UK Laws on Keeping Feral Cats

UK Laws on Keeping Feral Cats


The law surrounding animal welfare and domestic pets in the U.K. is often misunderstood. Bringing home a feral cat, for example, isn’t always as simple as purchasing a cosy bed and getting them registered with a vet.

The good news is that you will not need a permit or any other form of licence to adopt a feral cat. If you have the patience and stomach to bring such a creature into your home and turn it from wild animal to purring pet, then you are welcome to do so. What you will have to bear in mind, however, is that you are becoming the guardian of a wild animal – and that means that you will be responsible for their conduct.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the world of feral cats, and what happens should you decide to open your door to them.

What is the Definition of a Feral Cat?

It is important to understand the difference between a feral cat, a stray, and a wildcat.

  • A stray cat is one that has somehow lost their way from their home or has been abandoned by a family for any reason. Stray cats usually remain domesticated in some way.
  • A feral cat is a feline that has never been a household pet and had no interaction with humans. They will have been born wild, perhaps as part of a stray mother’s litter. This means that a feral cat never received essential socialisation during their years as a kitten. Feral cats often live in colonies together, for their own safety.
  • Wildcats are a separate breed of feral feline. They live exclusively in the Scottish Highlands. These cats are very rare, but some unscrupulous breeders may attempt to sell them to unsuspecting families, as they can resemble a domestic tabby cat to the untrained eye. As the name suggests, Wildcats are completely untameable and must be kept away from domestic homes.

As you can probably imagine, this means that feral cats behave very, very differently to a typical domestic pet. They will typically be unkempt, aggressive, and unwilling to share their space.

There is no law to say that you cannot open your heart and home to a feral cat and adopt them. Should you decide to do so, however, you will need to prepare yourself for a lot of work.

Feral cats are almost a different species to the pets that you may be used to, and they may resist any attempts at domestication. If you are not experienced in handling and training cats, do not attempt to bring home a feral breed. Notify a local cat shelter and allow them to do what is necessary.

Is it Legal to Provide Feral Cats with Food and Water?

Yes, in the eyes of the law this is no different to leaving food for other wildlife, such as badgers, hedgehogs or birds. Just because it’s legal, however, it does not mean that you should so unless you’re ready for a commitment.

Feral cats are always on the lookout for food, water and shelter. If you’re willing to provide this, that’s great. What you need to remember, though, is that feral cats often live in colonies. That means that before long you may have a whole host of felines fighting, scratching, caterwauling and demanding food at all hours.

That isn’t to say that feral cats should always be considered a nuisance. People in rural areas such as farms find them very useful, as they control the rodent population. You just need to ensure that you know what you are letting yourself in for before making such an animal feel at home on your property.

I Want to Bring a Feral Cat Home with Me – What Now?

You should never bring a feral cat into your home if you have other pets, or vulnerable people such as children or the elderly in your home. If you are determined to bring a feral cat into your family, however, take the following actions at once.

  • Register the cat with a vet. They will need to be checked over for any signs of illness, and to confirm that they are not pregnant if female. The cat will also need full flea, worm and vaccination treatments.
  • Get the cat microchipped. This will mean that you are registered as their legal owner, and thus responsible for their actions. Just bear this in mind if you allow the cat to roam. If it causes any property damage or harms another animal, you may face repercussions.
  • Get the cat neutered. This will calm down any aggressive tendencies and prevent the cat from mating when it inevitably looks to roam by night.

Beyond this, you’ll have to bear in mind that most feral cats are simply unwilling and incapable of being tamed. Success is possible if the cat is very young and thus adaptable, but often the damage has been done. With no human contact during their pivotal development years, feral cats simply do not know how to be a pet and will not learn.

If your attempts at bringing a feral cat home with you are not working out, don’t hesitate – contact your local cat shelter and arrange to drop the feline off there. People with the appropriate training and experience to handle such an animal tend to make up the staff of shelters.

Are Feral Cats Protected by Law?

Feral cats enjoy all the same protection through the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 as domesticated household pets. This means that it’s illegal to wilfully mistreat a feral cat. Unfortunately, just like domestic household cats, a vehicle driver that hits a feral cat is not obliged to stop and report the incident. Therefore, you may see such felines on the side of the road from time to time.

If you have any reason to believe that a feral cat is being mistreated, report it to the police immediately and contact the RSPCA. If you have any reason to suspect that a colony of feral cats are living close to you, notify your local cat shelter. They will investigate ways of humanely capturing the animals, after which they will be neutered and adopted if they can be suitably domesticated.

It should be noted that is legal for feral cats to be culled under certain circumstances. However, this must be done humanely and under controlled conditions. A private citizen attempting to eliminate a feral cat under his or her own steam may face legal prosecution.

Could a Wandering Pet Cat Be Classed as Feral?

It is not uncommon for a cat to be found wandering the streets by day and night, appearing to be homeless. This does not mean that a cat is stray – they may just be inquisitive and adventurous. Unless they are aggressive, they are almost certainly not feral.

If it is safe to humanely trap a cat, do so and take them to your closest vet. If the cat has been microchipped, the registered owner will be contacted. At the time of writing, it is not a legal requirement to microchip cats in the U.K. However, plans are afoot to change this.



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