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Stray Cats vs Feral Cats - What's the Difference?

Pet, stray and feral cats are all members of the same species: Felis catus, or the 'domesticated cat' in plain English. But, of course, they do not all have the same levels of socialisation, or mateyness, in layman's terms😉

We’re all familiar with pet cats, so we won’t focus on those loveable furballs here. But hopefully we’ll bring some clarity to the question, What’s the difference between stray and feral cats?



There’s some confusion about this, even among ‘cat people’. Sometimes cats are referred to as feral when they’re just a little rough around the edges, or stray, which means that they have lost contact with humans at some point in their life. But real feral cats are a totally different animal, so to speak.


Let’s look at the differences between stray and feral cats and how we can or should approach either of them.


A stray cat is a cat who has been socialised by humans at some stage in their life but has for one reason or another lost their human-filled home or human contact.


A stray cat may:

  • approach people, possibly in the hope of getting fed;

  • eat while humans are present;

  • meow at humans;

  • look dirty/shaggy;

  • be active in the daytime;

  • walk like a house cat, with the tail up;

  • be alone;

  • have a chance of being re-socialised, if rescued before they become afraid of humans. Their re-socialisation may take some extra time and patience, but it can be possible;

  • be approached with care, caution and composure. When approaching a stray cat, be calm and patient, observe their behaviour and let them come to you;

  • become feral if their contact with humans diminishes substantially. If a female stray cat has kittens that grow up without human contact, they will become feral cats.



A feral cat is a cat who is used to living on their own or in a cat colony, often without any human interaction ever.


A feral cat may:

  • hide or run away from humans. They tend not to trust humans;

  • not eat in the presence of humans;

  • not make eye contact with or blink at humans;

  • be more active during the night;

  • look clean;

  • be part of a group;

  • have a tipped ear;

  • not meow or communicate vocally. They prefer non-verbal communication and body language to express themselves to their fellow ferals;

  • not be happy indoors, preferring their own territory and/or colony;

  • have their kittens thrive with humans and become pet cats if rescued and socialised early;


Please do not ever attempt to pick up a feral cat! If there is an unneutered feral colony or a cat in your area, please contact a vet or an animal rescue organisation to humanely trap, neuter and release (TNR) the feral cat(s).



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