What is a Feral Cat Exactly?

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Having graduated with a degree in English, I have fancied myself a connoisseur of the English language. Working at Found Animals, I have occasionally heard the term “feral cat” mostly in the context of “TNR,” or trap, neuter and release. The following is a step by step process that went on in my brain upon hearing the term “feral” cat for the first time:

Me: I know what a cat is, but what is a feral cat?

Me (again): Feral means something of the wild, I believe.

Me (once again): If feral means ‘of the wild,’ then would feral cats refer to wild animals? A la leopards, cougars, lions?

Me (one last time): Where do these feral cats live? Why are they feral?

I decided to do some research on the matter so as to quell the thoughts and questions that went on in my mind as well as to provide some insight to the many of you who may also have the same questions but are afraid to ask. And here is what I’ve found:

What is a feral cat?

A feral cat is a descendant of a domesticated cat that has returned to the wild. The term “feral” is used to refer to an animal that does not appear friendly when approached by humans.

feral cat eating food left out for him

Why do feral cats live in the wild?

There are several reasons why the cats live in the wild. Many of the feral cats were once abandoned by their owners, whether they no longer wanted them or they moved and didn’t bother to notify their cat. Some cats are owned outdoor cats and those who are not spayed have a litter of kittens and the owners do not want to take care of the litter. The litter is left to live in the wild and to fend for themselves. Whatever the reason may be, if cats are left to fend for themselves, they use their original wild cat instincts to survive in the wild without any or much human supervision.


What is a feral cat colony?

A feral cat colony is a group of feral cats who live together in one location, and the group can range from 3-25 cats.

2 feral cats sharing a bowl of food

What is TNR?

TNR stands for Trap, Neuter and Release. Volunteers trap the feral cats in their communities and take them to a veterinarian or a local low cost spay & neuter clinic to have the cats spayed or neutered, and then release them back into the communities where the cats were originally found.


Why do individuals or groups TNR feral cats?

In some communities, the sheer population of feral cats tends to grow at an exponential rate because of the number of litters that a cat can have. In order to keep the population and nuisance factors down, volunteers trap feral cats, sterilize them through spaying or neutering, and then release them back into the area that the cats were originally found.


Why are the feral cats not being taken to a local animal shelter once they are trapped?

When a feral cat is brought into an animal shelter, because of the fact that they are wild and a lot times not able to be tamed or domesticated, the likelihood of a feral cat being adopted is very low. Because of this statistic, many volunteers who TNR release the cats back into the community where they were originally found.

That was just some basic introductory information that I’ve gathered for a general understanding of the feral cats. Do you know of other facts that I have not covered? Please share your knowledge in the Comment section below.

2 Responses

  1. Debbie Belmontes says:

    living only blocks from a river bed with every spring and summer came the rodents. A few years back I began feeding a couple of abandon cats and haven’t had a problem since, I only wish they would stay closer to home so not to get in trouble, my next goal is trying to have them fixed and get some shots.

  2. Susan Williams says:

    Feral cats (who have been neutered) make great barn/yard cats. We have two now, a 17 year old and a 1 year old who is apprenticing. They get fed twice a day, and leave the odd bits of rodents in thanks for the chow.