What is a Feral Cat?

What is a Feral Cat?

Meet Lefty: The Story of a once Feral Cat

Where’s the rest of my left ear?  Admit it, you were thinking it… I get it all the time.  Well, my name is Lefty and I was living on the streets.  A feral cat community caretaker found me at a feral cat colony and assumed I was feral too!  They took me to the clinic to have me neutered so that I wouldn’t be part of the problem of unwanted kittens.  After my TNR (trap, neuter, return) someone took a chance on me and figured out that I wasn’t feral at all – I was just an abandoned cat that still had lots of love for humans.  My ear tip is my badge of courage for surviving life on the streets.  If you see others that look like me (TNR cats all have their ears tipped) in your community you will know that we are part of a solution to the cat over-population problem.


Lefty’s outcome has been incredibly positive.  He was in the care of Toronto Animal Services and has since been adopted into a wonderful forever home.  Not all ear tipped cats can be expected to have the same story.  For one, Lefty wasn’t feral whereas most ear tipped cats are.  A feral cat is one that has not been socialized with humans and for that reason they maintain some degree of wild behaviour.  Because they didn’t have contact with humans during the early part of their development they remain fearful of human contact and often cannot easily adjust to life as a domestic house living cat.  Feral cats are often the result of strays that have not been spayed or neutered that have litters of kittens that then go on to become reproducing street cats in their own right.  Once a feral cat has had a TNR they have the tip of their left ear removed so that community caretakers can easily identify them.  This avoids spayed and neutered feral cats being re-trapped and undergoing unnecessary anesthetic and surgery.

Apart from feral cats, stray cats are those that have been abandoned by their owners and find themselves living on the streets.  They are typically less wary of humans and can usually be adopted into a forever home if one is available and adjust quite well to domestic life.  There is also usually a contingent of cats with homes that wander the neighborhood as outdoor cats.  These are usually being cared for and are hopefully spayed or neutered, but of course you may not know for sure.  These groups, feral, stray, and outdoor, are known under the umbrella term community cats.

Community cats are often cared for by one or more individuals in the community that leave them food.  Sometimes a special site is set up where individuals will drop off cat food at regular intervals, usually once a day.  In the winter cat shelters can be placed in this area to provide community cats with a warm refuge when the temperatures get extreme.  Once community cats are feeding regularly at the site a TNR operation can be carried out which is the biggest step in reducing the number of street cats.

Stay tuned for Part 2 on how and why TNR works which will be posted next #FeralFriday.

Jenna Cheal, Ph.D. is an experimental psychologist who loves cats and analyzing cat behaviour.  She uses her extensive background in understanding the causes of behaviour to provide simple solutions to a range of cat behaviour issues.  Jenna (aka The Cat Psychologist) lives in Toronto, Ontario with her partner and two best cat-friends, Andes and Bolivar.

Follow me on twitter @CatPsychologist and ‘Like’ my page on facebook 

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Comments (6)

My little Mommy was a Feral who has turned her back on the streets for the life of a house cat. She still retains some of the traits of a feral, she is the love of my life. I have accepted her the way she is and she loves me in return and will never ever have to be on the street again.
Thu, 09/04/2014 - 12:59
Thanks for taking the time to educate about TNR! It's such a rewarding process--for the cats and the people!
Thu, 09/04/2014 - 13:59
Years ago I rescued a feral cat - know he was feral - used to see his mommy in the woods, and then one day she had 3 kittens with her. Seemed like every other day there was one less kitten - so the last one I trapped. Vet told me he would never make a good pet - WRONG! He was a wonderful loving cat for 20 years; but my wife and I were the only ones that could pick him up; whenever we had visitors he would hide. And he also got along real well with the other cats, in fact one cat, Pumpkin, was his best buddy - the two were inseparable. Cats will always amaze.
Thu, 09/04/2014 - 14:53
I rescued a feral cat. His name is Buttercuppers. He now plays, meows, purrs and loves to be brushed. He is only used to me and my husband. Buttercuppers loves all his attention he gets. No more outside for him. Has a loving forever home!
Sat, 09/13/2014 - 09:54
I really appreciate this article. My mom and I found a feral cat where she lived and when I first saw him,I knew I loved him. He was a big black and white cat who would hang around the community chasing birds and having fun. I love cats so I brought him in fed him and let him come and go as he pleased( hey no cat box for me :-) Never the less this cat was super friendly and I figured he had been around humans since none Of the things that normally scared cats did not scare him. I saw his ear was clipped and I thought what in human person would do such a thing to an Animal? Fast forward 5 years later he is still with me and I love snooka that's his name more than I did the day I met him. O and I took him to the vet for the first time and he told me that the clipped ear was a sign that he had been fixed, for years I thought someone had hurt my kitty.
Sun, 10/19/2014 - 07:42
Sun, 09/13/2015 - 18:59

Cat of the Week!

Meet: Mr No Ears