What is the Difference Between a Stray Cat and a Feral Cat?

What is the difference between stray cats and feral cats

At some point in your travels or maybe even in your own backyard, literally, you’re bound to come across stray cats, or are they feral cats?

So many terms, what do they all mean?

  • Stray cats
  • Feral cats
  • Street cats
  • Community cats
  • Free roaming cats

What is the difference between a stray cat and a feral cat


A stray cat is a former housecat who was either lost or abandoned, and now lives on the street. Since he or she had a home once and was socialised to interact with humans, they don’t tend to fear them. However, a stray can become feral if without human interaction for quite some time. Their offspring will be considered feral.

A friendly stray who hasn’t been on the streets terribly long, may be able to live in a home again as a house cat.


A feral cat is born outside and has no human contact, and kittens born from strays or ferals are considered feral.

Adults cannot be socialised and are best left outside to live out their lives. They should be trapped, spayed/neutered, returned to the area they were taken from, and cared for by people called caretakers. They should never be trapped and brought to a shelter because they will be killed.

With proper socialization, feral kittens can live in a home if taken off the streets at a young enough age.

My experience rescuing a feral kitten

I lived and worked in Jerusalem many years ago, and one day on the way home from work I found a tiny kitten in a pile of garbage. There was no way I was going to leave her, so I picked her up and brought her home. She was about 3 weeks old, with a swollen face and covered in fleas. I loved her for 17 years and where I moved she moved. We spent another year or two in Israel, moved to Toronto for a few years than she spent the rest of her life in England with me.

Even though she was so young when I found her, she must have come from generations of ferals because she was so skittish of everyone. I was the only person she would sit with, and every night for her entire life she slept on my head. She was scared of everyone else and would hide under the bed if anyone came in. The plug in pheromone diffuser Feliway changed her life almost immediately. She became much more relaxed to the point my husband could pet her!!

Her name was Calypso and she was definitely my heart cat.

Street cat

A general name we tend to call any cat we see living on the street. Typically we mean feral, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t stray cats there as well.

Community cat

A community cat has no “owner” and lives outdoors, so technically the cat can be stray or feral.

I don’t know who first coined that term or how long it’s been around, but I first heard it several years ago in Toronto. A girl I knew who was involved in TNR (trap-neuter-return) said they were using it instead of “feral” as a way of encouraging people to see them as part of their communities. The hope was residents would feel a sense of responsibility and be more willing to feed them, have them fixed and become caretakers.

Free roaming cat

This is a cat that is not confined to a house or any enclosed structures, so can describe cats who have homes but are allowed to wander, strays and ferals.


At the end of the day, each term (except for free roaming cats that have homes) means a cat whose home is the streets.

Throughout this website I may use the terms interchangeably. Whatever word I use, my mission is to help reduce the number of kittens being born on the streets of Jerusalem through the practice of TNR.


Please help support my spay/neuter campaign by donating and sharing. You can find all the details on my GoFundMe page.



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