The Misunderstood Feral Cat
By Christine Michaels
Chances are that you will come across stray and feral cats in your lifetime. These outdoor animals are often misunderstood. Whether you spot them in your backyard, around your office park, or while traveling abroad, misconceptions still prevail worldwide about stray and feral cat. Learning the facts can help overturn the myths and stop the overpopulation and mistreatment of homeless cats.
The Difference Between a Feral and Stray Cat
A feral cat is typically born in the wild or outdoors with little to no human interaction. If you attempt to get too close or try to pet them, feral cats view your hand as a claw that will harm them and will hiss and/or run away. Feral cats are born from other ferals or from stray cats. What is the difference between the two? Well, a stray cat was once a pet cat, until it was either lost or was abandoned by its owner. While they struggle to survive in their new outdoor environment, some strays become fearful of people, even adopting feral behaviors after a period of time, depending on their surroundings. However, most stray cats remember that humans feed them and try to stay near homes, carports, and other areas where people concentrate.
When a regular caretaker notices a stray cat that is friendly, it is recommended to take the cat to a veterinarian to scan for a possible microchip. In lucky instances, the stray cat and its owner are happily reunited.
Anyone Can Become a Caretaker for Stray Cats
Feral cats have a rough life and live, on average, two years on their own. With regular care, which includes reliable shelter and daily feedings similar to the care of barnyard cats, they can live as long as ten years. If you decide to become a caretaker, an important lesson is to never forcefully grab an outdoor cat or make a sudden movement towards it. These cats are fearful of people and tend to run away as strangers approach them. Let the feral or stray cat come closer to you on his/her terms.
Through daily feedings, in time they will let you know if it's acceptable to touch them. Another helpful hint: If you do decide to become a caretaker, squat or sit on the ground so you're at their level when you regularly feed them. This approach indicates to the feral or stray cat that you are not threatening.
How Wild is Wild?
In my work with feral cats, I learned that there are varying degrees of "wildness." Most of the feral cats will not allow me to touch them, but I can come within millimeters to dispense their food. One cat, Lion King, after three years of feeding him, gradually came closer to the feeding bowl; he now rubs against my legs. Recently, I was able to start petting him, but only when he's facing away from me. If Lion King turns to face me while I am stroking his gold fur, he hisses in displeasure. Pretty Boy and Tabitha allow me to pet them, but nervously jump out of my arms when I attempt to pick them up. The lesson learned: respect their limits.
The land that is connected to the barn; may be fenced in to enclose animals.
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