Ask If The Cat Feral or a Stray Before Taking Action

Feral cats don't make good housepets. (BJ Bangs photo)

The cat has been hanging around outside for a few weeks. You haven’t seem him before. He seems hungry but isn’t beaten up. He looks healthy, but you need to ask yourself, is the cat a stray, or is it feral.

There’s a big difference in the next steps you take because feral cats are not adoptable. It’s important to determine if the cat is feral before contacting the local Animal Shelter or Animal Control Officer because many shelters automatically euthanize feral cats because they are not adoptable as pets. They are afraid of humans and cannot live inside. Some may learn to tolerate humans, but they are wild, and do not make good pets.

Strays have been pets before. They are tame, friendly, and can be adopted. Some cats have gone feral after having been pets, and there’s a chance they can be socialized, and learn to live with humans again.

Remember: feral cats are not tame. They are afraid of humans. They can’t be pets, and they are considered not adoptable.

According to Alley Cat Allies,, its relatively easy to determine the difference. Set up a daily feeding routine, the same place and same time, for at least two weeks, and watch the cat’s behavior. A stray will let you get close. They may even allow you to pet it. Strays are vocal. (For more information about cat communication, visit They are curious and less cautious.

A feral cat will run away when they see you. Even as you continue to feed them, they will avoid you.

Strays are lost cats. If the cat is a stray, Alley Cat Allies suggests checking with neighbors to see if they know who owned the cat. If they don’t, try to find a good home for the cat. Put up flyers. Call local rescue and adoption groups. Or bring the cat to a no-kill animal shelter.

However, it’s important to know the difference between stray and feral because feral cats are not adoptable, and they will be euthanized. Animal Control will take the trapped cats to a shelter where they will be put down.

Alley Cat Allies affiliates can help. They believe all cats have an inherent value and worth. Most feral cats live in colonies. Volunteers assess the colony to see it is located in a safe environment. If it is safe, volunteers manage the colony through daily feeding, making sure they have clean water, and by implementing a trap, neuter, release (TNR) program where the colony is trapped and then neutered or spayed and given healthcare. These organizations’ fundraising efforts helps cover the cost of the medical care.

If they are kittens or cats that are newly feral, they may be rehabilitated and socialized so they can become domestic pets. They are often placed in foster homes where volunteers work to socialize these cats to prepare them for adoption and a forever home.

Some cats are too feral to become domestic and do not have a home colony. These cats are placed in a volunteer’s barn or shed, and those volunteers become responsible for their daily feeding, access to clean water and shelter.

For more information about determine if a cat is a stray or feral cat, contact Alley Cat Allies.

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