What is a Feral Cat vs. a Stray Cat

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Everybody talks about the stray or feral cats in their neighborhood terrorizing their outdoor cats. But what is a stray cat and how is that different from a feral cat? The terminology can be a bit confusing, so we’re here to clear things up.

>> You might be interest in Why My Cat Stares At Me or 5 Common Cat Health Problems to Watch Out For.

outdoor cat

There are large differences between stray and feral cats, even if some people use those words interchangeably. Both are outdoor cats that might be wandering near where you live, but the real difference lies in the behavior of these cats, which determines whether they are stray or feral.

Neither stray or feral cats are bad or evil. You’d think I wouldn’t have to say that, but you’d be surprised how many people will actually shoot stray cats with guns to try to get rid of them. Harming animals is never okay!

If you have a problem with the outdoor cats in your neighborhood, call animal control so they can be taken to a shelter and adopted as a barn cat.

Feral Cats

feral cat hissing

Feral cats are outdoor cats that exhibit feral behavior. These cats can seem extremely violent and hateful, but it’s important to remember that they aren’t. Feral cats have never been socialized with humans, and therefore are very scared and cautious around humans.

It is best not to approach feral cats, as they may scratch and bite you. These cats will likely hiss at you if you get close to them, as they are very frightened and wary of humans. For your safety, do not interact with feral cats.

If you find a feral cat living on your property and you’d rather it be somewhere else, call animal control to have it removed.

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Stray Cats

stray cat sitting outside

Stray cats are outdoor cats that do not have an owner, but have been socialized by humans and therefore are generally friendly and well mannered. They may be cats that got lost and couldn’t find their homes (read more about whether your cat can find its way home from being outdoors), or maybe they were, sadly, abandoned by their owners.

The major difference between stray and feral cats, is that a stray cat is friendly towards humans. It’s learned to take food from humans and has become a mellow cat.

It is generally safe to approach stray cats, but still apply caution until you know the behavior patterns of the cat. Some stray cats are more friendly than others. Some will walk right up to you and want cuddles, some are simply there for your food.

cat laying outside

Also, because they are outdoor cats, they may have fleas or other parasites you don’t want. Do not pet stray cats unless you can go wash your hands right away.

Occasionally stray cats are adopted to become a person’s barn cat, or even an indoor cat in some cases. Some stray cats are called community cats, and are taken care of and fed by a community of people.

Stray Cats vs Feral Cats

The main difference is how the cat feels about humans. Feral cats don’t like humans, stray cats are at least okay with humans.

outdoor cat running

Both of these types of cats deserve to be treated with kindness, respect, and humility. Remember that showing the cat kindness depends on what type of cat it is.

For feral cats, leave them alone, don’t push their boundaries. If you want to set out food and water for them, leave the containers in an area you know they frequent. Don’t attempt to be friendly with the cat, as you may get injured from them scratching or biting to defend themselves.

For stray cats, you can definitely leave food out for them. In some cases, they might not be good at hunting for food for themselves. They may also have a litter of kittens nearby to feed. Consider adopting them if you really love the cat. Look out for them, if you can. If they get hurt take them to the vet.



All cats are important animals, regardless of whether they’re indoor, outdoor, feral, stray, etc. All cats deserve kindness, in whatever way they need it.

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