How can I tell if a cat is feral?

by Limerick Feral Cats

All this talk about ferals, but would you recognise one if you saw one? It’s an important point! Limerick Feral Cats will survey a neighbourhood for information on the local cats as part of planning for TNR. Talking to the people who feed the cats yields clues about their tractability. Stray cats can sometimes be mistaken for ferals and they deserve a chance to be rehomed. If your client wants to trap a cat and asks your advice, here are some ways to tell the difference between a feral and a stray:

Feral cats may be somewhat habituated to humans if they live in a busy area where food is provided for them. Cats develop trust in their caregiver over time, and some may eventually allow themselves to be touched ever so briefly by that person. But in the main, feral cats will not tolerate any close human contact. If the caregiver handles them in any way other than that to which they’ve become accustomed, the cats will flee. For example, a person whom the cats trust enough to allow them be petted will be badly scratched and bitten should they attempt to put any of the cats into a carrier.

Feral cats show more sensitivity in all fearful situations. If there is a loud noise or sudden movement, they will quickly scatter. Should you inadvertently cross their path the cats will briefly freeze and then run for cover.  They don’t offer any of the ‘friendly’ behaviours of tame cats, such as rubbing themselves against objects close by you or rolling over on their backs to expose their tummies. They also don’t miaow at humans!

Feral cats are usually crepuscular and most active at dawn and dusk. You are unlikely to see them during the busiest times of day, unless they are the offspring of tame cats and are used to being fed at a particular time.

Feral cats demonstrate hyper-vigilance when eating. Even when very hungry, they will periodically look up from the food bowl to scan the surroundings for any potential threat. A hungry stray cat will be far less concerned by what’s happening beyond the food under his nose.