Defining Wild Feral and Domestic in Animals

Wild, feral, and domestic animals, what are the differences between the three groups, and can one go from one to the other? First, let’s define the tree categories. To start with, genetically and biologically there is no difference. A wild dog, a feral dog and Fido can, and will, all interbreed and produce fertile offspring. They are the same species, dogs.

The differences are a result of the way they are raised and taught. A truly wild animal is raised in the wild and has had little or no contact with man. Neither it, nor its immediate ancestors have ever been “coddled” by humans. It survives totally by instinct and its own intelligence, in the wild.

Domestic animals are at the other extreme. They have been raised and cared for all their lives by humans, and this type of care goes back thousands of years. They may be pets, such as dogs or cats. They may be livestock for food such as pigs, chickens, cows and sheep. They may be beasts of burden, such as horses and donkeys. Domestic animals rely on people for their primary sustenance and care.

Feral animals are domesticated or captured animals that have reverted back to the wild. They can be pets that have been abandoned, such as feral cats or dogs. They can be animals that were intentionally released or that accidentally escaped, such as feral pigs in Hawaii. They can also be the descendants of these animals.

The differences are mainly in behavior and socially. Wild animals usually hide from and avoid people if possible. They are shy, difficult to see and only become a problem when their habitat and food supply is hampered. Domestic animals stay around and rely on people. They stay in man-made shelters, rely on humans for food and water, and in some cases curl up and nap with us at night! Feral animals are a problem.

Feral animals have been taken out of their natural environment, taught to rely on people, and then gone back into the wild where they cannot survive well. They view man as a means of support, but offer no benefits. Feral animals tend to hang around communities, raiding trash dumps while spreading diseases and hurting domestic animals. They are the dogs that form packs and attack the goats or cats that spread rabies.

It needs to be noted that there are cross-overs, wild animals can become domesticated, though never really domestic and feral animals can eventually become wild, such as the wild horses in the western United States. It does take time, effort, and understanding that the differences are primarily cultural rather than biological.