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   The Difference Between Stray & Feral Cats




A stray cat will approach, maybe cautiously/timidly, people, houses, porches, or cars ~ showing signs of wanting to connect.

It may be possible to touch the stray cat eventually or she may tolerate a small amount of touching with an object.

A Feral Cat will not approach and will likely seek hiding places to avoid people/you. Demonstrates not wanting to get close to you for any reason.

Can not be touched, even by a caregiver


Stray Cats will likely live alone, not seen or wanting to be part of a group.

Feral Cats seek and often belong to a colony of other feral cats.


Might walk and move like a house cat, such as walking with tail up—a sign of friendliness.

May crawl, crouch, stay low to the ground and protect body with tail.

Will probably look at you, blink or make eye contact.

Unlikely to make eye contact.


May be vocal, meow, or “answer” and respond to your voice.

A feral Cat won’t meow, beg, or purr.


You will easily spot a stray cat. They are often visible ~ primarily during the daytime.

A feral cat prefers and is more likely to be nocturnal, but can also be spotted and occasionally present out during the day.


Will probably be dirty or disheveled.

Will probably have a clean, well-kept coat. A male with a big head and thick neck, muscular body, and/or scars from fighting is more likely to be feral, since these are traits associated with intact males (and only 2% of feral cats are neutered in the U.S.).

He may also have a spiky coat from high testosterone levels and less time spent grooming; may also have “stud tail”—hair loss, greasiness, or bumps at the base of the tail due to hormones.

Will not have an eartip.

Hopefully when you spot a feral cat it may have an eartip if it has been Trapped & Released {T&R} ~ spayed/neutered and is now part of a Tn’R program.


A female who is pregnant or lactating is more likely to be feral, since only 2% of feral cats are spayed/neutered in the U.S.


May come to the front of the cage.

Will likely stay in the back of the cage and retreat as far back as possible.

May eventually rub against the cage in a friendly way.

If jolted or frightened, may shake, rattle, or climb the cage, and could become injured banging into the cage.


May/Is likely to relax over time.

Will remain tense and unsocial.


May investigate toys or food placed near the cage,

Will likely ignore all people and toys, and possibly even food

May respond to household sounds like cat food cans or bags being opened.

Will not show any familiarity or interest in household sounds


May hiss or growl to show anxiety.

Will show signs of aggression when you try to get too close. and may aggressive lash out if threatened or cornered (signs of aggression include ears back and eyes dilated).

A cat’s level of socialization and behavior is not always black and white, particularly for feral cats who recognize their caregiver. They may show signs of familiarity, such as a tail up or hanging out on a caregiver’s porch, but these behaviors are usually limited to the cat’s interaction with the caregiver and only develop after building a relationship over time.   Always remember: this does not mean that the cat is a good candidate for living indoors. How do I tell feral and stray cats apart once I have trapped them? When in a frightening or stressful environment—such as a trap or a shelter—a friendly stray cat may act like a feral cat, avoiding people and possibly even showing aggression to avoid being touched.   A lot of cats seem feral in traps but are just afraid. Here are some ways that will help you distinguish a feral cat from a scared stray cat when they are frightened, confined, or in a new place.