Is a feral cat the same as a stray cat?

Is a feral cat the same as A STRAY CAT?

By: Cris Raiche

While the terms feral and stray are often used interchangeably, these two types of outdoor, homeless cats are not the same. Recognizing and understanding their behavior and body language can provide clues. Therefore, the best way to figure out your new feline friend is to observe them first before attempting contact.

Feral cats

A feral cat is unsocialized, domestic cat. They are able to survive on their own outdoors and are skillful hunters. Hiding during the day and roaming at night, they appear clean and well-kept
since they are used to caring for themselves. Feral cats often belong to cat colonies, but some can live alone. Due to little, if any, human contact, they are usually fearful and skittish around humans. They may crawl or crouch low to the ground in an effort to protect their bodies when approached and are inclined to avoid eye contact. They may also curl their tails around their body defensively.
Typically, feral cats are not likely to become pets, but some can. Kittens, born to feral cats, can be socialized with early intervention and can become loving pets.

Stray cats

A stray cat has been socialized by humans and are usually lost or abandoned pets. Often appearing lean since they aren’t adept at hunting for food, they may also look disheveled and unkept, having little to no experience in caring for themselves. They may join a cat colony, but if not able to integrate with other cats, they will live alone. Like a feral cat, they can also appear fearful when approached, depending on their personality and when they last had human contact. Some will however make eye contact and approach with their tail up, which is a sign of friendliness. If you find a stray, check local online missing pet sites to see if you can find the owner, or take the stray cat to a vet to find out if the cat has a microchip so it can be reunited with the owner.

If homeless cats melt your heart as much as it does ours, considering lending a paw!

Whether feral or stray, if seeing a homeless cat is enough to melt your heart, you may be asking what can I do to help? There are a lot of ways you can help. Ruff Start is involved in helping homeless cats in many ways. One resource is by making and providing outdoor cat houses to community cat colonies. Winter is coming and homeless cats need shelters for refuge in during the cold temperature months.

Ruff Start Rescue is hosting a Feral Cat Education Event!

All ages welcome to join us on Saturday, October 15, 2022 to make outdoor cat houses and learn about feral cats.

Sign up here: Feral cat house event.

Want to help, but can’t make it to the event? Make an outdoor cat house at home and drop it off at Ruff Start Rescue. Please email us at to arrange a drop-off time!

Another resource Ruff Start Rescue provides is trap/neuter/return resources for our local communities through community cat spay/neuter grants as well as our barn cat program. If you have or know of cats that are able to partake in this program, please email us at

We always appreciate the donations from generous animal lovers to keep our programs running and all the animals in our care supported, loved and well cared for until we are able to find them
a loving forever home.

Please consider donating today here: Ruff Start Rescue – General Support (