In the U.S., stray and feral cats are a massive problem. One of the best ways to help them is to know that there is, in fact, a difference between stray and feral cats. Make no mistake, both need our help. But to help them, we need to recognize that there is a difference there, and properly identify each type of cat so we can give them they help they need most.
Alley Cat Allies says that stray cats are cats that once had a home, and then either ran away, got lost or abandoned. They can become more feral over time, but, under the right circumstances, they can re-learn how to trust people and become a pet cat again.
Feral cats, on the other hand, aren’t socialized, and except in rare circumstances, cannot be socialized. They avoid humans, and don’t like to be touched, let alone held. They’ll probably never be happy indoors. Feral kittens, however, can be socialized and adopted out.
What are some other things that show the difference between stray and feral cats?
It’s not just interaction with humans that illustrates this difference. Feral cats form colonies, and associate with other cats, but not other animals, really. Stray cats tend to be solitary – they don’t form colonies the way that feral cats do.
Stray cats also act far more like a typical pet cat. They walk with their heads and tails held higher, like they’re strutting their stuff. Feral cats, on the other hand, are far more reclusive. They keep low to the ground, and use their tails to protect their bodies. They skulk, almost; they don’t walk.
One unexpected difference between stray and feral cats is that feral cats have adapted to the outdoors far better than stray cats are, so they’re actually more likely to have a clean, well-kept coat. They’ve learned how to keep themselves clean despite the harsh conditions outdoors. Strays, though, are more likely have dirty and unkempt coats.
Knowing whether a cat is stray or feral helps you determine what kind of care it needs, especially if you’re looking to trap it. If it’s stray, you can get it vetted and then either bring it into your own home, or find a good home for it. A feral cat, on the other hand, is best treated in a trap-neuter-release program. Having an idea of the difference between stray and feral cats will help you better care for them.