Stray and Feral Cats

Stray or Feral – what the difference?

A stray cat is a domestic cat that strayed from home and became lost or was abandoned. Because a stray cat was once a companion animal, they usually can be re-socialized and placed in an adoptive home.

A feral cat is a domestic cat that was lost or abandoned and has reverted to a wild state or a cat that was born to a stray or feral mother and had little or no human contact. Adult ferals are very difficult to tame and are not usually suitable for adoption. They live in family groups called colonies that form near a source of food and shelter. Feral kittens can usually be socailized, the younger, the better.

Observe the cat’s appearance and behavior using these quick tips. These tips are only a general guide. Each cat acts differently.

Stray Cat Feral Cat
may approach you will not approach you
may approach food right away that you put down will wait until you leave to eat
may be vocal will be silent
may look disheveled will appear more groomed
may be seen at all hours of the day usually nocturnal

About Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)

There are as many as 100,000 feral and stray cats in the Toronto area. According to the Toronto Humane Society, “euthanasia due to homelessness is the largest cause of death in cats.”

Trap-Neuter-Return, or TNR, is a program designed to manage the overpopulation of cats and reduce rates of euthanization. Cats are humanely trapped, sterilized (females are spayed and males are neutered), vaccines are administered (for examples, rabies shots), returned to their outdoor colonies, and monitored. Monitoring includes feeding and ensuring the cats do not become ill or injured.

Over time, the cat colony population will naturally decrease.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do you return cats to their outdoor colonies? Why not just adopt them to good homesFeral cats (unlike stray cats) are not good candidates for adoption unless trapped or caught at a very young age (under 2 months, 3 months in extreme cases) as they are fearful of humans and generally do not make good companions in a home situation. Feral cats are the offspring of stray domestic cats that were not spayed or neutered.
  • Why are the cat’s ears clipped?
    This practice is called “eartipping” and it is a universal sign that a feral cat has been sterilized. Because there are so many feral cats, it’s hard to keep track of which cat has already been sterilized. While the cat is under anesthetic for their sterilization surgery, a quarter inch of the left ear is clipped in a short and painless procedure.
  • Does TNR even work? I see cats in my neighbourhood all the time.Yes. Numerous research studies support the TNR method for reducing cat populations between 16 and 66 per cent, which means fewer cats being euthanized each year.[1] It also means healthier, friendlier cats in your neighbourhood who have been vaccinated to prevent the spread of disease.

    Spayed female cats stop having babies which reduces the population and can reduce predator animals in the area.
    Neutered male cats are much less likely to spray, roam, or fight which reduces nuisance behaviour in the neighbourhood.

  • How can I support TNR?Like many other rescue organizations, AVA supports and is actively involved in TNR programs. If you think you can help, we are always looking for people to help trap vulnerable cats, drive cats to the vet for their spay/neuter appointment and monitor their progress after they are returned to their colonies.

Learn more about colonies and TNR

Community Cats Toronto offers workshops for feral cat caretakers to teach you about TNR and caring for feral cats.

Maintaining a neighbourhood cat colony

Feral or free-roaming cats often live together in territories or colonies. Thanks to the kindness of strangers, these cats get fed and looked after by Colony Caretakers, who work in cooperation with a TNR program to help keep the cat population down.

It’s important to note that caretakers for TNR programs do not establish colonies of cats, but take care of already-established colonies that naturally form.

Are you interested in taking care of a colony of cats in your neighbourhood? Here are some helpful tips:

  • Be prepared. Make you sure you learn more about taking care of your colony; AVA has a helpful Resource Guide, Taking Care of Your Colony that provides you with detailed information and helpful tips. This includes ensuring your neighbours are aware of the colony caretaking .
  • Ask for help. Colony caretaking can be a massive undertaking, including time and resources. Get in touch with a rescue agency, like AVA, to ensure you have the support and resources to look after your colony. Make sure you have a community network of volunteers to help care for the colony, especially if you will be away.
  • Know the basics. Always provide fresh water daily for your colony, and have shelter to protect them from inclement weather. Many resources exist about building inexpensive shelters for cats.

Taking care of a colony is often a natural first step in getting involved in a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program.

Spay/neuter services for stray and feral cats

The following organizations offer sterilization clinics for Toronto’s stray and feral cats: