Feral cats are the same species as pet cats, but feral cats are not adoptable. “Feral” means that the cats are not socialized to people and generally avoid contact with humans. Through Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR), these unadoptable cats are neutered and vaccinated. As a result, the feral cat population stabilizes and decreases. TNR makes feral cats healthier and ends the breeding cycle, which means no more kittens. It also ends mating behaviors including yowling, fighting, spraying, and roaming. Feral cats in TNR programs are just as healthy as pet cats. They receive vaccinations and ongoing management from generous volunteers.

More and more communities are embracing TNR. The following nearby communities already practice TNR: Fauquier, Culpeper, Fredericksburg, Madison, Harrisonburg, Leesburg, Fairfax, Alexandria, Arlington, Richmond, Roanoke, and the District of Columbia. According to a recent study by Alley Cat Allies, more than 340 cities and counties participate in TNR. They have adopted TNR because the old way of doing things, catching and killing cats, has failed to address the feral cat population.

Catching and killing cats has failed for decades. It does not decrease feral cat populations. TNR does effectively stabilize feral cat populations. Under TNR, cats are humanely trapped, neutered, vaccinated, eartipped for identification, and returned to their outdoor homes. TNR improves feral cats’ lives and ends the breeding cycle, which means no more kittens. It also ends mating behaviors including yowling, fighting, spraying, and roaming.

Colonies that are involved in TNR diminish in size over time. During an 11-year study of TNR at the University of Florida, the number of cats declined by 66% with no new kittens being born after the first four years of operation. A very successful TNR program in Jacksonville, Fla., has spayed/neutered 20,000 cats since 2008, and as a result, the number of cats killed in the city’s shelter decreased nearly 60%.

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

Pet and stray cats are socialized to people. Feral cats are not socialized to people. While they are socialized to their colony members and bonded to each other, they do not have that same relationship with people.


• A stray cat is a cat who has been socialized to people at some point in her life, but has left or lost her domestic home, as well as most human contact and dependence.
• Over time, a stray cat can become feral as her contact with humans dwindles.
• Under the right circumstances, however, a stray cat can also become a pet cat once again. Stray cats that are re-introduced to a home after living outdoors may require a period of time to acclimate; they may be frightened and wary after spending time outside away from people.
• Another definition that may help: “A stray cat is a domestic cat that has been abandoned or has ‘strayed’ from home and become lost. Stray [cats] were once pets and they can usually be successfully rescued and placed in homes.” –Stray Cat Handbook


• A feral cat is a cat who has either never had any contact with humans or her contact with humans has diminished over time. She is fearful of people and survives on her own outdoors. A feral cat is not likely to ever become a lap cat or enjoy living indoors.
• Kittens born to feral cats can be socialized at an early age and adopted into homes.

Why does it matter?

• Stray cats can readjust to living with people and can be adopted as companions.
• Adult feral cats are not socialized to people, which means they cannot be adopted. As a result, they are likely to be killed if picked up by animal control or brought to shelters, so it is in their best interest to continue living outdoors.
• Stray and and feral cats can be difficult to tell apart, especially when they are trapped or frightened. Scared stray cats often need time to relax and show their level of socialization. Learn more at www.alleycat.org/FauxFerals.
• Trap-Neuter-Return takes into account each cat’s level (or degree) of socialization to determine the best environment for them. Feral cats are returned to their outdoor home after being trapped and neutered. Socialized cats and kittens can be adopted into homes.

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