History and Classes of Feral Cats

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The domestic cat evolved from the African wild cat, Felis libyca. Feral cats are offspring of stray or abandoned domestic cats that revert to a wild state. Having been raised without any human contact, they have a natural fear of humans. The domestic cat was introduced throughout the world by explorers and scientists, in an effort to control the rodent populations. Being predators and scavengers, feral cats have become successful survivors.

Why Are There Feral Cats?

Feral cats live in streets, alleys, and parks because of human neglect of their unaltered domestic cats, allowing them to roan and reproduce. A California study revealed that about 60 percent of unaltered household cats become feral within three years. Many people abandon or dump unwanted, unaltered cats, and these often end up in feral colonies.

Stray and lost cats congregate near food sources such as garbage dumpsters where rodents collect to feed. The cats start breeding and form colonies. An estimated 60 million feral cats live in the U.S., and worldwide are part of the urban ecology in virtually every city. They live in deserts near human settlements as well as on islands near Antarctica.

Classes of Feral Cats

There are three classes of feral cats. This classification was initiated in an effort to know how to approach these cats and which cats would be the easiest to re-domesticate for companion animals. It has been proven that any feral cat can be re-domesticated, given the right circumstances and enough time.

Class one is a true feral cat or kitten, which means born to a cat that was born of a feral (i.e. second generation). These cats are very afraid of humans. They will run from you. If you get too close, they may hiss, growl, scratch, and even bite you if they are cornered. It is very difficult to socialize adults of this class. Yet it can and has been done. Don’t ever give up on a feral cat.

Class two are cats or kittens that have recently been abandoned by owners and live on the streets. These cats will run from you at first, but not too far. They are jumpy and scare easily at sounds. If you have food with you and feed them regularly, they are easy to get close to. After a short time, these cats will run to you when you come to bring them food and may even rub against your legs. These cats are more easily socialized than either of the other two classes.

Class three are cats or kittens that have been abused and run away from the abusive owner. These are the saddest of all. They are terrified of humans, yet lack the knowledge of how to survive on their own. They are often rejected by established colonies. Of these cats, some may be able to be socialized and some not. It depends a great deal on the level of abuse they sustained from their owners and whether they can ever trust a human again. These cats are the ones you don’t generally see. They come out late at night to forage for food and will run at the slightest sound.

The average life span of a feral cat is less than two years on their own. If they are lucky enough to be in a colony that has a caretaker to feed them and see that they are spayed or neutered, the life span may reach five years. Very few live longer. It’s a tough life out on the streets.