Unsure If An Outdoor Cat is Feral or a Stray? Here are Ways To Tell

Feral cats are cats that were born and live outdoors. They are not comfortable around, and don’t want to interact with, humans. They live in well-defined colonies that are like families and are reluctant to let any unfamiliar cats join.

Stray cats are more domesticated and are familiar with human contact. They are cats that were lost or abandoned and are now outdoors looking for food, shelter, or a family to take them in.

If you see cats around your yard or neighborhood first you need to determine if they are strays or feral:

Feral Cats:

  • Will not be alone – feral cats live in groups, if you see one there will be others in the area
  • Will not come up to your door – feral cats are not looking to go inside, they are looking for food, water, and an outdoor shelter area.
  • Will run if you approach them – feral cats are not socialized and do not like human interaction
  • Will have their left ear clipped (if they have been spayed/neutered) – If a feral cat has been trapped, neutered (or spayed), and released back to their colony (TNR) they will have a notched clipped in their left ear. This will show that they have already had the surgery and should not be trapped again.

Stray Cats:

  • Will be by themselves – Stray cats will roam alone since feral colonies rarely welcome outsiders
  • Will come up to your door – and may even try to go in if the door is open. They are not accustomed to living outdoors and are looking for someone to take them in.
  • Will be friendly – Stray cats usually enjoy human interaction and may approach you and rub around your ankles and purr.

Both ferals and strays who live outdoors should be spayed/neutered to help keep the feral population under control. There are shelters, rescue groups, and non-profit organizations who do TNR and care for the feral cat colonies. Once example is LICKS (Long Island Cat Kitten Solution). If you have feral cats in  your area, or a cat you believe is a stray, they can help. With their help the cats will be trapped so it can be determined if they are stray or feral. Strays will be checked for a microchip that may lead them back to their families. If no identification is found they will be spayed/neutered, given a health check and necessary vaccinations, then put up for adoption.

If the cat is a feral they will be spayed/neutered, given a health check and necessary vaccinations, then returned to their colony. For more information on how to help feral cats please visit 4 Ways To Help Feral Cats.

This post is part of the Blogging From A-Z Challenge. A new letter, and a new post, for every day in April!

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7 thoughts on “Unsure If An Outdoor Cat is Feral or a Stray? Here are Ways To Tell

  1. My mother-in-law feeds several stray/feral cats and has even taken in a couple. All these cats, even the two she adopted, were extremely cautions around people but became trusting of her after several months. Not sure if they are trusting ferals or cautious strays.

  2. When I was in highschool we had 2 stray cats come to our house. I would feed them and hang out with them a bit during the summer. Towards the end of the summer it was starting to get cooler at night so we would let them in the house during the day and then put them back outside at night before dad got home. Finally, dad came home early one day and saw the two cats inside the house. They have been living in my parent’s house ever since 🙂

  3. Great post! We’ve taken in two strays, in addition to the three we adopted. There are a few kitties that wander around our neighborhood, but we think they belong to people. They like to come visit and sit in front of our big sliding glass windows in the back, taunting our kitties. It’s pretty funny.

  4. Thank you for this post, the difference between a feral and stray cat wasn’t really clear to me. My cats were stray cats before they came to the shelter (and on Thursday to my place). They like humans (at least me, but they’re very shy) and they seem to appreciate their new home. They haven’t given any signs yet that they would like to go outside, and I’m really relieved.

    A2Z challenge. http://www.whenthecatisaway.com Participant number 1238

  5. Pingback: Catching Some Zzzzz’s – The End of The A-Z Blogging Challenge | thekittycorner

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