated, many are ratters for the mill. I don’t go down that way much any more since Daisy died (no walking!) but curiosity might get the better if me.

            “Feral? Who’s feral.” Says Marvin.

            • That Marvin is just an upside down kind of guy! You would never know he was a colony cat once. They are so worth the effort/ It is such a thrill for ME when a cat moves a tier:

              true feral to feral
              feral to semi-feral

              • I knew you would appreciate it. Marvin will not stay inside at night. That is the roamer he is, even still. He rules his world. But, I have never felt a hug as sincere and physical as his. He is truly special.

              • I love it, Dorothy.
                That nocturnal thing never leaves sometimes.
                I have a couple like that too. They’re males also. I’m not sure if that’s a factor; but, I don’t see that with females so much.

    • God, she is beautiful. She is a very classy looking cat. The only thing that gives the game away is her ear tipping.

      You look after her so well. It warms my heart to know it.

      • Interesting about the right vs. left. I wonder if it is just that so few TNR projects exist here, the vet may not have known the norm. It is a thought anyway.

        Dee, this is off subject, but I think you are the person to discuss this with. Marvin came up the hill to live with me just about a year ago I think. I had been feeding him at the school when the lady who regularly fed them was off (weekends and holidays) for a couplE years prior to him coming here. Of course I got attached to him during that time. But now that he lives here on the property, he really harasses Shadow. Not regularly, but if he is bored, he seeks out tom cat time. Shadow is so afraid of him, and I know he has had the lights knocked out of him a few times. Marvin is less aggressive towards Yellow. She holds her ground. You can see that Marvin still has huge tom cat features because he was neutered late. Is there any hope of peace? Any suggestions?

        I won’t add the picture I want here because for whatever reason, they show upside down went sent from my ipad.

        • I deal with occasional “spats” here too, and it is ALWAYS instigated by a red tabby male.

          I’m sure you know that Marvin was probably the dominant if he was in a colony. Because he was neutered late, he may still see himself as boss in the colony of Shadow, Yellow, and himself.
          He will want Yellow to be submissive and won’t like it when she’s not. But, she’s right to hold her own.

          He may see Shadow or any other male as a threat to his kingdom. It would be helpful if Shadow were less passive for now. But, I think Shadow will gain more courage with Yellow in his corner.

          However, I think it will get better as Shadow and Yellow continue to bond. I think Marvin will become less aggressive as time goes on. A truce/a tolerance will come about.

  4. The cleanliness of the coat is going to be dependent on environment and population density rather than simply on stray vs feral. I’ve dealt with some filthy ferals that were trapped at awful locations and had coats contaminated with oil etc.

    About 15 years back I produced the following diagram for some feral control groups in Aus and the USA.

  5. An “Indian Cat” as described by H C Brooke in the early days of Abyssinian breeding. The ticked pattern is endemic to that region. In the late 19th Century, the difference between the “Indian cat” and the Aby was the colour. Indian cats were sandy. Abyssinians were reddish. Today, sandy colour ticked cats from that region have been bred as “Celonese”. Hope this helps.

  6. PoC loads slowly at the mo. I know it’s not the modem as I’ve just had it replaced and had my connection tested. Thinking speed … I hope the windspeed in your area didn’t do too much damage.

    • Thanks Sarah. I have discussed this with Hostgator. Mind you it is quite a heavy site with a lot of Javascript blah blah. I am trying to speed it up.

      The wind wasn’t too bad in London. It is all over by 10 am.

        • Sounds right but I have no idea how to do that ;). I started with SiteSell and it was all simplified. And WordPress is complicated with php and Javascript etc. I don’t have the confidence to mess around at the raw level. Thanks Sarah for the idea.

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