Feral vs Stray - What's the difference?
There is some confusion in cats on the difference between “feral” and “stray”. The San Antonio Humane Society values the sterilization of both populations of cats, however, the care needed and grants available for the different types of cats is varied.
Stray cats and feral cats share the same basic characteristics in that both are cats that do not have an obvious owner, who wander around the neighborhood without a human family they call home. They could or would have spent most of their life on the street. The major and Very important difference is that a stray cat enjoys being touched or is at very least handleable. They will approach humans to ask for food or affection. They can be pet or picked up and are easily transported in a common cat carrier without undue stress.
A feral cat is much like a raccoon. Simply crossing within 20ft of the cat will cause them to run away and seek shelter behind a structure, under a house, or up a tree/fence. They cannot be touched, pet, or picked up. The only way to catch them is to trap them in a humane trap. When the trap is approached with the cat inside, the cat will try to escape by hitting itself against the bars frantically or sink to the bottom of the cage in a small ball, growling, hissing, and being aggressive or scared. A towel or blanket over the cage will reduce the stress and damage the cat may due to itself during transport.
Feral cats are accepted at the San Antonio Humane Society by appointment only, please call (210) 226-7461. They MUST be in a humane trap. No feral cats in carriers of any sort will be accepted for the safety of the animal and the staff. The cat will be evaluated for temperament to determine whether it is a true feral or a stray that has been trapped. The animal will be vaccinated for rabies regardless of age and have its left ear tipped during surgery to indicate sterile status if the cat is trapped again later. Should you trap a cat who is missing its ear tip, you have trapped a spayed/neutered cat, please set it free again. After surgery, all feral cats should be kept overnight in the trap with food and water be released the following evening where they were trapped.
Although it is easy to see that there could be some confusion when trapping the cats in the neighborhood, with a little diligence it is easy to see the difference between a stray and a feral.
Feral cats are un-socialized cats. They were either born outside and have never known human companionship, or they were pets that got lost or abandoned, and after an extended time without human contact, have learned to fear humans. Feral cats form colonies around a food source such as a dumpster. Reproducing to the limits of the food supply, they lead meager lives often shortened by malnutrition, disease, and trauma. Most kittens born never make it through their first year. Their mating behaviors of spraying, fighting, and howling often cause them to become a public nuisance. Constant reproduction adds to the problem. Getting the cats spayed or neutered virtually eliminates these problems. Once neutered, males will no longer spray to mark their territory and fighting over females stops, eliminating the problems of smell and noise. The colony size gradually diminishes with no kittens being born. Cats in a managed colony can live healthy, happy lives without causing problems for neighbors.
Started as a grassroots effort in the U.S., Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is now becoming accepted all across the country. TNR is the only proven humane method that solves the overpopulation problem while allowing the cats to live out healthy lives. The San Antonio Humane Society rents humane traps for those looking to find a way to transport feral cats for the TNR program that is safe for humans and cats alike. Rental fee is $15 for ten days, with a $100 deposit refundable upon return of the trap. Call (210) 226-7461 for more information on renting a humane trap.
The San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition also offers free TNR training classes to ensure your safety and the safety of the feral cats throughout the TNR process. For more information, view the San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition class schedule here.
San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition Training Classes