Answers to your frequently asked questions…
What is a feral cat?
A feral cat is a cat who has either never had any contact with people or her contact with people has diminished over time. She is not socialized to people and survives on her own outdoors. Most feral cats are not likely to ever become lap cats or enjoy living indoors.
Outdoor cats have existed alongside humans for 10,000 years. They are not a new phenomenon. Feral cats are members of the same species as pet cats—and are therefore protected under state animal anti-cruelty laws.
The difference between feral cats and your pet cat is that they have had little or no contact with people, and so they are wary of us, and cannot be adopted. They have a home—outdoors. They live and thrive in every landscape, from the inner city to rural farmland.
Since feral cats are not adoptable, they should not be brought to animal pounds and shelters, because there they will likely be killed.
Isn’t it unsafe for feral cats to live outside?
The outdoors is the natural habitat for feral cats, and empirical evidence indicates they can live long and healthy lives:
Feral cat caregivers can take steps to make feral cats more comfortable, like neutering them, feeding them, and providing shelter. These steps promote the cats’ well-being, improve their relationships with neighbors, and assist the people who live nearby to understand and co-exist with the cats. However most feral cats don’t require intervention beyond Trap-Neuter-Return.
Why can’t feral cats be socialized and then adopted into homes?
A feral cat is a cat who has either never had any contact with people or her contact with people has diminished over time. They are not socialized to people and cannot be touched, except sometimes by a regular caregiver.
The ideal window for socializing feral kittens is 12 weeks of age or younger—beyond 12 weeks, feral cats may never socialize completely or at all. As a result, we do not recommend attempting to socialize feral cats older than 12 weeks—it is dangerous and stressful for both you and the cat.
Feral cats live healthy lives in their outdoors homes and the best thing you can do to help them is Trap-Neuter-Return. Outdoor cats that are friendly and socialized to people are called stray cats, and they can be re-homed.
What happens to feral cats when they are brought to most shelters?
Because feral cats are not socialized to people, they are unadoptable as pets. In most shelters unadoptable animals are killed. In fact, 70% of all cats who enter shelters are killed there, according to the most reliable data available. That number jumps too close to 100% for feral cats.
Why doesn’t removing feral cats from an area work?
Animal control’s traditional approach for feral cats—catching and killing—is endless and cruel, and it does not keep an area free of cats. Cats choose to reside in a location for two reasons: there is a food source (intended or not) and shelter.
Because of a phenomenon called the vacuum effect, when cats are removed from a location, survivors of the catch and kill effort and new cats who have moved in breed to capacity.
Cats have been living outside alongside people for over 10,000 years — a fact that cannot be changed.
What is the difference between a stray cat and a feral cat?
Stray cats are socialized to people and can be adopted into homes, but feral cats are not socialized to people and are happy living outdoors.
A stray cat:
- Is a cat who has been socialized to people at some point in her life, but has left or lost her indoor home, as well as most human contact and dependence.
- Can become feral as her contact with humans dwindles.
- Can under the right circumstances become a pet cat once again. Stray cats that are re-introduced to a home after living outdoors may require a period of time to re-acclimate; they may be frightened and wary after spending time outside away from people.
A feral cat:
- Is a cat who has either never had any contact with humans or her contact with humans has diminished over time. She is not socialized to people and survives on her own outdoors. Most feral cats are not likely to ever become lap cats or enjoy living indoors.
- Can have kittens who can be socialized at an early age and adopted into homes.