Is my cat wild?

I have seen many observations of pet dogs and pet cats which have become Research Grade. Is this correct?

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No, it is not correct. If you see an observation of a pet/captive animal which is research grade, you should mark down “organism is not wild” in the data quality assessment.

(There is a grey area with animals which are feral, escaped, hybridised, etc - there’s no easy answer for cases like that).


Exactly this.


Dictionary definitions of “wild” are unhelpfully ambiguous. Here’s my suggestion for a workable definition of “wild” as it applies to organisms: “wild organism: an organism that people do not purposefully reproduce, disperse, or restrain

So, yes, pet cats are not wild, because we breed them, disperse them, and restrain them (if keeping them on our properties by feeding them can be considered restraining them).

I’d be interested if people know of other attempts at better defining the word “wild” for use by ecology and natural history.

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yeah that definition seems reasonably close to inat’s definition

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I’d argue falling under any one of those categories makes something not wild.
Far as I’m aware most true stray dogs or cats are neither reproduced by humans, dispersed intentionally by them, or restrained. However,

  • A cat that was once stray (not reproduced, not dispersed) but is now cared for by people falls under restrained at least to a degree (perhaps a cat isn’t the best example here but you get the idea!).
  • An acorn from a wild oak tree (not reproduced, not restrained) yet planted intentionally by a human, say, in their yard or at a park falls under dispersed.
  • A now-feral pet parakeet (not dispersed, not restrained) that does not successfully breed in its habitat or establish itself in a lasting feral population falls under reproduced.

Of course, there are no rules without exceptions to them, and the wild/captive debate often prevails because a lot of these statistics can’t be gathered from a few images and a line of text. But hopefully this helps people making the observations to consider what they know about their own environment and the people and other organisms in it to make educated decisions.


I was curious about the large number of Domestic Cat observations reaching Research Grade, so I looked at some of them. A few I could mark as not wild, because the cat was clearly in a house.

But several were noted by the observer as being from a feral cat colony; I didn’t mark those as not wild, even if the cats were near a house or even being petted. I think most of us would agree that the birds that come to our birdfeeders are wild, even if they come every day for food and maybe are even fairly tame. I’ve been to sanctuaries or parks where large mammals (deer, wallabies) are unconcerned about people and are staying in the sanctuary for food and protection. I think those mammals still count as wild. So, I have to count cats in a feral cat colony as wild, even if they come every day for food, or are remarkably unconcerned about people, or even allow themselves to be petted.

And yet, I can see calling such animals not wild. It’s all a very gray area.


It certainly is a gray area, especially for cats since they like to roam and many are not wearing a collar like a roaming pet dog might. Country/culture also plays a big role as there are quite significant differences in how cats are kept. In the US for example, the majority of pet cats are kept strictly indoors. Some shelters won’t let you adopt a cat unless you assure them it will be kept inside, both for its own safety and to protect small wildlife outside. In contrast to that, in many European countries it is seen almost as animal cruelty to confine a cat to a strictly indoors life and some shelters won’t let you adopt unless you assure them the cat will have access to the outdoors and be allowed to roam. So the chances that a roaming cat is a stray/feral vs. someone’s pet are much higher in the US compared to Europe.


I think I was born on the wrong side of the pond.


Feral and wild are different things

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I agree, but it depends on how iNaturalist defines them for the purposes of data annotation here.

I fully agree with your examples. Our (individual) regular feeder visitors, despite knowing our homes are a source of food, aren’t reproduced, dispersed, or restrained by us. They can go wherever they please, and even if they eat out your hand, we’re not breeding Black-Capped Chickadees as we do our pet chickens, supplanting them in areas like we do freshwater sport fish, or restraining them like we do a zoo animal.
Mammal sanctuaries and parks would also fall under this provided the animals aren’t kept in some large fenced-in area, and similarly for those feral cats that don’t have owners.

I was a little bit worried about some of the cats that appear on iNaturalist. I am aware of at least one hunter who will shoot feral cats that he sees while hunting (presumably far from areas where pets live), on the grounds that they’re an invasive species that should not be allowed to live, as well as less lethally, people who might be doing things to control the stray cat population, either animal control actions, or capture and release volunteers. If someone photographs a cat without a collar and posts it on iNat with the note that it’s a feral cat, but it’s actually someone’s pet, does that pet become at risk for being “controlled”?

I’m just starting to question the wisdom of too much information about these animals becoming distributed, especially with the possibility of mistakes. I recognize that many people see feral cats as threats, but others value them or adopt them at times, so I hope that posting their photographs and documenting their locations is not putting them at risk.

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If it’s inside a house, or constrained within a small yard, then I don’t see any utility in checking in the observation. Likewise, observations of garden annuals are probably outside of the purpose of iNaturalist. But if it’s wandering around loose, then it’s effectively part of the ecosystem.

If I’m in a nature preserve and encounter a cat, I will check in the observation. If I encounter a loose dog, without a human, I’ll check it in, even if it has a collar. The rest of the ecosystem could care less about human definitions of ‘wildness’, and the only safe assumption is that the dog or cat is routinely spending time in the area, and influencing it.

How many human-planted trees and shrubs end up on iNaturalist? In a park with large areas that are not maintained, it is impractical for an outside observer to know for sure whether a tree or shrub was deliberately planted. Is that oak a pet? Governments across the globe have subsidized tree planting in rural and reclaimed areas. Unless those trees are labeled, or obviously planted in rows, it’s impossible to know if they were once ‘pets’, now able to subsist on their own.

If I think something is tantamount to ‘wild’, I check it in. It arguably would be useful to have a census of ALL life, including all domestic cats, dogs, hogs, corn plants, beans, and people, but the cost/benefit ratio would be off the chart. There are other systems outside of iNaturalist that are intended to track the location and population of people and their pets.

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because I’m a disruptive influence, I’ll throw this out there:

  1. What about the value of keeping track of potentially invasive populations?

  2. There are some pets that have a significant interaction with their natural environment, causing changes in the wild populations. Wouldn’t it be of value to keep track of those?

Your gunman is going to shoot cats he sees, regardless of whether they’re recorded on a website he doesn’t use.

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Animal cruelty laws usually would cover this, making hunting feral cats illegal.

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Laws would still have to be enforced though. I know of at least one case where someone had to witness their beloved pet cat being shot on the front lawn of their house by a drive-by shooter. They got the license plate number and called police but nothing ever came from that. So apparently here in the US it’s not worth an investigation from a law enforcement standpoint when someone shoots a pet dead even on the pet owner’s property.

Might depend on the country. Not everyone is observing in the US.

In Germany and Switzerland for example hunters are by law allowed to shoot cats roaming more then a few 100m from their home


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