Feline Rescue

Kitten Development & Care

Why are some cats FERAL?

Hey guys! So we all love the cats who are our friends, but what do you know about cats who are feral? I’ve noticed there’s a lot of confusion about feral cats. So in this video, we’re gonna talk all about why some cats are friendly, and some cats are feral. Hi! (cat hits glass and hisses) Okay. The term “feral” is defined as “in a wild state.” This is a behavioral quality having to do with the socialization of the animal. So feral is not a breed or a species of cat, it’s simply a behavioral characteristic. If a cat is feral, it just means that they’re not socialized to humans. I think a lot of people think that to be a feral cat, You have to be a mean cat. A cat who’s hissing and baring her teeth at all times! That simply isn’t true. Feral does not mean vicious or even confrontational. In fact, feral cat behavior tends to be avoidant instead of aggressive. Feral cats will actively avoid humans and only become aggressive if cornered. Because feral cats are uncomfortable with people. They aren’t mean, they’re just unsocialized. The antonym for feral is… tame! A tame cat is one who’s comfortable with human interaction, such as touching or being in a small space with a human, just like your pet cat at home. A feral cat is one who is not tame. So our feral cats grumpy all the time? Let’s look at a feral cat in context. Here’s a secret video I took featuring an extremely feral cat who lives in my neighborhood, one who absolutely will not come anywhere near me and is petrified of humans. Left alone with some catnip and a camera running, he has a good old time. He rolls around, he eats it. He’s honestly quite adorable! I loved seeing his footage because it shows that feral cats are literally just normal cats who don’t want to be around humans. They’re just like the cats we have indoors, except that they do not want to be our friend. And that’s okay! Now let’s take a look at a feral cat in a different context. This is a feral cat who’s been caught in a humane trap for TNR. (cat hissing) Oh! Oh dear. (chuckles) Do you think he wants to be snuggled? I don’t think so. This cat is hissing and angry because he’s inside a home and being forced to interact with a human. He isn’t mean, he’s just scared. Just because a cat isn’t tame doesn’t mean they can’t have a wonderful life. Cats have been living alongside humans, for more than ten thousand years. And for the vast majority of that history, they’ve been outside! Did you know kitty litter wasn’t even invented until the 1940s? It’s only been a couple of generations that we’ve been wanting cats to conform to these wild expectations that all of them should want to be inside. Cats have their own desires and lives independent of us and our agendas. So if you spend even a moment working with feral cats outdoors, you see that their lives are rich with experience. Now if you watched my recent video about trapping a feral mom and her babies, you can see the same difference in her behavior. Outdoors, she’s a comfortable cat who feels very safe. But once she’s brought indoors, she’s pissed! And I mean pissed! That’s because she is a feral cat, she is not tame. She’s agitated at the sight of humans, and she’s absolutely traumatized by being indoors. Now in this case, her babies are being socialized for adoption. But she is being TNRed. Meaning she’s being spayed and returned to the colony where she feels safe but whenever I share that she’s a feral cat who doesn’t want to be indoors, people are so confused about why she can’t be socialized like her kittens can. I even saw a few comments saying, “Won’t the kittens inherit her feral blood?” Do you have feral blood? (kisses) Of course I have to laugh because there’s no such thing as feral blood. Being feral has nothing to do with your blood, it has to do with your experience. So let’s talk about the socialization process and how it works. Socialization is the process of learning to like, trust, and interact with humans. It takes place during a socialization window, which is most open between three and eight weeks of age. Behavior is linked with experience, and those who have a good experience within that window will behave with trust and affection. Socialization is easy to do around three to eight weeks because this is the time during which kittens are weaning. They are biologically predisposed to accept change during this time. As their mom starts to push them away from nursing, They’re looking for their next lunch ticket. And if they begin to associate humans with food, they’ll easily warm up to us. That’s why so much of the feral kitten socialization process is about using food to incentivize kittens to accept human interaction. So a kitten like Shish may be very hissy, terrified of humans, and on her way to becoming a feral cat, but when we intervene during this critical window, we can easily turn her into a friendly cat. After weaning, the socialization window begins to rapidly close. That makes sense because if humans haven’t given kittens a reason to accept us yet, Why should they accept us now once they already know how to eat on their own? So socialization is a learned behavior and it is learned young. It’s important to point out that just like all behavioral qualities, socialization is a spectrum. So there’s a wide variety of behaviors between feral and friendly. Some community cats, like Bun, are very feral. Other community cats, like Tuna, are quite social. And others, like Fia, are… Come here! Hi! (cat hisses) Oh, really? Mmm… somehwere in the middle. If the community cat’s been exposed to people from a young age, that’s going to influence how social she is around us. So a “community cat” is not necessarily a feral cat. Community cat is one who has acclimated to living in a colony. They have resources outside and they’re highly adapted for that life. Their ability to thrive in that environment has nothing to do with their socialization level. “Community” is where they live. “Feral” refers to their behavior. If an adult cat is feral and they were not socialized from a young age, They absolutely do not want to be adopted. And forcing them into captivity is a terrifying and traumatic experience for them. These cats love their family groups, their habitat, and their routines. They are petrified of being brought indoors. It would be like bringing a wild raccoon into your home. Much of the time, these cats can’t be socialized, no matter how hard you try. Not to mention it’s dangerous to the person who’s trying to interact with the cat! I mean… look at how I have to get the kittens away from their mama! (crash offscreen) It’s okay. I just say hi to your babies. (crash, hiss) It’s okay. (crash, hiss) Okay. (crash) Can I say hi to you? Come here, baby. …Yeah. She’s feral. Socializing feral kittens can be done safely, but attempting to socialize an adult feral cat could cost you your skin. Now I know, there’s always someone who says, “Well, I brought a feral cat inside and after two years, I can finally touch them without getting attacked!” Well hey, good for you, but not really. That’s not called socialization, That’s called Stockholm Syndrome. Think of the two years of fear that that cat felt. And for what? So you can have them be your pet when you could have easily TNRed them and gone to the shelter to get a cat that’s actually at risk of dying without a home? This is the thing! There’s nothing productive about using our time, energy, and resources, to force a human agenda on a cat that doesn’t want to be in a home! Especially when we can use that same time and energy decreasing the population and putting our resources towards cats who are desperate for homes. Or dying without homes. For me, someone who actively does TNR and fosters, there would be nothing productive about me using six months or two years to try to socialize an adult feral cat, when I could spend that same time saving dozens or hundreds of lives. When 860,000 cats and kittens still dying in shelters every year and 80% of new kittens being born outside, we need to focus heavily on sterilizing outdoor cats and decreasing their population. So here we are! It’s the feral mom’s big day to be returned to her outdoor home after being spayed. (cat hisses, cage rattling) Ready? (cage rattling, cat continues hissing) You’re free! (cat hisses) You’re free! (laughter) Yaaaaaay! I’m so happy! I’m so happy. Whoo-hoo! Cat lovers need to become more educated about the cats that live outdoors because our interactions with them have very real consequences. If we refuse to accept a cat as feral, we might end up bringing them inside and traumatizing them. We might bring them to a shelter where they’re likely to be killed! Or we may exhaust our resources trying to work with them when there are so many other cats who need our help. I believe we have to stop thinking with such a human-focused perspective. We need to accept that some cats are feral and don’t want to be in human homes. That’s the baseline thing we must accept! Because without that acceptance, we can never be effective advocates. How the heck are we gonna solve the kitten euthanasia problem if we can’t even accept that cats are feral and need to be sterilized? We can’t! We have to accept that feral cats exist, meet them where they are, and move forward strategically. Thanks for watching!

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