How to Tell if a Cat is Socialized vs. Feral

Though “stray” and “feral” are often used interchangeably, a feral cat is one that has never been raised by or lived with humans, and therefore is not-human friendly and not adoptable. A stray cat is one that was once living with humans but was either dumped, abandoned, or lost somehow. They were at one time human-friendly, or socialized.

Feral Cats

A truly feral cat has been born in the wild, either from stray or feral cats, and was never socialized to humans as a kitten. They are not interested in interacting with humans and will react in fear when approached.

Feral cats are seldom seen during the day. They are happy to hide behind sheds or in barns where they will not be bothered, and come out at night to hunt. They would never approach a human and certainly wouldn’t meow or eat food with you standing there. You are more likely to see aggressive behavior, such as howling, fighting, and marking of territory.

While an adult feral cat is very difficult, if impossible to socialize, the same is not true for their kittens. If trapped between the ages of 6-to-9 weeks, they can be adapted to living with humans and make good candidates for adoption. Never attempt to bring a feral cat to a shelter or rescue for adoption.

Stray Cats

A stray cat is one that has become separated from its owner. Whether it was abandoned, dumped, or lost, it was raised by and living around humans at some point in its life. After time in the wild, some of these cats become timid to human contact and may react out of fear with hissing, growling, or spitting, but this is the normal reaction for any panicked cat.

Stray and abandoned cats have a tendency to hang around people’s houses day and night, meowing incessantly for food. Meowing is something a feral cat would not do. These cats may also respond to humans calling them, or coaxing them over. You might even see them shyly eat food out of your proffered dish. It’s especially obvious if a cat looks disoriented and disheveled.

Some stray cats are still used to people and can be approached, but the tougher cases will require patience and some personal space. With regular feeding and interaction, you should be able to resocialize her to accept your presence, which would make her a good candidate for adoption.

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