This past week was a national day set aside for education about feral cats. This piqued my curiosity, as I know very little about feral cats, and led to the following questions answered by A2AH owner Linda Griebe, DVM.
If trapped at an early age, feral kittens may be tamed and become loving pets. If past about 3 months of age and they have never had human contact, it would be more difficult to win their trust.
How should one approach a feral cat?
Truly feral cats are wild animals and are likely to run away when approached. If trapped, handle as you would a wild animal as they will freely bite and scratch to escape.
How do you know if a cat is feral?
Many people call any cat living outside on its own a feral cat. Many of these are actually "stray" cats who were owned at one time but, due to experiences, are fearful of humans and avoid contact. Truly feral cats are undomesticated and wild. These are cats which have never had human contact and are wild animals. There is no way to tell by appearance if a cat is stray or feral, but most stray cats will allow closer contact with humans than a feral cat will.
What sort of vet attention would a feral cat require?
Feral cats cannot be provided with medical attention unless trapped and sedated for examination. Once trapped, they should be neutered so as not to reproduce, have their ear flap "tipped" (partially amputated for a visual sign that they have been previously trapped and neutered), have vaccinations for Rabies, Distemper and Leukemia and receive anti-parasitic medication.
If injured or diseased, treatment would be based on overall health and prognosis.
As a side note, Dr. Griebe states:
There is lively debate from bird-watchers as to whether the practice of trap and release actually leads to more songbird loss and should therefore be discouraged.
In conclusion, remember a truly feral cat is a wild animal and should be approached and treated with the same caution afforded to other wild animals. There is a difference between a stray cat and a feral cat; a stray has the potential for becoming a pet when taken in and adopted. If you happen to trap a feral cat or adopt a stray it is a good idea to take them in to your local vet for care and neutering. I hope this short post clears up some misconceptions!