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If a feral cat colony has sprung up in your neighborhood, you may be curious about them and how they behave. They look just like house cats, and you might be tempted to feel sorry that they don’t have a loving home. Feral cats and house cats are indeed the same species, but there is one important differing factor: human socialization. So, people may wonder, “do feral cats meow?”
Feral cats can meow. However, meowing is associated with cat-to-human interactions, so feral cats do not often meow. Feral cats communicate with each other through body language, physical contact, and scent marking. Feral cats can be more vocal with their colony’s caretakers.
A feral cat can appear in your neighborhood seemingly overnight, and not long after, you may start to see more of them. Feral cats form colonies in areas where there are available and unclaimed resources, such as food, water, and shelter. The territorial nature of cats means that you will not find more than one colony in an area or neighborhood.
A lack of human socialization in feral cats leads to behavioral differences when compared to your house cat. It also means that to try to tame an adult feral is pointless and often unkind. However, they benefit greatly from a Trap-Neuter-Return program and consistent feeding.
Feral cats will not usually tolerate the presence of a human, running away before you get anywhere near them. Because they are so reluctant to be around people, you are unlikely to hear any vocalization from them, except hissing if you startle them or if they are protecting something.
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How Do Cats Communicate With Other Cats?
According to Pet MD, there are four main methods of communication among cats:
- Physical cues
- Physical contact
- Chemical signals (cat marking)
Cat to Cat Communication
Cats communicate by using their posture, eyes, ears, and tails to give physical cues.
If cats are friendly, their tails will be vertical, their bodies relaxed, and their ears turned forward. They will also confidently approach each other and display their bellies, showing trust. If a cat slowly blinks its eyes, it indicates friendliness, confidence, trust, and affection. Cats can communicate playfulness by crouching and wriggling their backsides, pricking their ears forward, and flicking their tail.
If cats are nervous around each other, they cautiously approach, and they will tuck their tail close to their bodies. They may stop before reaching the other cat and crouch low to the ground, sitting on their paws. Cats show fear, agitation, and other negative emotions by avoiding eye contact and flattening their ears, and flicking their tail. An arched back and fluffed tail mean anger and an imminent attack.
Cats can bump their noses together in greeting or rub against each other to display affection. Grooming each other is also a sign of affection, and sleeping curled up together is only done by cats who are comfortable with each other, so it indicates trust. Gentle biting indicates playfulness, but in general, biting indicates annoyance or aggression.
Cat Chemical Signals
Cats have scent glands in their faces, specifically their foreheads, cheeks, and chins. When they rub themselves on objects or each other, these glands release pheromones and are used to mark their territory. Most male cats and some female cats will also spray to mark their territory. This spay is urine-based but is much thicker and more oily than normal urine.
Cat Vocal Communication
Cats growl, yowl, and hiss at each other when they are angry; growl, cry, or hiss when they are frightened or in pain; trill or meow in greeting to each other; call to each other; chirp and chatter to prey or kittens (mothers); and purr. Vocalization is mostly used very little in cat-to-cat communications. Vocalization is more common between mother cats and their young kittens.
See more about cat vocalization in my article on the important reasons that Burmese cats are so vocal: Click Here.
Why Don’t Feral Cats Meow?
Despite such a large repertoire of sounds that they can make, you will notice that even your house cats don’t often meow to each other. Chirping, chattering, yowling, growling, and hissing are more innate vocalizations in felines, as evidenced by the fact that you can hear them among other wild cat species, like leopards, tigers, and cheetahs.
Meowing seems to be used almost exclusively for communicating with humans. Some researchers, noticing how little feral cats meow, even call this method of communication a manipulative behavior that cats use on owners.
If meowing is mainly used in cat-to-human communication, it makes sense that feral cats don’t meow often. They do not need to speak to humans, and they do not want to. A feral cat will hardly draw attention to themselves when a human is around.
If you are interested in learning more about meowing, check out my article on the truth around why Siamese cats meow so much: Click Here.
People who work with feral cat colonies will tell you that one of the most noticeable feral cat behaviors is the complete silence they maintain when trapped and take to a veterinarian to be sterilized.
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Reasons for Feral Cat Meowing
Feral cats may occasionally meow to each other, although not in your presence.
If a feral cat colony, or even a single feral cat, is being taken care of by one or two caregivers who interact with the cats daily (although not touching them), they may become comfortable enough with these people to start meowing at them.
They will only meow to these people, though, not to anyone, because they are still mistrustful of humans. They have become used to the presence of certain humans as opposed to being socialized.
Learn more about meowing in my article about the fascinating information around why Persian cats meow a lot: Click Here.
How Do Feral Cat Colonies Work?
Feral cats go where there are food and shelter. If your neighborhood provides these necessities in the form of unattended pet food, kind strangers who put food out specifically for homeless cats, large rodent populations, etc., the feral cats will stay. Don’t be surprised if you see a feral cat colony pop up.
Usually, a feral cat colony begins with just one cat. However, a single female cat can become pregnant from the time she 16 weeks old, give birth to several kittens per pregnancy and have three litters in a year! Feral cats are not concerned about inbreeding, so the feral cat population can increase rapidly, and before you know it, one cat has turned into a colony.
What is the Difference Between Feral and Stray Cats?
According to Ally Cat Allies, the difference between a feral cat and a stray cat is human socialization.
A feral cat has never had human socialization. It may have interacted with humans because feral cats live in populated areas, but they have not been touched, held, played with, etc. Additionally, you cannot tame a feral cat. They find it distressing and will never truly adapt. It is far better to trap, neuter, and return them.
One question that frequently gets asked is if feral cats abandon their kittens. Check out my article to learn the full truth around if feral cats abandon their kittens: Click Here.
A stray cat is one that was once socialized with humans but has subsequently been lost or abandoned. When a house cat gets lost or cruelly abandoned, they can lose their ‘tameness’ after a while, becoming leery of humans and behaving more like feral cats than house cats. Stray cats, however, can be re-tamed and adopted.
Female stray cats can have kittens who will be feral if they are not socialized when they are kittens. Feral kittens can be tamed if picked up and introduced to human care before they are four months old.
Feral cat colony caretakers will tell you that the kittens become harder to tame from 8 weeks old, and their degree of socialization can be limited. For example, if a feral kitten is 12 weeks old when they are introduced to human care, they may tolerate your touch and happily live in your home.
Feral cats won’t come and sleep on your lap and may react badly to being picked up. Of course, every kitten is different, and some are more accepting of human socialization.
A cat is classified as feral if it has never had human socialization, so feral cats are wary in the presence of people. While they can meow and occasionally use this vocalization to communicate with each other, they will not draw attention to themselves by meowing in your presence and are very unlikely to meow at you.
If you have been taking care of a feral cat or a colony of feral cats, you may start to hear them meowing more because they become comfortable around you. They may even talk to you because they know you are a source of food. However, if they do start meowing to you, this does not mean that they are tamed or socialized, and they will still not allow you to touch or handle them.
If there is a ‘feral’ cat that moves into your neighborhood and goes around calling for humans, it is more likely that this is a stray cat who has become lost from its home or has been abandoned. You should try to catch this stray cat because it can likely be re-homed.
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