two cats on a stone wall

Feral Cats: Do You Know the Facts?

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Have you ever wondered about a community of outdoor cats that you’ve seen or that lives near you? How did they end up living outside? Are they friendly? Are they healthy? Well, here are some answers for you! National Feral Cat Day is October 16th, and it was started in 2001 by Alley Cat Allies to raise awareness about feral cats in communities around the country.

What Makes a Feral Cat?

Three Kittens playing and sleeping on a concrete fence.

The only differences between feral cats and house cats are that feral cats live outdoors and are not socialized! They are biologically the same as house cats and often live in colonies with other feral cats. What’s the difference between a feral cat and a stray cat, you wonder? Well, stray cats are often friends with humans, will let you pet them or get near them, and usually rely on humans for their food, whether from friendly feedings or scavenging in our trash. Feral cats are scared of humans and do not know how to interact with us, and they are very good at feeding themselves the way nature intended.

Most feral cats are the descendants of domesticated cats who were abandoned or lost, and who have learned to fend for themselves without much human contact. Feral cats are not a new phenomenon, though. Cats have been living alongside humans for 10,000 years and it is unclear when some of them became domesticated. Feral cats are not a risk to humans, especially if we can neuter them to control populations.


Stray cat looking to camera.

According to Alley Cats Allies, “About 70% of cats who enter shelters are killed there, including virtually 100% of feral cats.” This is because, after a very short window of time, feral cats cannot be socialized to live with humans, so they cannot be adopted out of shelters. That is why a technique called Trap-Neuter-Return is such a great option for animal lovers who want to help! Trapping and neutering feral cats, and then returning them to their homes allows feral cats to live peaceful lives in communities, without continuing to have multiple litters of kittens. This is a humane way to control the size of feral cat colonies! Learn more about Trap-Neuter-Return from Best Friends here. Feral cat colonies provide real benefits to their surrounding human communities.

Benefits of Feral Cats in Our Communities

Feral Cats Manage Rodent Problems

Having a colony of feral cats near you will help control any mice, rats, moles, or other nuisance rodents! Of course, feral cats cannot get all of our rodents, but they can help control the populations, which is what we really want anyway. Every animal serves its purpose, it’s overpopulation that brings problems.

Cats are Good for Our Health

Three cats laying together outside.

Feeding and watching feral cats is actually good for people. Cats can help put us in a good mood, allow us to observe the beauty of nature, and can help us feel better about ourselves for helping another living creature. The best way to help feral cats near you is to trap, neuter and return them back to their outdoor homes instead of taking them to a shelter where they will most likely be killed just for being themselves. You can also help by providing warm outdoor shelters for colonies near you in winter months.

Common Misconceptions about Feral Cats

Feral Cats Kill Birds

Humans are the biggest threat to bird populations. Sure, feral and house cats sometimes kill and eat birds, but the bird populations are not affected in any significant way. Humans destroy the natural habitats of birds through the development of their lands. We are a MUCH bigger risk to birds!

Feral Cats Spread Disease

Many people are concerned that feral cats may spread rabies. It is rare for feral cats to contract rabies, and if they do it is because they are a victim of a bite from an animal that does have rabies. Toxoplasmosis is also not a significant concern from feral cats since they tend to avoid humans. Also, contracting toxoplasmosis is much more likely to occur from eating undercooked meat than from contact with cats of any kind.

Feral Cats are Aggressive

Cat sitting outside on a sidewalk.

Feral cats have no experience with humans and are scared of us! This is why they may hiss and swipe with their claws when we come close to them. They are not overtly aggressive toward humans and will not seek humans out to injure us, they will just try to scare us away when we get close and defend themselves.

So, now that we are informed of the facts, let’s play nice with our feral cat neighbors. They mean us no harm! If you want to help control the feral cat population near you, consider buying a trap and participating in a Trap-Neuter-Return program near you. Here are a few resources: Little RockMemphis AreaSouth Mississippi

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