Monday 26 July 2021

Should feral cats be regarded as wild cats?

Are feral cats wild animals? No, they are not. It is wrong to regard feral cats as wild cats as one journalist has in an article about TNR in New Zealand (which Kiwis nearly always criticise). Feral cats are really domestic cats that have gone feral. It is important to distinguish between feral domestic cats and true wild cats. They are very different animals. Often feral cats are semi-domesticated at which time they are referred to as community cats.

Feral cats of a well-known Mumbai park
Feral cats of a well-known Mumbai park. Photo: Mid-day.

A young person may become 'feral' if the parenting is neglectful. Essentially the feral cat is a domestic cat but because they've not been socialised and domesticated, they become fearful of people. This gives the impression that they are wild cats. However, there is a distinct difference between the character of feral cats and wild cats. Note: of course, feral cats are born feral too.


You can domesticate, through socialisation, a feral cat. It may take a short time if you are dealing with a kitten. If you are dealing with an adult cat, it may take several months or even a year. But it can be done. If you try and domesticate a wild cat you never get to the same point that you would with a feral cat. The wild cat retains their wild character because they do not have 10,000 years of domestication behind them.

10,000 of domestication has resulted, in my view, in the domestic cat carrying that domestication in their DNA. It is gene memory. So, when a domestic kitten is born, all it takes is a little bit of socialisation in the first seven weeks of their life for them to become domesticated. You try doing that with a wild kitten, say a bobcat kitten, and you won't get the same result.

The feral cat and the small wildcat are different animals even if they are pets. Sometimes people like to keep exotic pets and this includes servals, caracals, cheetahs et cetera. These true wild cats always retain a different character when semi-domesticated compared to a feral cat that has been domesticated. Essentially, it is wilder. For the wild cats, that harsh, predator personality is not removed by socialisation.

I say "semi-domesticated" because that is how it happens for the wild cat species when they been socialised. But they feral cat can be completely domesticated to behave exactly like a domestic cat.

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