SOCIALIZATION TO HUMANS
May approach people, houses, porches, or cars
Will not approach people, hides, avoids people
SOCIALIZATION TO OTHER CATS
May live in but not seem part of a colony
May belong to a colony
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.
May look at you, blink, or make eye contact
Unlikely to make eye contact
May be vocal, meow, or “answer” your voice
Won’t meow, beg, or purr
Will be visible primarily during the daytime
More likely nocturnal; less likely out in daytime
May be dirty or disheveled
May have a clean, well-kept coat.
A male with a big head thick neck, muscular body, and/or scars from fighting - more likely to be feral, since these are traits of intact males. May also have a spiky coat from high testosterone level and less grooming; may also have “stud tail”—hair loss, greasiness, or bumps at the base of tail due to hormones.
Will likely not have an ear tip
Likely has an ear tip, if neutered by TNR program
PREGNANCY, NURSING, KITTENS
A female who is pregnant or lactating is more likely to be feral, since only 2% of feral cats are neutered in the U.S.
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.
Here are some ways that will help distinguish a feral cat from a scared stray cat when they are frightened, confined, or in a new place.
May be possible to touch the cat eventually or cat may tolerate a small amount of touching
Can not be touched, even by a caregiver
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
LEVEL OF RELAXATION
May relax over time
Will remain tense and unsocial
May investigate toys or food placed near cage
Likely ignores all people and toys, even food
May respond to household sounds like cat food cans or bags being opened
Shows no familiarity or interest in household sounds
FEAR AND ANXIETY
May hiss or growl to show anxiety
Aggressive and lashes out if threatened or cornered (signs of aggression include ears back and eyes dilated)
adapted from Alley Cat Allies