Sunday 21 April 2024

How long does it take for a domestic cat to become a feral cat?

A domestic cat can never become a feral cat but they can become a stray cat if they are ejected from their home, living with their caregiver. Or they might simply leave their caregiver's home. The reason why a domestic cat can never become a feral cat is because they have been socialised normally during the first seven weeks of their lives and that process stays with them all their lives. It means that they can be called a domestic cat.

The word 'feral' is sometimes used to mean 'stray' and vice versa. And there is a blurring of the boundaries between stray and feral cats. There is a spectrum of degrees of socialisation.

How long does it take for a domestic cat to become a feral cat?
A stray cat under a car looking to to approach a pedestrian because they are looking for a home.

It is a process which is immutable and cannot be reversed. Although it can be weakened slightly. What I mean by that is if a domestic cat is homeless for a very long time they will revert to a certain extent to the wild and become somewhat feral but not a true feral cat.

The difference between a stray cat and a feral cat is that a stray cat will not be fearful of humans in a general sense whereas a feral cat will be.

Clearly, some stray cats will be more timid than others and therefore be reluctant to approach a person but this is different to a feral cat being genuinely fearful of people because they've not been socialised to people.

You must have read about socialisation. I will very briefly mention it here. It occurs during the first seven weeks of a kitten's life normally when they interact with people in a nice way by being fed by a person and/or playing with that person. This tells the kitten that there is no need for them to be fearful of humans. They learn to understand that humans are not dangerous and it overcomes the innate instinct of cats to fear humans.

The default position for a cat born within a person's home is to be fearful of humans. That's what you get without socialising them. Domestic cats wouldn't exist without socialisation.

Feral cats can be socialised as adults but it takes a lot of patience and sometimes as much as 18 months of careful interactions with the person doing the socialisation. At the end of the process the cat should be socialised and no longer fearful of people. 

However, sometimes they will retain a little bit of their wild character which may emerge from time to time despite being fully domesticated.

There is actually a spectrum of cat types living outside of the human home from the true feral cat to the semi-feral cat to the community cat to the stray cat. The true feral cat is a wild cat essentially. The semi-feral cat is the kind of cat that is looked after by TNR volunteers. The community cat the kind of cat that is looked after in a community such as you find in countries like India where shopkeepers and other individuals feed community cats but they rarely take them to a veterinarian. And the stray cat, as mentioned, is essentially a domestic cat without a home.

All these types of cats living outside the human home are going to suffer health problems or are likely to because they don't have a direct human caregiver to check up on their health and ensure that they don't need to be taken to a veterinarian. I am sure that some community cats are looked after like this but by and large they are not. Sometimes stray cats are found in a community of feral cats being looked after by TNR volunteers.

P.S. please forgive the occasional typo. These articles are written at breakneck speed using Dragon Dictate. I have to prepare them in around 20 mins.

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