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How Long Does It Take a Domestic Cat to Go Feral? Vet-Reviewed Facts

Written by: Chantelle Fowler

Last Updated on March 28, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

How Long Does It Take a Domestic Cat to Go Feral? Vet-Reviewed Facts


Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM) Photo


Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM)


The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you’ve ever had a pet cat that’s gotten lost or stolen, you may wonder what became of them. Did they find a community of other cats and become feral? Are they living happily with another family somewhere? While we obviously don’t have the answer to your precious pet’s whereabouts, we can shed some light on whether they’ve become feral.

Previously domesticated cats can adapt to living a free-roaming life and become street cats, but they won’t ever become feral. Read on to learn more.

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Will a Domestic Cat Go Feral?

A domesticated cat cannot become feral, no matter how long they’re “on the streets.” Feral cats are those that have never been socialized or had any interactions with humans. A cat that’s previously lived with humans cannot be feral, but they can become strays. What’s the difference? Let’s look a little closer.

Image Credit: JancickaL_Pixabay

Feral vs Stray Cats

Though some people may use the terms “feral” and “stray” interchangeably when referring to cats, they are two completely different types of animals.

  • Feral cats are unsocialized outdoor cats that haven’t ever had physical contact with humans. Most adult feral cats are terrified of people, and they will never adapt to living indoors or becoming a pet. Kittens born to feral mothers may be socialized, though it can be extremely time-consuming and even impossible, especially when the kittens are four months or older.
  • Stray cats are those that have been socialized to humans at some point. They may have escaped, gotten lost, or were abandoned by their owners and are now living on the streets. Because they’ve previously lived alongside humans, strays can typically be re-socialized and placed in an adoptive home.

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How to Tell Feral Cats and Stray Cats Apart

Stray Cats Feral Cats
May approach you Will avoid you
May show interest in food you’ve put down for them Will generally wait until you’re gone to approach the food
May be vocal Will tend to be silent
May be seen any time of the day Most often seen at night
May hiss or growl to show anxiety or stress May be aggressive and lash out if they feel threatened or cornered
May appear friendly toward humans (meowing or purring) Fearful or aggressive around humans
May exhibit positive body language (tail up, eye contact) Will exhibit negative body language (tail down, avoids eye contact)


Can Feral Cats Become Pets?

Feral adult cats can rarely become pets, and many experts agree that they are basically wild animals. These cats are unsocialized and not accustomed to interaction with humans. Additionally, they may have serious illnesses that can spread to other pets and even humans, so even if you’re able to catch one, it’s not a great idea to try to introduce them to domesticated life.

Feral cats thrive in their outdoor homes. They’re well accustomed to life outside and are naturally skilled at finding shelter and food without human intervention. They aren’t a threat to humans as they tend to avoid us at all costs.

However, feral kittens, especially those younger than eight weeks, may be able to be socialized. The process can be long and arduous, so anyone attempting to tame feral kittens must be committed and patient throughout the process. The kittens should not be separated from their mothers before they’re old enough to be weaned, as they are too young and may not survive. It is important to note that the taming process is harder and less successful the longer the kitten stays in the wild.

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Final Thoughts

A once domesticated cat cannot, by definition, become feral. They can, however, adapt to street life as strays. Feral cats are those that have never been socialized or even had contact with a human in their life. Feral cats are nearly impossible to catch, extremely resourceful, and are generally not destined to become pets.

Featured Image Credit: DavidTB, Shutterstock

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