Centre for Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine

What is a feral cat?

This study began as a project carried out by Lara Gosling, then an undergraduate student at the Vet School.

feral cat in crush cage

The definition of a true feral cat is an area of contention, with many variations used worldwide. This study aimed to identify a practical definition of a feral cat and explore management options. A qualitative approach was used, utilising questionnaires and focus groups to collect data from feral cat workers and veterinary surgeons.

Key findings:

• Conflicts in opinion on the implications of taming feral cats exist.
• The rescue workers typically felt that most cats could be tamed, whereas the veterinary surgeons felt this was generally inappropriate, except in the case of young kittens.
• A consistent definition of feral cats would enable better communication regarding the welfare and management of these animals.

A feral cat is proposed by this study to be a cat that is unapproachable in its free-roaming environment and is capable of surviving with or without direct human intervention, and may additionally show fearful or defensive behaviour on human contact.

The results of this work have been published in a special issue of the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (which has further information on issues regarding feral cats):

Gosling L, Stavisky J, Dean RS. What is a feral cat? Variation in definitions may be associated with different management strategies. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 2013;15:759-764.  

Contacts: Rachel Dean and Jenny Stavisky

Centre for Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine

School of Veterinary Medicine and Science
University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonington Campus
Leicestershire, LE12 5RD

Tel: +44 (0) 115 951 6576
Fax: +44 (0) 115 951 6415
Email: CEVM@nottingham.ac.uk