This is a poorly formulated question in my opinion by many people carrying out an Internet search using Google. What they mean is can a domestic cat survive outside without the intervention of a human caretaker? Or to put it another way, can a domestic cat leave their home and live in the wild like a feral cat and live a long life doing it? The story of Lady Godiva below says that sometimes they can but at a price to their health.
Variable chance of survival
A lot of people would say that domestic cats simply can’t do this. They are not equipped for that harsh life. They might generalize and say that all domestic cats can’t do it. I think that they are wrong. There is no doubt that many domestic cats would not survive that long if suddenly abandoned outside to fend for themselves. Perhaps the majority of domestic cats would struggle to survive for very long.
However, some domestic cats would survive and they’d do it to a good age because they have the ability and skills to do so and the environment where they are is kind to them by which I mean with respect to climate, resources and a lack of predators. Like people, domestic cats are individuals with varying skills and abilities.
Ginger tabby survived outside for years
I have mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again. My mother had a ginger tabby domestic cat who one day when he was quite young left her home and went to live on the golf course opposite her home. He lived there for the rest of his life and then in old age she came back to my mother. He had very bad arthritis and he was coming in from the cold to live out the last months of his life.
My mother, I thought, treated him very badly in his last days or months and in fact she had him euthanised. I think that she could have done much better. The point made, though, is that he wanted to live outside of the family home. He was well cared for and there was no reason for him to leave. He wanted to live in the wild and he managed to do so successfully.
Abandoning a domestic cat by the side of the road would be a crime in many jurisdictions as it would be deemed to be animal cruelty. The reason it is cruel is because domestic cats suffer when they are abandoned as there are unable to survive on their own. They have been softened up by domestication and lost the desire to hunt effectively. These laws prove the point that domestic cats struggle without a caregiver.
It has been found that when domestic cats eat high-quality food, they lose their abilities and desires to hunt and conversely when they are fed poor quality food they hunt more effectively. I would suggest that domestic cats who have lived a very loosely connected life with their human companion are more able to live without the support of humans and therefore are more independent. Barn cats come to mind. Lady Godiva was a barn cat I believe.
The answer to the question is that some individual cats will survive outside on their own without human help but we don’t know the percentage. Others will not. And in between those extremes there will be those who will survive quite a long time but live shorter lives than normal. A partial answer is found in the lifespan of feral cats. There is no scientific study on this and you’ll read anecdotally that feral cats live very short lives of 2 to 3 years. That is not necessarily true and it certainly doesn’t apply to all feral cats.
You will find that some people involved in cat rescue say that under certain circumstances stray and feral cats live reasonably long lives especially when they are part of a colony managed by TNR volunteers. I’m sure that you will find that stray domestic cats joining feral cat colonies are living quite a good life provided that it is managed by TNR volunteers. These cats are living outside as described in the question.
The fact is that there no simple general answer to the question. You have to look at individual cats and individual circumstances. However, in general the lifespan of a domestic cat living outside, unsupported, will be shorter than normal.
Lady Godiva is a domestic cat who survived outside on their own for 10 years and therefore she bucked the general trend that domestic cats can’t really survive in the wild. She is an example that it is possible for a domestic cat to survive without a caregiver to look after them and to be confined to the outside apparently for the entire 10 years.
And she lives in Minnesota which is not the most conducive climate for outside cat with frigid winters. She is described as having an impressive survival record. She was brought to the Heart of Minnesota Animal Shelter in Hutchison, Minnesota as a stray cat that had been micro-chipped. Although the microchip had never been registered.
When she was picked up at the shelter she was in bad condition as you would expect. She had very bad oral health and her breath smelt terribly. She needed teeth removed, her matted hair removed and generally cleaned up and treated with antibiotics.
They were able to assess her age from her microchip. The person who had her microchipped did not want to take a back. They did, however, pay for the services, as I understand it, to get lady Godiva on her feet.
The shelter took ownership of lady Godiva and she is at a foster home at the date of this section of the article (March 7, 2023). It is notable that after her rotten teeth were removed, she picked up tremendously and started to behave normally.
This is obviously indicative of the fact that she was in great discomfort. People concerned with cat welfare should realise that many feral and stray cats have bad teeth and therefore it is likely that they are in discomfort all the time. You can add to bad teeth, ear mites and upper respiratory infections caused by the herpes virus or calicivirus.
This is where the adage by PETA comes in; they believe that feral cats live lives that are too miserable to justify TNR and they would prefer to humanely euthanise them. Although it is a mistake to believe that PETA recommend euthanising all fell cats. That is entirely incorrect as the Infographic below based upon their statements testifies.
Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.