Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What is a feral cat?

Many people give me weird looks when I try to explain the difference between stray and feral cats. We'll talk about the difference in the next post, but first, let me explain what a "feral" cat is. Exactly.

First, we all know that "feral" means something along the lines of "wild, unsocialized." So a feral cat is basically a cat who is not socialized. I prefer not to use the term "undomesticated" because these cats are our typical "domestic" cats - they just aren't accustomed to living with/near humans.

A feral cat is one who has reverted in some degree to a 'wild" state. S/he may have been a former socialized cat who was then abandoned or lost - and learned to survive with little or no human contact. Or, the cat could be the unsocialized offspring of unsterilized cats (whether they be socialized or feral). Whatever the circumstances, a feral cat desires no contact with humans. We are frightening to them - and it takes them some time to get used to us as caretakers. Most feral cats are not capable of being socialized to a degree in which they are good candidates to become regular pets.

To what degree a cat is feral depends on several factors:
- age: kittens are far more capable of being socialized, especially before twelve weeks old.
- the generation of "feral": kittens born to a formerly/currently socialized mother are more likely to be socialized than those born to a mom who is a couple generations feral.
- the extent of daily human contact: think of a commonly traversed park area where cats get constant human interaction vs. a rural setting where cats are able to live without any human contact.

There is also what is known as a "wild card" factor: the cat's particular personality. This may allow for socialization despite other elements, but these cases are not the norm. There are people who have socialized adult feral cats, but it is not generally recommended as it is not commonly feasible. If should not be necessary that a feral cat become socialized, but we'll talk later about what to do if you ever come across a situation in which certain circumstances require you to relocate/adopt feral cats.

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