Feral Cats and Ear Tipping

By: Talin Seta Shahinian

Chances are, no matter where you live, you’ve probably seen cats roaming around your neighborhood. Some might be indoor/outdoor cats that belong to your neighbors, but others may be feral cats or stray cats. So, how can you tell the difference?

Feral FAQs 

A feral cat has lived its entire life outdoors. A wild cat will be afraid of humans, or at least quite wary. This is because they weren’t socialized through contact with humans at an early enough age. Most feral cats will never fully trust humans. Their apprehension level can sometimes be reduced after trust is slowly built through feeding them and not attempting to approach them. Don’t mistake a little less fear for comfort on their part. Don’t try to pet them or pick them up. Admire them from a distance!

The Skinny on Stray Cats

A stray cat most likely had a home at one point and was either abandoned by an irresponsible owner or lost outside, unable to find its way back to its humans. They also could have been born to a feral mama cat but been fed and cared for by humans from an early age while remaining an outdoor cat. In any of these cases, a stray cat might present as friendly and trusting of humans, especially since they may see us as a source of food and water. Some stray cats may even welcome attention and petting by humans.

Lifestyles of the Stray and Feral

Another difference between stray cats and feral cats is how they tend to live outside. A stray cat will often be solo and not bond too much with other cats in the area. In contrast, feral cats tend to live in colonies with other ferals. Sometimes a stray cat will be accepted into a feral colony, but that’s not as common. Stray cats will also be seen out and about in the daytime, roaming around quite freely and not attempting to hide from view. Feral cats tend to be more nocturnal and furtive due to their fear of humans.

Stray Cat to House Cat?

Some stray cats are friendly enough to be adopted into a home again. You should only attempt to adopt a stray cat if they seek attention and affection from you and indicate a curiosity or desire to enter. Still, there will be a period of adjustment needed, as they are re-socialized. A cat’s socialization level depends on their early experiences with humans; how used to being petted or held. If they have been a stray for a long time, they may need to “start over,” but there’s a chance they’ll regain comfort with human contact.

The Basics of Trap, Neuter, and Release

Don’t attempt to make a feral cat a house pet, although you can help by feeding them. The next step for feral and stray cats’ compassionate care is a trap, neuter, and release (TNR). TNR helps control the outdoor cat population. Humane traps are usually provided by cat rescue organizations or concerned individuals and don’t harm kitties. They’re set on a home or farm property to prepare a cat for transport to a vet to be fixed or secure them at the location for a mobile vet service such as Purple Cat Mobile Vet Clinic.

What Is Ear Tipping? 

Before beginning the process of TNR, you must determine if a cat has already been spayed or neutered. People who work with outdoor cat populations have developed a system to help others identify cats that have been fixed. It’s called ear tipping. While a feral cat is under anesthesia during being fixed, the veterinarian cuts a small portion of one ear’s (usually the left) tip. Ear tipping indicates that this cat has already been spayed or neutered.

The Whys and Hows of TNR

The importance of trap, neuter, and release is that it provides the most humane response to a feral cat colony or individual strays. Especially in the case of feral cats, they’ll never be able to be domesticated pets, so their best chance of survival is to be fixed and returned into the community. Another benefit to TNR is that cats are usually given rabies shots during their spay or neuter surgery. TNR is often partially subsidized by local cat rescue organizations or concerned vets who run low-cost clinics. Check with your local humane society for more information.

Breaking the Cycle

Eliminating pregnancies for feral and stray cats is vitally important for them and your community. As cute as kittens are unless there’s early intervention to socialize them, it just creates another generation of feral cats. The other issue is supply and demand, meaning there are too many kittens born compared to the number of people seeking to adopt them. If these cats end up in a shelter, they’re likely to be euthanized. Managing the outdoor cat population is the only way to stop this sad, unfortunate cycle.

If you live in NW Wisconsin, Purple Cat Mobile Vet Clinic is here to help you keep your cat healthy and happy. We are a high-quality, high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter clinic. We see cats exclusively. You can also check out our Facebook page for more helpful information on all things feline!





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