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#1
Old 10-01-2011, 08:09 AM
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How long could a domestic cat survive in the wild?

There's an older thread posing this question but it was mostly about a cat just left out. Obviously in an urban/suburban environment a cat could get taken in, be fed by strangers, get picked up by animal control, or survive off of garbage, but also fall victim to traffic and other human-related dangers.

What I'm wondering is how well an adult domestic cat who has spent the better part of its life in human care could survive if taken deep into the woods and just let go.

I was discussing this with my GF the other night and we have one cat that I think would do just fine because he was an outside cat for a long time (he's elderly now so we keep him in), but our other cat I'm not so sure about. She's young, quick and agile, but also not really the brightest crayon in the box and I'm not so confident she would survive any extended period of time outside of human care.
#2
Old 10-01-2011, 08:12 AM
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Forever, cats are very efficient killers and breed like rabbits in the wild. We have acres of feral cats all over Saudi Arabia.
#3
Old 10-01-2011, 08:44 AM
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Bear in mind that the urban/suburban environment is the cat's natural environment. They've evolved alongside humanity for millenia, and have adopted perfectly.
#4
Old 10-01-2011, 08:47 AM
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Huge numbers of feral cats have prospered in Australia, and constitute a serious danger to several indigenous species of birds and marsupials.
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Old 10-01-2011, 09:01 AM
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I'm not asking about feral cats. I'm asking about a domestic cat who's spent its entire life in human care that is left out in the wild (no human presence) to fend for itself.
#6
Old 10-01-2011, 09:34 AM
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But they must have started out as domestic cats, and clearly they prospered.
#7
Old 10-01-2011, 09:38 AM
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Originally Posted by Mk VII View Post
But they must have started out as domestic cats, and clearly they prospered.
Not neccessarily. There's no evidence that the cats here in the Middle East were ever domesticated - they probably wandered up from Egypt 5,000 years ago, and have been living in allyways ever since. Cats spread with humans, but they aren't neccessarily spread by humans.
#8
Old 10-01-2011, 09:41 AM
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I think that the point that Mk VII was trying to make is that the feral cats had to come from somewhere, as they're not native to the Australian continent. Specifically, they came from domestic cats that ended up out in the wild for one reason or another, survived, and began breeding rapidly.
#9
Old 10-01-2011, 11:11 AM
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Assuming the housecat were young and healthy, its hunting instincts would kick in as soon as it got hungry -- notably, anything smaller than it that moves is food. It would also eat any dead animals it comes across (and its sense of smell means it can find them pretty easily).

It would also run away from anything larger than it (except for humans, since it's learned they're OK). The cat would be in as good a position to survive as one born in the wild.
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#10
Old 10-01-2011, 11:22 AM
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Originally Posted by DCnDC View Post
I'm not asking about feral cats. I'm asking about a domestic cat who's spent its entire life in human care that is left out in the wild (no human presence) to fend for itself.
I still go for "forever."
#11
Old 10-01-2011, 11:23 AM
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It is a certainty that domestic cats can survive just fine the wild. As noted, there are populations of feral cats all over the world. A better question might be:

What are the chances that any given domestic cat will survive if let out into the wild?
#12
Old 10-01-2011, 11:26 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DCnDC View Post
I'm asking about a domestic cat who's spent its entire life in human care that is left out in the wild (no human presence) to fend for itself.
There are domestic cats and then there are domestic cats. A barn cat being kept outdoors to control pests is going to have a much easier transition than a indoors-only pampered pet that has never hunted anything more significant than a stray moth.

In fact I'd lay odds that survival for the latter would be low. Not zero, certainly, but fairly low. Feral cats are definitely taught how to hunt by mom and lacking that instruction the indoors cat is going to be a crippling disadvantage that only a lot of luck ( and probably good health and youth to start out with ) is going to solve.
#13
Old 10-01-2011, 11:33 AM
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It really depends on the cat. Some adapt to hunting quite quickly, and some never really get the hang of it. I did feral cat trap/neuter/release for several years and discovered that while the original abandoned cats might not do all that well, second generation and thereafter did fairly well finding enough to eat. That did not save them from other animals (coyotes are becoming a big problem for barn cats around here), or death from disease or overbreeding.
#14
Old 10-01-2011, 11:58 AM
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if the cat has had some outdoor time and learned and practiced hunting it could be OK. also not having a collar on would be a plus.
#15
Old 10-01-2011, 12:09 PM
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Part of it depends on how wild an area. Anything anywhere near people is already an artificial environment . Sure most house cats don't have a whole lot of predatory practice. But the predatees aren't very good either. There are all kinds of fat stupid rodents and birds because so many natural predators have been repressed.
#16
Old 10-01-2011, 12:15 PM
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Originally Posted by johnpost View Post
if the cat has had some outdoor time and learned and practiced hunting it could be OK. also not having a collar on would be a plus.
You mean I was supposed to take that little collar with the cute bell off before I released kitty into the wild?

Last edited by John Mace; 10-01-2011 at 12:16 PM.
#17
Old 10-01-2011, 12:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DCnDC View Post
I'm not asking about feral cats. I'm asking about a domestic cat who's spent its entire life in human care that is left out in the wild (no human presence) to fend for itself.
Where do you think feral cats come from in places like Australia? They come from "escaped" domestic cats.
#18
Old 10-01-2011, 12:35 PM
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Or they could have stowed away on ships, just like the rats. Anywhere you find pest rodents, cats will soon follow.
#19
Old 10-01-2011, 12:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Broomstick View Post
Where do you think feral cats come from in places like Australia? They come from "escaped" domestic cats.
How about answering it two parts ...

How long do stray cats survive in the wild? (Whether or not to call that formerly domesticated generation not born and raised in the wild as "feral" is a matter of opinion.) Obviously some survive long enough to breed another generation. Some die very quickly, I'd guess. How many make it several seasons? Few I would guess, but I think a GQ answer to that question is what is being asked.

Of the next, born and raised in the wild, generation Wiki cites sources stating a bit less than 5 years on average but with a wide range, compared to 12 to 14 for male domesticated and a year or so older for females.
#20
Old 10-01-2011, 02:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Tamerlane View Post
There are domestic cats and then there are domestic cats. A barn cat being kept outdoors to control pests is going to have a much easier transition than a indoors-only pampered pet that has never hunted anything more significant than a stray moth.

In fact I'd lay odds that survival for the latter would be low. Not zero, certainly, but fairly low. Feral cats are definitely taught how to hunt by mom and lacking that instruction the indoors cat is going to be a crippling disadvantage that only a lot of luck ( and probably good health and youth to start out with ) is going to solve.
I think youth and good health are the critical factors here. An older cat who has never had to hunt to feed itself will probably not last long if released into the 'wild'. A young, strong healthy cat who has also never had to feed itself has a much better chance of surviving long enough to teach itself hunting skills before it starves to death.

I have a two year old cat who just this summer figured out how to open the screen door and escape. She would come home at the end of the day tired and hungry. But by her third or fourth escape, she was no longer coming home empty-handed. We still try to keep her confined, but when she escapes now, she invariably comes back proudly toting a fresh kill, a field mouse or a mole. She was not 'taught' how to hunt - her instincts served her well. I have no doubt she would do quite well on her own if she had to. Yes, she had the advantage of coming home to a good meal while she was honing her skills and perhaps she would not have done so well without that. But I think she would have made it. My other 12 year old cat? She would not have survived a week (even if she wasn't deaf, which would make even a week optimistic).
#21
Old 10-01-2011, 03:06 PM
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Obviously depends on the other critters in the woods as well. Coyotes or foxes would dramatically shorten its life span.
#22
Old 10-01-2011, 03:15 PM
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Any individual cat in the wild has an enormously greater chance of dying from injury or illness before they ever see old age. They have more opportunities to breed before that time comes than domestic cats in general so feral colonies survive. Feral colonies are more than able to sustain cats as a species in the wild but the individual cats don't live the 15-20 years that domestic house cats do. Far from it.

Their ability to survive as a species in the wild by breeding more rapidly than they die is no indication of how long one individual cat will live in the wild. Any one cat might survive anywhere from a few hours to a few years, not likely ever more than that. That is whether they are a skilled hunter born into a feral colony with a mother to teach them, or a domestic cat dumped on the side of the road after living in a house all their life. A well cared for domestic cat might live up to 25 years.
#23
Old 10-01-2011, 04:15 PM
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Cats have all the skills they need to survive instinctively. Mothers may teach their young some hunting skills, but left in the wild instinct will give them all they need to survive. But as others noted, survival in the wild is hard, and I'd think most domesticated animals live much longer on average when being cared for by humans than they would in the wild. Besides the predators, there may be an inconsistent food supply (less of a problem for cats who can survive on very small animals), disease, extreme weather, and a lack of medical care.

We had a beautiful feral cat live on and around our property for many years. She looked like a calico Persian, and she was a prodigious hunter. We managed to capture her to get her spayed after her first litter, but she hated us for it, wouldn't eat, and we let her back out after she healed. Another cat we had seemed to have a hitch in his instincts. He would stalk a bird with great care, but when he got within leaping distance he would jump straight up in the air, and the bird would take flight. He would look around, pace a bit, and then wander away with that typical cat thing meaning 'I intended to do that'. He caught mice well, so one bug in his instincts wouldn't have doomed him to starvation.

When we moved here to RI, there were many feral cats in the area. Coyotes moved into the area soon after, and the feral cats (and some of the house cats) all disappeared. Now there are foxes in the area, and I think they are also keeping the feral cat population down. We haven't seen as many skunks, geese, ducks, rabbits, or wild turkeys in the area since the foxes moved in. And now there are Fishers in the area too. Life is tough in the wild.
#24
Old 10-01-2011, 08:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DCnDC View Post
I'm not asking about feral cats. I'm asking about a domestic cat who's spent its entire life in human care that is left out in the wild (no human presence) to fend for itself.
Probably won't live very long at all. Call it a few weeks before a hazard they don't understand bites them. Fatally. I've taken in a few formerly abandoned to-become-feral cats. Never found one more than 3 years old that could re-adapt to living in a human residence. Hardly ever seen one older than that at all. If (very big If, here) they are successful, they will probably learn to NOT like, nor approach, humans, again. And that was in a city where some people feed them, (including me ). Put them out in wilderness, and they are dead, quickly. They probably won't even eat once, let alone breed. Not a good idea. Shoot them yourself. It's more humane. Although ugly as it gets.
#25
Old 10-01-2011, 09:28 PM
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It also depends on the local climate and conditions. One of the biggest challenges a domestic cat gone feral would face is shelter. Cats don't really have a nesting instinct -- they don't dig burrows, build nests in trees like squirrels, etc. To shelter themselves from a week of driving rain, or feet of snowfall, they depend on human-built structures. Even if they can survive on mice and bird in a jumble of crates in an abandoned alley -- how can they rely on finding one? Anyway, catching small animals in an urban or suburban (not rural) setting isn't very likely. Most urban feral cats just eat human garbage -- saw a NOVA episode where feral cats just licked the grease spilled in front a meat market's garbage. Made me feel sad, but I'm not a cat -- he may have really liked that meat grease served on pavement.

[ETA]

I see I missed the OP's premise -- house cat into woods. Still, like I said, weak nesting instinct in the domestic cat.

Last edited by Arkcon; 10-01-2011 at 09:30 PM. Reason: oops
#26
Old 10-01-2011, 09:31 PM
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Have you ever been to a city outside the U.S.*? There are stray cats everywhere. They do just fine.

(*some U.S. cities, like Los Angeles, do have a fair amount of stray cats too - just not as many as I have seen in foreign countries - I especially remember seeing a lot in Rome & Florence when visiting Italy)
#27
Old 10-01-2011, 11:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cheshire Human View Post
Probably won't live very long at all. Call it a few weeks before a hazard they don't understand bites them. Fatally. I've taken in a few formerly abandoned to-become-feral cats. Never found one more than 3 years old that could re-adapt to living in a human residence.
Pretty much true. Ok the indoor-outdoor cat who is car-savvy etc, and know how to hunt may do OK. But the entirely indoor moggie will just get run over or eaten very quickly, unless it gets adopted or picked up.

In the wild, they'd get eaten fairly fast. Now, it's true that cats can survive in certain wilderness areas just fine. But those are mostly born to the hunting life ferals.

In Australia, there are few cat predators. Here in the USA, in fairly deep wilderness, there are plenty of predators who hunt more effectively or will simply eat the cat. The cat will either starve or be eaten.

Now in certain areas, like in parks or in wild areas in or around cities, feral cats will fit into a nice eco-niche and do fine.
#28
Old 10-03-2011, 03:44 PM
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Their whole life!
#29
Old 10-03-2011, 04:17 PM
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Hunting is not instinctive in cats, it is learned. Mother teach kittens to hunt.

Usually, a domestic cat abandoned by its owner will starve, or be killed by stray dogs, raccoons or coyotes.

I see this far too much at Nashville International, where I work.

I urge everyone to take an unwanted pet--cat, dog, or otherwise--to the Humane Society. The chance of adoption is small, but far better than the chances of survival in the wild, which approach zero.
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#30
Old 10-03-2011, 05:40 PM
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Originally Posted by Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor View Post
Hunting is not instinctive in cats, it is learned. Mother teach kittens to hunt.
I don't think so necessarily.

My ex- had a declawed cat that had never spent a day out of doors. When she moved in with me, I got one of those cat harness things so that it could spend some time outside on a long, thin rope. It got used to being outside pretty quickly.

I started letting it out on its own soon after. It started returning with voles within days. And remember--no front claws.

A friend of mine had a cat since it was a kitten. No mother to teach it. It brought back squirrels and rabbits.

I believe cats are instinctive hunters. They crouch, stalk and pounce without ever being taught. They just get better at it through repetition and trial-and-error.

Last edited by Rysdad; 10-03-2011 at 05:41 PM.
#31
Old 10-03-2011, 05:51 PM
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They are instinctive hunters. Hunger and instinct and their health are all they need to start catching food the first day they are outside.

The things their mother teaches them (which is no small advantage) are what makes for good eating, where to find it, what bites back, how to avoid the yard full of dogs nearby, etc. They all have instinctive hunting ability but like any raw ability, it is much more effective if guided by example and experience instead of trial and error.
#32
Old 10-03-2011, 06:01 PM
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A lot of the hunting teaching is what we think of as play. When you dangle a fake mouse on a string for the cat to chase, or a laser pointer, or whatever, you're teaching the cat how to stalk and pounce.
#33
Old 10-03-2011, 08:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Crazyhorse View Post
They are instinctive hunters. Hunger and instinct and their health are all they need to start catching food the first day they are outside.

The things their mother teaches them (which is no small advantage) are what makes for good eating, where to find it, what bites back, how to avoid the yard full of dogs nearby, etc. They all have instinctive hunting ability but like any raw ability, it is much more effective if guided by example and experience instead of trial and error.
I'm not entirely convinced. We owned a cat once who was a pure house cat (no outdoors). When we had a mouse in the house, she managed to chase it just fine and even corner it behind a piece of furniture. Then she started mewling sadly, clearly having no idea what to do with it. She knew how to chase but had no idea how to kill. I finally set a box down (which it bolted into) and took it outside that way since the cat was confused as hell about the next step in her mousing.
#34
Old 10-03-2011, 08:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Jophiel View Post
I'm not entirely convinced. We owned a cat once who was a pure house cat (no outdoors). When we had a mouse in the house, she managed to chase it just fine and even corner it behind a piece of furniture. Then she started mewling sadly, clearly having no idea what to do with it. She knew how to chase but had no idea how to kill. I finally set a box down (which it bolted into) and took it outside that way since the cat was confused as hell about the next step in her mousing.
I think the missing element was hunger. If there are easier or more palatable options available it might not occur to her to kill or eat the mouse. But the same hunting instinct that makes it good entertainment just to chase them when well fed would allow her to catch prey outdoors if she had no other options and got hungry. That isn't to say she would be a successful hunter long term, but she would almost certainly do her best to try.
#35
Old 10-04-2011, 11:53 AM
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In my childhood we had a cat who was permitted outside but was mostly inside. One fall day Dad was cleaning out the garden and a number of mice were in a pile of end-of-year garden debris. Said cat had a lovely time all afternoon catching them and depositing them in a line but had no idea what to do next. However, at some point she bit into one and discovered, Hey, there's MEAT in there! She was also getting hungry at this point, having been engaged in this vigorous activity for hours. She went back and devoured all of her victims in very short order.
#36
Old 10-05-2011, 06:13 AM
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Our family adopted a kitten that was still nursing and had to be bottle fed. We kept him indoors for most of his life, but as he got older he wanted to go outside more and more and so we'd let him out during the day.

And yet despite his sheltered upbringing it wasn't long before I'd see him hanging just outside the screen door, happily munching on his latest prey, usually a field mouse or squirrel. Given how quickly he became a proficient hunter without any outside help makes a strong case for their hunting being largely instinctive.
#37
Old 10-06-2011, 03:53 AM
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Domestic cats that go wild have a relatively short lifespan. Even ones that remain in cities don't last long- feline aids, all manner of parasites plus wounds take care of them very quickly. The above answers that they can live forever are not true. There may be a heap around, but how many were actually bred?
#38
Old 10-06-2011, 05:35 AM
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Originally Posted by Cicero View Post
Domestic cats that go wild have a relatively short lifespan. Even ones that remain in cities don't last long- feline aids, all manner of parasites plus wounds take care of them very quickly. The above answers that they can live forever are not true. There may be a heap around, but how many were actually bred?
Like all wild animals, all they have to do is live long enough to breed. And breed they do - I live in a city that must have five street cats for every domestic cat, and all of the domestic cats I know were originally found on the street as kittens. They've adopted to the urban environment almost as well as humans have.
#39
Old 10-06-2011, 05:46 AM
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Originally Posted by Paul in Qatar View Post
I still go for "forever."
Cat's released into the wild suddenly become immortal?!
#40
Old 10-06-2011, 05:49 AM
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I think the point of the OP is being missed. He/ she asked "How long could a domestic cat survive in the wild?"

Now interpretation of wild could be suburban streets; however I am guessing that the OP meant in the bush.

The other point is the OP is asking about one cat, not a species. Sure the cat possibly could live long enough to breed- obvioulsy heaps did- but the life of the individual cat in my opinion would not be long.
#41
Old 10-06-2011, 05:53 AM
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According to Wikipedia feral cats can live up to 8 years or so with a median of 4.7 years. Assuming the cat was released young, was healthy and took to hunting quickly it could live up to 7 or 8 years but is more likely to live 4 years.

The average is likely to be less if you factor in older cats, cats that don't take to hunting quickly etc.
#42
Old 10-06-2011, 07:43 AM
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There is a basic misunderstanding here. Cats are not domesticated. They domesticated us. Dogs are certainly domesticated, but cats are still wild animals.
#43
Old 10-06-2011, 10:42 AM
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My thirteen year old female, Cammie, isn't the sharpest tool in the box around the house, she's the one who lies down on a discarded plate and gets gravy all over her. Outside is a different matter, she has some excellent cat skills, she's just poor at the cat human interface. She's a prodigious hunter of mice, however it took until she was six years old to find out she could eat them. After a few minutes of horrid crunching she went straight out, caught another one and ate half of that too. Once the novelty wore off she decided she preferred cat food and hasn't bothered to eat one since.

Last year, following a thyroid operation, she decided she hated us and went virtually feral for the summer. She did come in for food but clearly had no trouble finding outdoor shelter. While this was in an urban setting I think there are still a good amount of hideaways out in the woods for a small animal and being able to climb helps when it comes to getting away from predators. They are resourceful animals I've even heard about a colony of ferals in Antarctica who lived in penguin burrows.

So I think Cammie could feed herself and find shelter in summer but the winter would be her undoing. She gave up all that feral nonsense with the first real autumn storm last year and quickly remembered how much she liked snuggling with us on the bed (she is a ridiculous animal to have stayed away so long).

Last edited by Springtime for Spacers; 10-06-2011 at 10:44 AM.
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