5 Myths About Feral Cats Debunked | Lola The Rescued Cat
Monday, August 23, 2021

5 Myths About Feral Cats Debunked

Welcome back to our Community Cat Awareness series. In our last post, I gave readers some pointers on how to tell how old a kitten is. Today I’m going to debunk five myths about feral cats. 

Free-roaming cats exist in every state in the country. Pets By The Numbers reports that the Humane Society of the United States puts the estimate at approximately 30 to 40 million, with states that have milder winters showing a larger population of outdoor cats than states that experience harsher winters. 

The public, unfortunately, believes many myths about feral cats, and these cats are often misunderstood. Today I'm debunking five of these myths. 

5 Myths About Feral Cats Debunked

Myth VS. Truth

Myth: Feral cats should be taken to a shelter.

Truth: Feral cats are not socialized to human contact or living indoors and are not adoptable.  Approximately 860,000 are euthanized in shelters every year and feral cats who are accepted into shelters make up a large percentage of that number. According to the ASPCA, “The fact is, most community cats exhibit wild, shy or frightened behavior, and it's impossible to predict how, or if, they will ever acclimate to indoor life.” 

Myth: Feral cats live short, unhealthy, and unhappy lives.

Truth: In 2006 Jennifer L. Wallace and Julie K. Levy conducted a study that indicated feral cats are healthy. Less than 1 percent of 103,643 feral cats examined had a trauma, infectious disease or illness that required euthanasia. In truth, feral cats can live as long as indoor cats, and can have happy lives. Their colony is their family, and they are quite often bonded with each other. In 2017 I had the pleasure of visiting the Atlantic City Boardwalk Cats Project in Atlantic City, NJ. These cats are proof that feral and community cats can live a fulfilled and happy life outdoors, with some of their cats living to be19 years old.   

Myth: Feral cats are dangerous.

Truth: People are more dangerous to feral cats than feral cats are to humans. Feral cats are more likely to remain quiet and hide from view when unfamiliar people approach. Audrey Stratton of the Feral Cat Coalition in San Diego says that “unless they are forced into a situation they cannot escape from, feral cats generally avoid human interactions.” According to the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project in Lynwood, WA, “when feral-behaving cats are caged at the clinic, they still try to hide. They don’t leap at people, growl, strike, or hiss; they keep a low profile.”
Some feral cats even become friendly with their colony caretakers run to greet them. 

Myth: The best way to get rid of feral cats is to trap and euthanize them. 

Truth: Trap and kill is inhumane and is not a long-term solution to decreasing the feral cat population. Removing cats from an area may cause a temporary decrease in the population because when a space is emptied, nature will fill it. This is known as the “vacuum effect.” 

The only humane and effective way to reduce the cat population is through TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return.) In a TNR program, cats are humanely trapped, spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and returned to their outdoor homes. TNR humanely stabilizes the feral cat population, provides a collaborative way for communities to co-exist with cats, and improves cats’ existence by helping them live long healthy lives. 

Myth: Feral cats spread diseases.

Truth: Feral cats are just as healthy as indoor cats, have the same low rate of diseases, and live equally long lives.  A fear of many people is that feral cats will spread rabies, but rabies is rare in cats. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the number of rabid cats decreased by 12.7% from 276 in 2017 to 241 in 2018. The percentage of cats tested for rabies that were positive (1.1%) was like that of the previous 5 years. There has not been a single confirmed case of cat-to-human rabies in the U.S. in over 40 years. In fact, only two human rabies cases have been attributed to cats since 1960. 

Most diseases that infect cats cannot be spread to humans. People are more likely to catch an infectious disease from standing near someone in a store or touching a contaminated surface and touching their face or mouth. 

There is the possibility of cats spreading diseases to other cats, but TNR minimizes that risk greatly. Neutered male cats are less likely to fight and become infected with feline immunodeficiency virus or feline leukemia. When cats are trapped as part of a TNR project, they most often receive a rabies vaccine. Vaccinating cats when they are trapped and neutered helps create herd immunity.

Myth: Feral cats are a different species than indoor cats. 

Truth: Feral cats and indoor cats are the same species; they are both domestic cats. According to Becky Robinson of Alley Cat Allies, many people don’t realize that the only difference between feral cats and domestic cats is the way they behave. “‘Feral’ is just a behavioral description,” she says.  Feral cats are unsocialized and are fearful of humans because they have had limited, or negative, interactions with us.

What The Experts Are Saying

I reached out to people I know who have a lot of experience in the cat world to ask them what they think are some myths about feral cats and what the truth really is. Here’s what they had to say.

Stacy LeBaron (Head Cat and Founder of Community Cats Podcast, an expert in the field of community cats and trap, neuter return strategies in creating a humane environment for cats.)

Myth: All feral cats should be in a home.

Truth: This is false. There are many community cats that are abandoned cats and need assistance, but there are also adult feral cats that are extremely shy and would do better in an outdoor environment.  We have a history of cats as being "working" cats and I think we need to continue with that belief to help with those kitties whether it is trap/neuter/return, barn relocation, or another option.

Myth: Every Cat should be Returned to Field vs Come into an Adoption Center.

Truth: This is false.  Every cat and kitten shouldn't be returned.  Kittens living out in the community have the dire quality of life rates for the first year.  So we first want to make sure we have a safety net for them.  We also need to assist those cats that are injured or compromised as well as those that have truly been abandoned.  This process of identification is so important in creating a humane community for cats.  

Vicky (My Facebook friend from Florida who has been doing TNR since 2004 and has trapped over 5,000 cats. You can follow her cat, Flipper, here.)

Myth: First thing that comes to mind is that people think feral cats will come after them and attack their children. 

Truth: Feral cats are scared of everyone but their feeder, and will run away from confrontation. 

Vicky also says "I've also had to deal with people think that they have horrible diseases that they will spread everywhere which of course, as long as the colony is managed, is not true. When the cat is fixed they are given all their vaccinations."

Louise Holton (President of Alley Cat Rescue)

Myth: Feral cats live short miserable lives.

Truth: In TNRd colonies, ACR’s surveys show that cats can live for 12 years and longer. And in ACRs managed colonies in Maryland, they have several 12-year-olds and a couple even older.

Christine Michaels (President  and Founder of Riverfront Cats)

Myth: property manager in Christine's area here once called feral cats "sewer rats" because the cats would hide in a drainage area. 

Truth: Christine explained that cats are inherently clean animals,  which is one of the reasons they clean their paws after eating and groom themselves.  "I told the property manager that the feral cat is probably cleaner than your kitchen floor."

Christine also shared that the "drain" one of their colony cats hides in is not a sewer but storm drainage, and there is no worry of flooding mainland. It is actually clean and wide, and a safe place for the cat to hide in during the daytime when it's too hot, or there are too many people and cars around. "Shows how smart they are."

Christine always makes it a point to explain the important role "managed" feral cats play in the community, hence they are called community cats.

In previous posts, I discussed the term "community cat" as well as the differences between a stray and feral cat. The information today is focused on myths related to feral cats. 

Pin Us!

I hope I've been able to debunk a few myths. Stay tuned for the next installment in this series to learn about how to maintain feeding stations for community cats. If you've missed any of our Community Cat Awareness posts, you can catch up on them here.

What are some myths you've heard about feral cats? I'd love to hear about them in the comments. 



Photo Credits:
JACLOU-DL via Pixabay
Ranya via Pixabay
Surprising_Shots via Pixabay
loveombra via Pixabay

Additional Posts in This Series: 

About the Author:
Dawn White is an award-winning writer/blogger and the author of Lola: Diary of a Rescued Cat.  Dawn has been writing in the pet industry for over seven years and has been a contributing writer for the Jackson Galaxy Project’s Cat Pawsitive Pro Program, BlogPaws, and Chewy.com.

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  1. I knew most of this already as a cat owner who loves them all. I learned, but except for the CB pet parents, I think we must be in a minority re: ferals. Thank you. I hope this gets to people who need this education most.

  2. Wonderful article, all good info. Our feral Gus is around 20 years old, he's battered and scarred, but perfectly healthy and eats like a pig - MOL!

  3. It galls me that people still believe some of these things.

  4. Excellent article and good to get the word out! No way should ferals be taken to a "shelter", they aren't friendly and adopters want friendly cats. Emphasizing rodent control might be on way to inspire property owners to value a TNRed and well-kept feral cat colony.

  5. There are so many misconceptions about feral cats. Thanks for sharing the truth.

  6. Hope this gets read by the people who need to know it !

  7. Those were really good, thanks everyone. We love our feral family and we love how they interact with each other. We have about 6 security cams on their areas and watching them together is amazing.

  8. Excellent post. I am still hopeful that my 3 ferals will adapt to indoor life. They are truly bonded to one another. though. XO

  9. Another great article. So many people lump ferals and strays/abandoned cats into the same category and it is a death sentence for the feral.
    Over the years before Eric and Flynn we had several abandoned cats join us. There used to be a Naval estate a few fields away from us and when they got a new posting some would just leave their poor cats behind. We only ever had one true feral and he was happy living as a barn cat. He slept there at night and had his kibble there. We were never able to get close to him.

  10. even though mackerull was trapped feral, he was young enough, that he has adjusted, { for the most part } to living inside. I know if he ever got out though, I'd never see him again, because first he'd run and then he'd hide; his microchip would work only if he was "caught". a great post; thanx to everyone who contributed ☺☺♥♥

  11. Terrific post!
    I'm going to post this on FB, in a feral cat group that I belong to.

  12. Love this post and WE LOVE FERAL CATS! There you go

  13. Great post, with really important information. Thank you so much, Dawn and everyone else, for sharing these thruths about feral kitties!

  14. The feral / stray issue is complex. Spay & neuter is so important, and getting those cats who are sociable into good homes is a bonus. Our government animal shelter discourages people from trapping ferals and bringing them to the shelter.

  15. Feral cats are one of those topics it's really easy for me to get into a nasty argument about. People don't even try to understand.


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