Importance Differences Between Stray And Feral Cats–And How You Can Help!

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If you’re anything like me, when you see a cat on the street you have a tendency to want to call it near you. While many cat keepers prefer to keep their cats exclusively indoors, there are some cat people that allow their cats to roam freely. Although this is a personal preference that a cat owner cat decide for themselves, it is much different than a stray or feral cat.

By definition, (in layman’s terms) a stray cat is a cat that is tamed and likely once had a loving home–i.e. a tamed domesticated feline.

A feral cat, however, is a cat that is not tamed and has not had much interaction with a human in their lifetime, however long that lifespan may be.

Feral and stray cats live a rough life, exposed to the harsh elements of the environment and their health is also at risk due to lack of veterinary care. There are a great number of TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) programs that help to serve the immensely overpopulated stray/feral cat community and for that we are very grateful.

See the image below, this is how you can tell that a feral or stray has been “marked” by a T-N-R program…

Here, see the quarter inch tip removed from the left ear – this is the signature sign that a cat has received a spay or neuter through TNR.

Why Trap-Neuter-Return is so Important:

Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), the humane approach to addressing community cat populations, WORKS! It saves cats’ lives and is effective. TNR improves the lives of cats, addresses community concerns, reduces complaints about cats, and stops the breeding cycle. TNR improves the co-existence between outdoor cats and humans in our shared environment. This is why so many cities are adopting it.

Please note: Sterilized cats have tipped ears.

This makes it possible for caretakers to differentiate between cats. There are those that have already been sterilized vs. the ones that have not been sterilized yet.

How can you tell the difference between a stray and feral cat should you encounter one? Chances are, the feral will keep a comfortable distance between you and them, and should not, for any reason, feel an inclination to be petted by you. A feral can, however, take notice of you should you have food that they might want. A feral cat is a predator animal that is often forced to eat whatever they should find. Should you attempt to come near a feral cat, they are likely to run or hiss.

Many strays are not cared for when it comes to necessary medical care.

But many kind-hearted folks in the world have a heart for strays and will feed them as a means to “help” them out.

There are many stray cats that are friendly and seeks out human contact. It’s best to find a way to bring these cats in to your local veterinarian for an exam. Meanwhile, they can scan for the possibility of a microchip.

A friendly stray could easily be a pet that is lost and unable to find their way home. If you take this stray cat to a vet and find out that they are not microchipped, consider posting on a missing pets site online, like Petfinder, Craigslist, or Tabby Tracker.

Interested in Helping Stray And Feral Cats? Here’s How You Can!

Want to do your part for the cats on the streets that desperately need to receive the services of TNR programs? Consider checking out these TNR programs. Perhaps you too can make a difference by having these feral and stray cats spayed or neutered. Help reduce unwanted litters! Many of these programs also help to get these cats medical care that they need to live a healthier life.

Here’s a shortlist of some reputable TNR programs to choose from:

So for cat lovers that have the means to care for unwanted/unclaimed stray cats, consider adopting them yourself. Similarly, you could help find someone else who can. Stray cats are often cats that were loved and would have it in their hearts to receive love again. Life is all about second chances. And you may be the key to giving a lonely stray the second chance they’ve been searching for.


Related Story: (With Updates!) Five Feral Cats Will Have A Happy Holiday; Whether They’re On The Naughty or Nice List! =)

Related Video: How to Make a Feral Cat Shelter 



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  1. There is a category in between that might be worth noting. I live in the country where cats are frequently dumped. These poor animals will wait at the place they were dumped for up to almost 4 weeks. They wait for their owners to come back. As soon as we see a new cat down the road my wife and I try calling them but they all stay away because they’re afraid. By the time they make it a mile up the road to my home they are starved, scared,and screaming for help. One of the most painful experiences that I had was the a cat, just skin and bones, that I kept trying to feed it with food on the ground, an it wouldn’t eat. She what’s smelly butt wouldn’t touch it. Wild Life and other cats would end up eating it. some odd reason I left the bowl where I normally dumped it on the ground. All of a sudden cat just ate it like she couldn’t get enough. She been somebody’s pet and didn’t understand cat food could be served outside of a dish. pets don’t know how to hunt and they don’t recognize common foods that feral cats understand. The wife and I work 4 days, sometimes weeks,and even months trying to win their faith in humanity again, then we take them to the local shelter. we are afraid that they would be put down immediately if we got them there too soon and they would still be traumatized. I’m sure you may have heard this before but maybe this can help someone else, nothing worse than watching an animal starve.

  2. Uh-oh. The matter of letting your cat out. I expect (though hope not to see) an excrementornado. Gonna grab my umbrella..

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Written by Modi Ramos

Crazy cat lady since birth and lover of all things feline. Owner of CattitudeDaily and former Editor of iHeartCats. Meow!

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