Feral cats live outside the comfort of our warm homes. Seeing a homeless cat may make you wonder whether it’s a feral or a stray.
Stray cats are, most usually, abandoned or lost house cats, while feral cats are unsocialized and have never lived with humans.
While I believe any cat fancier would love to save a cat from wandering out in the cruel world, feral cats are actually totally okay with living outside. These cats are untamed and probably have never had contact with humans.
Even if they did, this was such a long time ago that they simply aren’t compatible with people anymore. It isn’t totally impossible to live with a feral cat, but there’s a low chance that this cat will want to live inside and snuggle up with humans on a sofa.
Considering all the dangers of the outside world, how long do feral cats live at all?
Let’s find out the answer to this question to get a better perspective on feral cats’ lifestyle.
What’s The Average Life Expectancy For Feral Cats?
As you may guess, the life of an average house cat is very much different from a feral cat’s. Our cat pets are safe and protected in our homes, get the nutrition of best quality, and enjoy our attention and care for their health.
According to PetMD, domestic cats have an average lifespan of 13-17 years, with some of the luckier ones living up to 20 years or more.
What about feral cats? These felines are left on their own devices, without any touch with humans or any kind of assistance.
There’s a huge number of these unowned cats, both in the United States and around the world. Carlton Gyles  notes that feral cats are significant contributors to the cat overpopulation problem, with only about 2% of them being sterilized.
Sadly, the average lifespan of a feral cat is only two to three years. There are some exceptions here, however, so some ferals can get to live up to five years.
Three important factors impact a feral cat’s life expectancy.
3 Factors That Affect A Feral Cat’s Lifespan
All feral cats live short, especially when compared to domestic cats.
Still, some of them may live a bit longer than average. Let’s look at these three factors that may influence their lifespan.
1. General Health
Not all cats have the same health and predisposition to certain medical conditions. For instance, Siberians are prone to Polycystic Kidney Disease and Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. These two conditions can greatly affect their lifespan.
The same thing is true with feral cats. Therefore, while all feral cats are exposed to constant trouble and threats, some of them are in better health than others.
This means that those feral cats suffering from additional health problems may have a shorter lifespan than others who are otherwise healthy.
A feral cat’s lifespan can also depend on its living conditions.
The City of Harrington explains how feral cats usually live in a colony and occupy a specific territory. They choose a place where they will be able to find food, such as a restaurant dumpster.
They want to be far enough from people to not see them daily, but close enough to still get food.
In general, they don’t have a reliable source of food all the time, so they need to be very skillful to survive.
Not all feral cats have the same survival rate and this is why their surroundings are important. Cats that spend most of their time on highways are more exposed to car accidents.
Also, weather conditions are crucial here. Feral cats that live in areas with harsh winters can freeze, while high summer temperatures can also be life-threatening for them.
3. Exposure To Predators
Feral cats living close to the woods are more likely to die even younger than their expected lifespan.
They’re exposed to predators who will see them as easy prey and will kill them without hesitating.
Therefore, feral cats living in city areas are safer in a way and have a higher chance of living a bit longer than expected.
Can We Help Feral Cats Live Longer?
Imagining a group of cats living in an abandoned building and surviving on the hope of finding some food day by day is just heartbreaking.
Many people may never encounter feral cats, but for those who do, the urge to help can be compelling. Providing food, a basic necessity for survival, might seem like a simple way to assist these animals.
I won’t try to discourage you from this, because I think that every cat deserves to be helped. However, you should care about your safety first.
If you have children, please don’t let them come near feral cats. You shouldn’t approach them too closely, either.
These felines have been out there for all their lives and don’t have any social skills. They’re afraid of humans and don’t want to have anything to do with them. This doesn’t mean that a feral will attack you right away, but some of them might do this in defense.
Also, considering you can’t know where a feral cat has been or what disease it may be carrying, it’s best to keep a distance.
You can leave some food near their hideaway and let them have it after you leave.
Feral cats typically have a short life expectancy, especially when compared to house cats.
Their average lifespan stands at two to three years. Their short life expectancy is also affected by factors such as harsh weather conditions, food availability, and exposure to predators.
These cats are untamed and don’t seek human companionship. So, while many of us would like to help feral cats live longer, there is a small chance that these cats would actually like to live as domesticated cats.
Living outdoors is the only lifestyle that feral cats know. They don’t have a safe home, regular supply of food and water, or veterinary care. Together with this, they’re constantly exposed to the threats of the outside world.
The only way you can help feral cats live a bit longer is by making food available to them. While doing this, take care of your own safety and don’t come too near to them, since you can’t know what their reaction will be.
 Gyles C. Outdoor cats – or community cats? Can Vet J. 2019 Apr;60(4):349-352. PMID: 30992590; PMCID: PMC6417603. DOI, Retrieved January 19, 2024.