By JeanneBennett

Spirit staff Pet Advocate

Rescuing homeless pets is on the rise. Many people are opening their hearts and homes to stray and homeless animals. This seems to happen more so with stray/feral cats since they can live on the streets relatively under the radar, unlike a stray dog which is likely to garner attention.

When you decide to foster an animal it is always wise to have a plan before you accept any animal into your home. Here are a few questions you should answer before you start taking in homeless animals:

Where are you planning to keep the animal?

How many animals can you accommodate at once?

Who will adopt your kittens?

Who will provide the veterinarian care?

And if you plan to accept cats, what is the difference between feral and stray cats?

Though “stray” and “feral” are often used interchangeably, a feral cat is one that has never been raised by, or lived with, humans, and therefore is not-human friendly and not adoptable. A stray cat is one that was once living with humans but was either dumped, abandoned, or lost somehow. They were at one time human-friendly, or socialized.

A truly feral cat has been born in the wild, either from stray or feral cats, and was never socialized to humans as a kitten. They are not interested in interacting with humans and will react in fear when approached.

Feral cats are seldom seen during the day. They are happy to hide behind sheds or in barns where they will not be bothered, and come out at night to hunt. They would never approach a human and certainly wouldn’t meow or eat food with you standing there. You are more likely to see aggressive behavior, such as howling, fighting, and marking of territory.

While an adult feral cat is very difficult, if impossible, to socialize, the same is not true for their kittens. If trapped between the ages of six-to-nine weeks, they can be adapted to living with humans and make good candidates for adoption.

Taming feral kittens may be possible, however many will never tame no matter how much time, effort and love are spent on them. Some behaviors are genetically influenced. It may not be until the cat reaches maturity that behavioral problems are evident.

A stray cat is one that has become separated from its owner. Whether it was abandoned, dumped, or lost, it was raised by, and living around, humans at some point in its life. After time in the wild, some of these cats become timid to human contact and may react out of fear with hissing, growling, or spitting, but this is the normal reaction for any panicked cat.

Stray and abandoned cats have a tendency to hang around people’s houses day and night, meowing incessantly for food. Meowing is something a feral cat would not do. Stray cats may also respond to humans calling them, or coaxing them over. You might even see them shyly eat food out of your proffered dish. It’s especially obvious if a cat looks disoriented and disheveled.

Some stray cats are still used to people and can be approached, but the tougher cases will require patience and some personal space. With regular feeding and interaction, you should be able to re-socialize a stray to accept your presence, which would make it a good candidate for adoption.

Semi-wild cats are cats which have possibly once been pet cats or may be offspring of pet cats which have not had socialization with humans. These cats will often domicile around rubbish dumps, industrial areas or wherever there is a food source. Often they are less inclined to hunt, but are opportunistic when it comes to food. They will probably be a pest where there are caged birds or food left out for pet animals.

Some people decide to feed a “stray” cat to be kind and then find themselves feeding many cats. Cats develop a way of networking by marking the area with a particular type of scent indicating a “safe” source of food can be found.

The group can then gradually grow to establish what is referred to as a colony of cats. There are many organizations that will help you if you find yourself in over your head.

Check with your local Humane Society to see what help is available in your area.

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