The Feral or Ferrell Cat - What are they and what can we do about stray cats?

What is the difference between a Feral Cat and stray cats?

It is important to realize that a ferrell cat is not the same thing as a stray cat.

Feral cats are the offspring of lost or abandoned pet cats or other feral cats who are not spayed or neutered. Females can reproduce two to three times a year, and their kittens, if they survive, will become feral without early contact with people. Whereas stray cats are accustomed to contact with people and are tame, feral cats are not accustomed to being in close contact with people and are typically too fearful and wild to be handled. Stray cats may be reunited with their families or adopted into new homes but, feral cats do not easily adapt and may never be able to adjust to life as a pet and living with people.

What is a Ferrell Cat?

Feral Cat - This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. Author Stavrolo   Permission (Reusing this file) GFDL  Ferrell Cat
Feral Cat - This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. Author Stavrolo Permission (Reusing this file) GFDL Ferrell Cat

The Ferrell Cat

The average life span of a feral cat or ferrell cat that survives beyond kittenhood is about two years for individual cats and five years for cats in a managed colony. An indoor domestic house cat lives an average of 12 to 18 years.

.It is estimated that there are currently 60 million feral cats living in the US today.

Feral Cats


Female Feral Cats

Female cats can have as many as three litters of kittens per year with a gestation period of approximately 65 days. This means that a female cat and her offspring can produce as many as 420,000 cats in as little as seven years.


Feral Cats Reproduce

A female cat and her offspring can produce as many as 420,000 cats in as little as seven years.
A female cat and her offspring can produce as many as 420,000 cats in as little as seven years.

Where do feral cats live?


Feral cats may live alone but are usually found in a large group called a feral colony – a group of related cats. These colonies tend to meet two essential criteria: a good hiding place (often a small wooded area, or abandoned buildings or cars) and a food source.


Many feral cats don't survive. If they do survive, their lives can be very difficult without human caretakers. Females can become pregnant as young as 5 months of age and may have two or three litters a year. The process of being pregnant so young and so often, coupled with delivering and nursing their litter, puts even more stress on the female cats who are struggling just to survive. More than half of these kittens are likely to die without human intervention. Male cats are also at risk. They roam and fight to find mates and defend their territories, as a result they may be injured and transmit diseases to one another through bite wounds.


Ferrell cats are often without a reliable source of food and shelter. They deserve to be taken care of just as much as the kittens who live with us; they are often victims of abandonment, accidental loss, and failure by owners to fix their pets.


TNR – Trap-Neuter-Return

Trap-Neuter-Return is a non-lethal method used to reduce the number of feral cats and improve their quality of life. At a minimum, feral cats who are TNRed are spayed or neutered so they can no longer reproduce. They are vaccinated against rabies, and surgically ear-tipped on one ear (ear-tipping is the universally-recognized sign of a cat who has been TNRed).

Once a cat or colony of cats has been TNRed, a dedicated caretaker provides food, water and shelter.  The caretaker monitors the cats for sickness and removes new feral cats for TNR or new tame cats for possible adoption. TNR is a strategy that many dedicated caretakers pay for out of their own pockets to help improve the lives of feral cats and reduce their numbers. Without TNR and a dedicated caretaker, the population of the colony would continue to increase.


TNR Cat

Photo courtesy of Silicon Valley Friends of Ferals.
Photo courtesy of Silicon Valley Friends of Ferals.

Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) Cat


This Feral cat was sterilized through a Trap-Neuter-Return program. The cat is shown recovering in a humane trap after spay surgery and was later released at the site of trapping.

Note notch at tip of the cat's right ear, marking it as a sterilized feral cat.

More by this Author


What do you think should be done with feral cats? 28 comments

Paula Weber profile image

Paula Weber 2 years ago from Cincinnati Ohio

I have a feral colony in the alley behind my house. There's Granny, her daughters Thelma and Louise, and Louise's kitten Silent Bob. Thelma had two male kittens I named Sneakers and Billy Badass, but I haven't seen them for months-they must have grown up and moved on. Every evening the colony shows up on our carport, where the food bowls are, because they know it's supper time. Someone has to look after these poor things!


chihuahua lady 5 years ago

I am a chi lover, I have 4. But one day I noticed a stray or feral cat walking the streets, day after day, so of course the first time I put a can of tuna out and now everyday I feed (her or him), who I now call Puss,but winter is coming in New Jersey, will Puss die from the snow ad cold? I will put a crate out with a blanket in side. The dogsgo nuts when they see Puss.

I hope Puss makest with my help! so now I buy cat food!


kmorris 5 years ago

we found kitten sleeping around our shed we live around a wooded area have not seen other cats, have been feeding .dont know if he is ferrell or not want to take care of him but he will not come to me.I would like to take him to the vet.


Lamme profile image

Lamme 5 years ago Author

You should probably contact a local humane society or other animal protection service to see what they have to offer you in terms of helping these animals. Good luck and I hope you find some resources that can help you.


LWSANBO2 5 years ago

IT WAS A VERY SNOWY WINTER SO I FELT COMPELLED TO FEED 4 FERREL CATS. OF course THEY ARE HERE TWICE A DAY. THAT'S O.K. NOW I AM WORRIED ABOUT HOW TO SHELTER THEM. WINTER IS COMING. I CAN'T TAKE THEM IN AND THEY ARE FEARFUL AND RUN AWAY. HOW ABOUT SOME ADVISE


Lamme profile image

Lamme 5 years ago Author

Hi Jodi, you might want to try contacting the feral cat department at your local humane society. They will likely be able to help you find a solution. They are usually looking for volunteers as well :) Good luck and I hope you find a way to relocate the cats without too much trouble.


Jodi Mack 5 years ago

I have a feral cat that went under my porch and had kittens. There is no way to get under the porch without taking it completely apart, which is not an option. These kittens only come out in the middle of the night and I have seen them playing in my flowers. My dog is insisting on getting to them but he cant fit under the porch either, I am afraid he is going to get hurt, the mother keeps swatting and hissing at him. Is there a way I remove them and maybe relocate them?


Lamme profile image

Lamme 6 years ago Author

Kathy, I'm sorry to hear about the sad situation. Maybe you could contact the humane society in your area, without giving them the location and see if they know of any groups that might be willing to help. This is exactly the kind of situation that is so sad for both the cats and the people in the area. I hope you find a way to help.


Kathy 6 years ago

I need help with 12 feral cats. They reside at an assisted living apt. facility in Houston. The woman that has been feeding them moved. Everyone has been instructed not to feed them. My father lives there and I do not want to jeopardize his living quarters. I visit my father 2 to 3 times a week only. I have no income. The cats are always starving. There are four babies about 10 weeks old. I don't want to see these cats euthenised. They are 3rd generation ferals.


Lamme profile image

Lamme 6 years ago Author

I do too Louanne. Thanks for stopping by.


Louanne 6 years ago

Lamme, Thank you for your response. I hope people come together and help get this problem under control.


Louanne 6 years ago

Lamme, Thank you for your response. I hope people come together and help get this problem under control.


Lamme profile image

Lamme 6 years ago Author

Louanne, I hope you find a good home for the kitten. So many animals are left to fend for themselves and it's not a good situation for anyone. If you are thinking about getting involved in a TNR program, you might want to contact your local humane society and find out if they know of any resources that can help you. Some places will offer the use of free cages, etc. Good luck!


Louanne 6 years ago

I also love animals. It is a shame that we have so many unattended cats. lf people would just take the time to read the statistics about the rapid reproduction and diseases these animals carry they would hopefully consider helping out with this program. l have recently taken in a female cat less than a year old. l started feeding her and with a day took her to the vet, had her checked out for feline lukemia, ear mites and fleas. l was getting her checked out so that she might have a chance at a good life with a new family. Well before I left the vet's office I scheduled her for spay. Now I have taken pictures of her to post at the vet's office for her to be adopted. She is just beautiful. She is a beautiful, fuzzy tabby. I hope she will adjust. Her temperament has to still be worked on. Now I am leaving food and water out for the other cats in the neighborhood. I think I will get a trap and help with the ferrel cat problem. Cats or any animals do not deserve to exist like that. If people would realize how therapuetic and loving animals are, and the companionship they offer them, I feel there would be a positive change in this overwhelming situation. Keep up the Good work.


Lamme profile image

Lamme 6 years ago Author

Just saying ... that's exactly the problem. In the city, these cats form colonies which are not just a couple of stray cats hanging out in a barn. These cats can be a health hazard and a danger to people in the area. Finding a humane way to deal with this overwhelming cat population is essential in many urban areas.


Just sayin... 6 years ago

We love feral cats, they keep the mice population down, and many of them are unfortunately eaten by coyotes. We had a litter and advertised them as "barn cats" mousers.

We had people drive from all over to own one, they had a barn overrun with mice! We are thinking of going into business.


Lamme profile image

Lamme 6 years ago Author

Hi CooperScape, I know our local Humane Society will offer some help, but it's not in the form of financial help. There are also some vets who will offer "reduced" rates, but the caretaker still takes on a big responsibility. I think the program of TNR is a wonderful solution to the growing feral cat population. Thanks for your comments!


CooperScape profile image

CooperScape 6 years ago from Albany, NY

I enjoyed reading your educational Hub. I'm a cat lover with 3 cats and have been at the vet when feral cats are brought in, TNRed and released. I spoke to a caretaker and she briefly explained the process to me. Potential offspring of 420,000 in 7 years is mind-boggling. Our Government wastes so much money and I was wondering if there are any federally funded programs to help the feral cat situation. I doubt it and that's why I support animal charities. Thank you for educating us on this topic.


Lamme profile image

Lamme 6 years ago Author

That's exactly right Dolores, they have an impact on other wildlife in the area ... as well as being a nuisance and a health risk. Thanks for commenting.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

Feral cats kill American songbirds and can be a problem. TNR seems a great way to cut down on the population.


Lamme profile image

Lamme 6 years ago Author

Hi Garlic Angel. I think you have a very good point. That's why I think the TNR program is the best way of dealing with this problem. The cats get fed, yet they are fixed so they can't reproduce. Ultimately, it should diminish the colony, but in a humane way. Thanks for reading and commenting.


Garlic Angel profile image

Garlic Angel 6 years ago from Dublin

Interesting hub thanks. yes we have feral cats in our neighbourhood, they sometimes wonder into my garden and as much as i would love to leave some food out for them it is not a good idea as i would be overun with them if i did. Thanks again for sharing..


Lamme profile image

Lamme 6 years ago Author

Thanks prasetia30, I appreciate you stopping by and commenting.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

I never know about feral cat before. But this hub was awesome. I get new information here. Good work, my friend. Thumbs Up!


Lamme profile image

Lamme 6 years ago Author

Thanks bingskee. I appreciate your reading and commenting.


bingskee profile image

bingskee 6 years ago from Quezon City, Philippines

i hate having cats in our home though having them can be useful, too.

this is such a nice information. will share it to my cat lover daughter.


Lamme profile image

Lamme 6 years ago Author

Thanks AEvans, I don't have cats myself, but this is such a sad problem. I hope more people will realize that we need to do something. Thanks for reading and for your comments.


AEvans profile image

AEvans 6 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

I honestly am not a cat lover but how sad to see and read about them wandering without any place or any homes. Thank you for sharing this informative information about ferel cats.:)

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