The vast majority of cats in the world are not pets. While it isn’t as common in the United States as it is in many other parts of the world, there are still millions of feral cats scattered all across the continental United States.
These cats, which we call “feral,” while physically similar to our pampered pets, behave and react very differently to humans than their domesticated counterparts.
Feral cats often live together in colonies (groups of 5 cats or more) and have their own hierarchical social system. They hunt and scavenge, raise young together, and generally avoid human contact.
But where do cats live in the wild? Well, it all depends on how much human contact the individual colonies are willing to tolerate as well as their geographical location.
In this article, we’ll cover the following:
There are estimated to be more than 100 million feral cats in the world, and cats that live in the wild often have very difficult lives. In fact, while the lifespan of domesticated cats can extend upwards of 20 years, feral cats rarely make it past their fifth birthday.
Some of these cats have regular contact with human beings. Many feral cats aren’t wild in the traditional sense and are cared for by human beings in some capacity.
A good example of this is farm cats. While they don’t come indoors and aren’t necessarily tame, they are utilized by a farmer to control the rodent population and in exchange are often offered rudimentary shelter (such as inside a barn) and fed.
Other cats aren’t so lucky. Truly feral cats will live together in colonies and will reject most forms of human contact. While some of them are fed by humans, they rarely trust people enough to be pet or picked up.
Feral cats will often seek their own shelter, either in the woods, or in abandoned human structures such as homes, barns, or sheds.
They often have relatively small “home ranges,” usually less than 20 acres. Some feral cat colonies are more transient, however, and will travel together across long distances in search of food and adequate shelter.
Without any human assistance at all, most cats die before they reach adulthood. Those who manage to live past a few weeks often have a lifespan of only 1-2 years.
With human assistance, these cats can live longer, to up to 10 years. Human beings who help feral cats often opt to trap, neuter, and then release them to control the population.
This feral cat has grown to trust his human friend. While he is still a little skittish, he eventually allows the human to pet him.
Cats, whether they are feral or domesticated, will always seek out comfortable and enclosed spaces to sleep in.
Wild cats possess the same instincts that move our pet cats to sleep in boxes or behind furniture. Feral cats will hide and sleep in a place where they feel safe and warm and are able to comfortably observe their surroundings.
Feral cats are often faced with a variety of natural predators and dangers that domesticated cats never have to consider. For this reason, feral cats pay very close attention when choosing a place to rest their head at night. They want to be vigilant for predators and be able to observe their surroundings at all times.
In fact, you might have a very hard time finding the sleeping place of a feral cat. It’s likely to be very well hidden!
Some caring people who have feral cats living on their property choose to purchase outdoor cat shelters. These shelters, such as the Petsfit Wooden Cat House, provide the perfect place for a wild cat to sleep at night.
There is much debate on whether or not feral kittens can be caught, tamed, and raised as pets with human beings.
Most experts believe that, if caught when they are young enough, many wild kittens can be successfully tamed and adjust to life with humans.
Kittens can often be tamed if they are caught and socialized with humans between birth and 12 weeks of age. However, this socialization and taming process is often very difficult and yields mixed results.
While some of these kittens will grow up to be relatively friendly and normal adult cats, many of them will never fully trust humans and will be fearful and skittish throughout their adult lives.
Unfortunately, many kittens don’t survive in the wild. The mortality rate for kittens born in the wild to feral parents is over 50%, meaning only half of kittens born in the wild make it to their first birthday.
Even then, wild cats often die before they reach two years of age.
Kittens who do survive in the wild do so because they have a good mother, are able to avoid disease, and are protected from predators, the elements, and accidents.
Kittens who are very small or born with health problems have virtually no chance of surviving in the wild, either because their mother chooses not to care for them or because they quickly succumb to the elements and disease.
If humans assist these kittens, either by providing shelter for the feline family or by offering food, the kittens have a much better chance of survival. In these cases, many experts encourage the people involved to capture and neuter these kittens to help control the feral cat population.
It is absolutely vital to be gentle, patient and loving when attempting to tame a feral kitten. You can see an example of that in this video:
The best thing that humans can do for wild cats is to spay and neuter them. Many veterinary offices often free or low cost spaying and neutering for wild cats in an effort to control the feral cat population and prevent unnecessary suffering.
If you have wild cats living on your property, you may want to consider purchasing an outdoor shelter for them. These shelters, which are waterproof and provide warmth and shelter, can make a big difference in the quality of life for a feral cat.
After moving to New York City from Rome, Italy, I began working in the nonprofit world. Despite my day job, my passion has always been animals, especially dogs and cats, and writing. What better way to combine the two? I’ve been a pet owner for 15 years, and my menagerie includes dogs, cats, hamsters and the occasional hermit crab. My beloved cat, Mozart, who I found as a newborn kitten, sparked my love for felines and is now nearly 15 years old. I am an enthusiastic volunteer at the local ASPCA, where I enjoy spending time with the cats and cleaning up after the dogs. I’ve been writing about pet ownership and care for the past five years.