Thursday, May 12, 2011

"A Ferret Cat?" i.e. What is a feral cat?

Guest Blogger: Linda Snyder, Animal Friends' Communications Team

Recently, a friend of mine was talking about an unfamiliar cat that was visiting his back yard...a feral cat.

“There’s no such thing as a ferret cat,” a young woman remarked to my friend.

“Not a ferret cat,” replied my friend. “A feral cat!”

It's those kinds of conversations that remind us in the animal welfare world that we have a lot of work to do.

So what is a feral cat? He’s a cat who most likely has been born in the wild and has had little or no human contact. Because feral cats have never learned to enjoy contact with humans, most are afraid of people. Typically, ferals will run away from humans or crouch low to the ground to hide. They usually won’t eat in front of strangers, and they won’t meow at people. However, ferals can live and bond with other cats in a group called a “colony.” Colonies can be found everywhere: in cities, in suburbs, or in the country.

Not every cat wandering outdoors is feral, however. Instead, a cat trotting through your backyard could be a lost or abandoned stray cat, a cat used to living with people, or even a neighbor’s new pet. Oftentimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

Unlike ferals, stray cats may be friendly to people, but this is not always true. Some strays may fear humans simply because those strays are shy or scared. Likewise, stray cats that have been living outdoors a long time could begin to revert to feral-like behavior. However, when taken to a shelter, such stray cats often can be resocialized to become pets again.

Feral cats are content living outdoors; that’s their world. Most appear healthy and don’t look ragged or dirty. After all, they’ve grown up outside and know how to care for themselves there. Conversely, a lost or stray cat that has always enjoyed a pampered indoor life but ends up living outdoors may appear unkempt or skinny.

Feral cats live wherever they can find food and shelter: a dumpster behind a restaurant, a farm where they can nibble on leftovers or a city stoop where a well-meaning individual leaves food.
In many ways, ferals are the epitome of the independence for which cats are noted, and they have tremendous survival instincts.

However, ferals can use our help in many ways: by providing them with a regular supply of food, water, and shelter, especially in winter; by educating people who might not understand or might want to harm ferals; and by using trap-neuter-return practices to humanely reduce overpopulation and prevent the killing of ferals in shelters.

For more information on feral cats, please visit our page

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