A feral cat is an outdoor, free-roaming cat who has never been socialized to humans and is living in a “wild” state. This could be a formerly domestic cat who has been abandoned and has reverted back to a “wild” state, or a cat who has been born on the streets and has never had any contact or interaction with humans. (Even though feral cats are wild, they should not be confused with “wildcats” like lynx or bobcats, who are not domestic animals.)
Feral cats are not handleable. They look like regular domestic house-cats, but because they have never been socialized, they are very fearful and distrustful of humans. Generally they come out at dusk or at night. Some arch their backs and hiss and show aggression, others just avoid eye contact and run. With true ferals, you can’t pick them up or handle them without getting extremely bit or scratched. Very often you can’t even get close to them.
Feral cats are different from friendly stray cats. Stray cats are former pets who have either been abandoned or “strayed” from home and got lost. These cats used to be cared for by an owner, but are now trying to survive on their own on the streets. Stray cats are generally tame, friendly and handleable, although they still may be skittish or frightened and run away from people. Generally, though, stray cats exhibit temperaments similar to pet cats, can be picked up and touched easily, and can be rescued off the streets and re-adopted into homes again.
Both feral cats and stray cats are un-owned. These are the cats out in our streets, alleys, yards and parking lots. They are considered un-owned cats or “community cats.” Ideally, with a little work and care, friendly stray cats can be re-adopted into homes. Feral cats, however, live their lives outside on the streets of our communities. The outdoors IS a feral cat’s home.
Feral kittens are kittens who have been born to a feral or stray mother. Feral kittens can generally be tamed down and adopted into homes, but only if they are socialized within the first couple months of their lives. A kitten around 6-8 weeks old may take just a day or two to tame down. Normally kittens under 12 weeks of age can be easily tamed with a little time and attention, but the older they get, the harder it becomes. Even then, some kittens never quite tame down. If they are not handled at an early age, they will remain feral and therefore unadoptable.
Feral cats are usually found living in large groups called feral colonies. Feral colonies usually spring up when there is shelter and a food source present in the environment. Sometimes cats will live alone, but most form feral colonies.