Feral House Cat (Felix domesticus)William D. Fitzwater
New Mexico Outdoor Communicators
7104 Bellrose Avenue, NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87110

Fig. 1. House cat, Felis domesticus



Biology of Feral Cats


The cat has been the most resistant to change of all the animals that humans have domesticated. All members of the cat family, wild or domesticated, have a broad, stubby skull, similar facial characteristics, lithe, stealthy movements, retractable claws (except the cheetah), and nocturnal habits.

Feral cats (Fig. 1) are house cats living in the wild. They are small in stature, weighing from 3 to 8 pounds (1.4 to 3.6 kg), standing 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30.5 cm) high at the shoulder, and 14 to 24 inches (35.5 to 61 cm) long. The tail adds another 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30.5 cm) to their length. Colors range from black to white to orange, and an amazing variety of combinations in between. Other hair characteristics also vary greatly.


Cats are found in commensal relationships wherever people are found. In some urban and suburban areas, cat populations equal human populations. In many suburban and eastern rural areas, feral house cats are the most abundant predators.


Feral cats prefer areas in and around human habitation. They use abandoned buildings, barns, haystacks, post piles, junked cars, brush piles, weedy areas, culverts, and other places that provide cover and protection.

Food Habits

Feral cats are opportunistic predators and scavengers that feed on rodents, rabbits, shrews, moles, birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish, carrion, garbage, vegetation, and leftover pet food.

General Biology, Reproduction, and Behavior

Feral cats produce 2 to 10 kittens during any month of the year. An adult female may produce 3 litters per year where food and habitat are sufficient. Cats may be active during the day but typically are more active during twilight or night. House cats live up to 27 years. Feral cats, however, probably average only 3 to 5 years. They are territorial and move within a home range of roughly 1.5 square miles (4 km2). After several generations, feral cats can be considered to be totally wild in habits and temperament.


Scott E. Hygnstrom; Robert M. Timm; Gary E. Larson

Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage Logo 1994


Cooperative Extension Division Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources University of Nebraska -Lincoln

United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Animal Damage Control

Great Plains Agricultural Council Wildlife Committee

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