What is the difference between a stray cat and a feral cat? Feral, stray, and pet cats are all domestic cats. But stray cats and feral cats are different from each other in a very important way: how they interact with people.

A stray is a cat who has been abandoned or who has strayed from home and become lost. They may be skittish in your presence, but because they once knew human companionship, they can usually be resocialized and adopted. A stray cat is likely to approach you, though often not close enough for you to touch him. If you put food down, a stray cat will likely start to eat it right away. They are often vocal, sometimes talking insistently, and may look disheveled, as if unused to dealing with conditions outside of the home. A stray cat may be seen at all hours of the day and might move like a house cat, such as walking with their tail up. They will probably look at you, blink, or make eye contact.

A feral cat is an unsocialized cat. Either he was born outside and never lived with humans, or he is a house cat who has strayed from home and over time has thrown off the effects of domestication and reverted to a wild state. Feral cats are not adoptable and should not be taken to shelters (unless the shelter has a TNR program). As we explained in last week’s Pet Column, Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR) is the most effective and humane way to manage feral cats. 

A feral cat is silent, will not approach humans, and generally will be seen only from dusk to dawn unless extraordinarily hungry and foraging for food. A feral cat has adapted to living outdoors and is likely to appear well-groomed. If you put food down for a feral cat, he will wait until you move away from the area before approaching the food. Feral cats may crawl, crouch, stay low to the ground, and protect their body with their tail. They are unlikely to make eye contact.

The most significant difference is that feral cats are not suited to cohabiting with people. The exception is kittens born to feral mothers who can be socialized and adopted if captured early. Feral cats often live in family groups called colonies that form near a source of food and shelter.  They can survive almost anywhere and are found worldwide. 

Many of our cats at Second Chance are former stray cats. A good example is Fluffy. She was surviving on her own but was not feral. A dedicated group of volunteers (who call themselves the Cat Crusaders) trapped her and brought her to Second Chance. She was spayed and vaccinated, and our staff gave her the love and attention she needed to relax and feel safe. She is now in a loving home.

We have former street cats available for adoption now, including Muffin, Mr. T, Lightning, Socks, Cricket, and Buddy. Give them a safe and loved future by adopting.

Second Chance Humane Society’s Animal Resource Center and Thrift Shops have served San Miguel, Ouray & Montrose Counties since 1994. Adoption hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 11 am to 5:30 pm. Our Community Veterinary Services are available by appointment. View our shelter pets and services online: www.secondchancehumane.org