What Are the Differences between Feral and Domesticated Cats?


Cats are Cats

Regardless of the conditions where cats live, they are pretty much the same as far as personality and mannerisms are concerned. Cats are opinionated. Cats do what appeals to them. Cats protect their territory. You will see these characteristics in both feral and domesticated cats.

Cats love food. No matter how many times you have fed your cat, she will come back for more. Food says “home” to cats. Cats approach food in one of two ways.

cats Eating

Some cats operate on the theory that food must be devoured immediately because it may be the last meal they will be given. Other cats ration it out over a long period of time- eat some now, save the rest for later, because it may be the last meal they will be given.

Cats like to be clean. They approach cleanliness in unique ways. Nature gave them a scrub brush and located it in their mouths.They use their tongues to clean out foreign stuff in their coats, work out snags in their fur and clean between their toes.They wash their paws and then use their paws to scrub their faces.

Mother cats will groom their kittens several times a day. Grown cats that live in the same household will often groom each other.

Feral Cats vs Domesticated Cats

The word “feral” means wild, a wild animal. A true feral cat is a cat that is born into a feral colony. But, what are the differences between Feral and Domesticated cats?

Male feral cats tend to be larger than male domesticated cats. Feral males are heavy, muscular animals with scars on their faces, ears and hind legs.

Feral cats tend to collect in colonies. They are safer in groups and kittens are safer with several females to look after them. Female feral cats are devoted mothers. Feral cats are mostly nocturnal. They sleep all day and roam after nightfall. Feral cats are smart, social among themselves, and good problem solvers.

Most adult Feral cats never make good house pets. They are always on high alert and spook easily. They don’t transition well from living outside to becoming inside pets.

All cats are very protective of food. If there are several cats in the household, each one will watch the others while they are eating to make sure no one tries to grab another’s meal.

Cat with Food

Cats in the wild often rip off their portion of a kill and carry it off so they can eat while watching the others.

Some people have found a fairly docile cat among a feral colony and point to this as proof that feral cats can be tamed. More likely they probably have found a domesticated cat that was lost from or abandoned by their owners.

Strays will join a feral colony for safety, and these strays will remember their better days. Strays that are found in a feral colony will readily submit to petting and may be happy to become a house cat once again.

Turning Feral into Domesticated Cats

I just got through saying in a paragraph above that feral cats seldom make good indoor pets. But, if you see a cat you really want, and you have lots of time on your hands we can explore the possibility of turning a feral cat into a domesticated creature. Well, it is possible. But you, my friend, must have infinite patience, and you must let the cat think it is her idea.

Even though feral cats are wary of human beings, they can be coaxed with food. All cats love food and they will follow, at a safe distance, out of curiosity, to see where you’ re going with the food.

If you have one, for whatever reason, follow you home, don’t expect her to come in the house, or even come up on the porch. In fact, after you put down the food, the cat may disappear. Later, you will also notice that the food has disappeared, too. You can follow this routine for days, or weeks, before she will eat the food with you there.
cat eating

Then, one day, to your surprise, she will show up at your door. No more going out to find her and guide her to your house with the food. She has taken the next step-she now comes to you for food. She may let you sit with her while she eats.

Now is the time to make a little bed on the porch or patio, or near the back door–where ever she comes for her meal. Make a little lean to or someplace where she can get in out of the elements.This may be as far as the relationship goes. She will trust you for food and shelter and she will make a great outdoor pet.

When she trusts you enough to let you pick her up and brush and pet her make arrangements with a vet to have her neutered or spayed. I use the pronoun “she” in reference to the cat, but male or female, your life will be easier –no kittens or no male yowls. After that little operation, she may be wiling to come inside upon occasion.

Domesticating a feral cat is a long process and takes patience.


Some compassionate people that hate to see feral cat populations wiped out by rounding up and euthanizing all the adults have instituted a program called T-N-R -Trap Neuter Return. T-N-R is considered a humane approach to the feral cat overpopulation. This program takes some veterinarians, willing to give their services and volunteers willing to give their time, so that feral cats can live in their colonies without continuing to increase the population.

It’s a simple action. Volunteers round up the males primarily, and take them to a veterinarian for a simple, quick operation, that they recover from quickly. They are returned to the colony and the colony continues without a continuous increase in kittens.

Cat and volunteer

Simply put, if you feed and water outdoor cats, you have to get them fixed. Female cats can have 2 to 3 litters each year. Each litter will have 5 to 6 kittens. The female kittens from those litters can breed at 6 months of age. It doesn’t take long to be overrun with kitties. Spaying and neutering can stop the over breeding, as well as the yowling, spraying and fighting.

There are opponents to T-N-R. They say it just doesn’t work. Cats may not make as many kittens, but they are susceptible to rabies and other diseases from being on the streets. Also, volunteers get tired of feeding and watering them over the long haul. Helping strays is a long term commitment. Outdoor cats can live five to 8 years depending upon the hazards they encounter.


The only real way the help lower the cat overpopulation is to educate humans to be responsible for their pets. Cats should be taken to the vet to be altered anytime after 6 months of age. Cats should be seen by a vet at least once a year and they should be given the necessary shots. Above all, they should be kept inside.

It may seem romantic to let the cat roam free but it isn’t. It’s irresponsible. Pets cannot take care of themselves. We have made them dependent upon us for everything.

For those who would like to read up on cats, roaming and otherwise, an English Veterinarian, James Heriot, has written a number of books on his encounters with pets and farm animals as well as their humans. The book I recommend is: All Creatures Great and Small. Any bookstore can get it for you. For information on T-N-R, check on Google.

I’m Barbara Nelson I’d like to hear from my readers. Let me know what you think.


14 thoughts on “What Are the Differences between Feral and Domesticated Cats?”

  1. An interesting article and one that is very informative. You clearly know your stuff. Living in a village we seldom see any feral cats, but the difference is well explained in your article. 

    I’ve never been much of a cat lover I’m afraid but I certainly don’t like to see any animals suffering and its all too common an issue that domestic cats end up living in the wild. Its no wonder that they will respond to petting as I’m sure that an animal that has experienced domestic life would struggle to adapt to fending for itself.

    Interesting that cats have different approaches to a last meal and highlights the personalities that they have.

    1. Thank you,golftechguy,for commenting on my post. Cats tend to do things their own way, and because of that, some people love cats and some people don’t .Regardless, you have to admire them for their independence. 

      1. howdy maam. loved the article but the one topic you never touched on was finding and rescuing a feral kitten. i did. at 6 1/2 weeks i found him almost dead in my oil containment that was full of water and have had him for months now. he has so many charecteristics of a dog its hilariuos. he sticks his head out the window when i drive he sleeps at my feet when im in my chair when i put my hand on his head he goes after my hand like a dog lol. he fetches the toys i throw(and no i did not teach him that) and alot of times he is loving as all get out. so i think if you can get em young it works. just my thoughts. jerwatk@gmail.com is my email. and i know my grammar is horrible in here i wont tell my old english teacher if u wont.

        1. Hello, Jermiah,
          Glad you rescued your kitten. Kittens are learning all about life and how to live. Your kitten did not have that education from his mother. So, you filled in that spot, and he is learning how to live from you. Sounds like you have a loyal and fun loving pet. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I have never been a fan of letting my cat roam around. I prefer letting him in his cage especially when i want to go out. Its very good that you can give all this great information on the issues relating to feral cats. I have seen some people who has gone through the hassle of domesticating ferals. I think its cool but it all depends on what one wants. This post is very educative and i have learnt more about the nature of cats. Thank yu for this

    1. Thank you, Henderson, for commenting on my post. I don’t mind a cage for a cat while you’re gone- if it’s large 

      enough to hold a litter box and a bowl of water. That way, everybody will be happy, because the cat knows to use a litter box, provided she can always find it.

  3. Hi! This has been a very interesting read. I knew all cats have basic instincts but I didn’t know they could be so different, those brought up at home from those that live on the streets. It’s nice to hear those that have been domesticated and have gone astray will enjoy being inserted into a home again.

    I really agree with the T-N-R programs. I think it benefits both the colonies of cats and us as humans. 

    1. Hello, Henry. Glad you enjoyed my post. I happen to agree on the T-N-R programs, as long as you have dedicated volunteers to check on the cats often.

  4. Feral cats are very independent creatures,but you can get them to come to you by feeding them.         We can start by putting out food on your verandah,in a corner that is unused by most people,perhaps once a day,in the evening when there is not much traffic,from humans or animals.

    You will find that the food will be gone in the morning usually,and then gradually as the cat learns to trust you,it will eat when you are present,later if it learns to trust you,it may even allow you to pet it.

    Domesticated cats are used to humans,and depend on you to feed them,and protect them,and to care for their health needs like taking them to the vet, and getting their medicine if needed,the are also needing you to pet them and make a fuss of them.

    For the control of their numbers all cats need to to be neutered, usually after their first litter,this is easily done with domestic cats.       With feral cats however, people who care, may have to resort to catching the males,getting them neutered, by a vet,and then releasing them back to the wild.      This can be a difficult and time consuming,job but is preferable,to having to kill the whole local population of feral cats.

    I have read James Heriot’s book “All creatures Great and Small ” and can really recommend it,for all animal lovers,as he has great insights into  the behaviour of all types of animals.

    1. Thanks, Robert for reading my post. On the subject of altering cats, Males can be neutered anytime after 6 months. Females, if you are not planning on selling exotic kittens,  can be spayed after 6 months of age or before they come in heat. If you wait until after their first heat, the spaying will have to be scheduled between heats and that becomes difficult.

      Glad you know of Heriot’s books, they are so well written and they are perfect reading for those who really love animals.

  5. A feral cat has been coming to my house for several months now. She’s completely grown up and she’s lovely. We started giving her food and she continued to come. And as time has gone by, she now is willing to come to us on the porche. As you have described, feral cats are always alert. I’ll build her a bed and see if she accepts it. Thanks for giving me the idea.

    1. Thanks, Ann, for reading my post. Interesting that you have a cat that selected you. She would probably like a cozy place to sleep. If you plan on keeping her, I would recommend that, if she will allow you, you take her to a Vet for a general checkup.

  6. the only topic you didnt touch on is feral kittens. i found Ashe half dead in my oil containment at work that had alot of water in it, he was 6 1/2 weeks old. hes been with me for 6 months now. and i swear hes more dog than cat lol. he sticks his head out the window when i drive, he sleeps and lays at my feet when im at home in my chair, he fetches the toys i throw(and no i did not teach him that) and when i ruff up his head he loves to go after my hand lol. also he is very loving. the only oddity that i have found and am not complaining about just curious is he loves to lick my nostrils. so in closing i think that if you find them young you can have a great friend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *