What is a feral cat?
Photo by David Vazquez
While researching TNR, you will likely come across the term "feral cat". This term is often misunderstood. A feral cat is an outdoor cat not socialized with humans. They differ from "strays" who are socialized pet cats that were abandoned or lost. Moreover, just because your mother's cat hisses and scratches does not mean that he or she is feral, necessarily.
Feral is a term relating to behavior and it is considered a spectrum. A feral cat can sometimes, with enormous effort and experience, turn tame. Likewise, a friendly pet cat who escapes the home or gets abandoned can turn feral and distrust humans after living on the streets. There are many cats that are considered "semi-feral". These cats may let the colony caretaker pet them after putting out food. However, they are usually only trusting of a select few humans and often would not thrive in a home environment.
Kittens younger than eight weeks old can usually be socialized and adopted into homes. If that age window has passed, it is an uphill battle to fully socialize a feral cat. Even the most experienced cat handler can fail. The stress of being put in a home and forced to socialize can be too much for a feral cat. One must consider, at all times, what is best for the cat.
There are a few signs that a cat is feral and not simply "unfriendly". Feral cats usually do not meow. Yowling can occur during mating or fights, but they usually do not vocalize the stereotypical "meow". In fact, feral cats can be eerily silent, especially when transporting the traps to the spay and neuter clinic. If the cat in your trap is meowing like a house cat, you have to pause to consider that he or she may be just that-- a house cat either allowed to roam unneutered or a stray cat. Cats do not meow to communicate with one another. They meow to communicate with humans. Thus it makes sense why ferals-- who have had little to no contact with humans-- would not meow.
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