A feral cat is a normally tame breed that has adapted to living in the wild and thus displays the characteristics of wild animals. Abandoned or lost cats never find their way back to humans and procreate in the wild, thus perpetuating the problem. With little or no human contact, their behavior is often at odds with living in a home and so the problem continues. Fortunately, there are rescue groups that make it their mission to capture ferals, sterilize them, and then release them back in the wild.
People have tried taking in feral cats and much to their disappointment and surprise, they find out the cats are incompatible with them or other animals in the home. Consequently, the myth of the unmanageable feral cat has propagated from rumor to fact. While it takes an open mind, patience, and understanding, a feral cat can be tamed – but don’t expect the results to mirror a cat who has always lived in a safe, warm, and loving home.
Befriending a Feral Cat
First and most importantly, make sure the cat is fixed. This entails calling a group to trap the cat or trapping him or her yourself. There are many low-cost non-profit spay and neuter clinics who perform surgeries for a few dozen dollars.
After you’ve determined the cat is fixed (and the ear is clipped to make her distinguishable from other cats in the area), put a breakaway collar on her so that you can easily spot her again.
Let her come to you in her own time. This is a process that may take months! When you see her, ply her with tasty morsels of cat treats. Don’t leave food out as it may be eaten by other stray animals. Do leave food out when you see her approaching. You can leave a large bowl of fresh water outside.
She will let you know when you can pet her. She will gingerly approach you and may head-butt your hand. At this point, you’ll know that she is ready for human contact. But keep it short and sweet. Too much stimulation too early will make her hackles go up again. Remember, these cats have lived a long time with having to fend for themselves and defending themselves against constant predators. They may have been abused by humans and they are acutely aware of being in a vulnerable position.
Bringing the Cat Into Your Home
Making a feral cat your pet is a matter of debate. Most people want to do so because a feral cat may exhibit possible signs of wanting to be homed and because they are worried about the cat’s welfare and health. It should be stressed that it is perfectly okay to let feral cats go back to their outdoor lives after you’ve taken the steps to sterilize them.
If you choose to make her a part of your home, be sure that she is free of diseases and parasites especially if you have pets already. You should separate her for the initial few weeks if you have cats in the home. Feline viruses are rampant and you must test her first to make sure she is not a carrier. If she does have an incurable cat virus, you will have to keep her separated from the other cats always unless all have the same disease.
Slowly let her acclimate to her surroundings, never smothering her or begging for her attention. Again, she will let you know when she is ready to be petted. As you become more trustworthy in her estimation, she will slowly gravitate towards you.
Feral Cats Who Can’t Be Tamed
A cat must willingly come into your lives. Forcing a cat to join your household is a sure way to make the cat and everyone else unhappy. Furthermore, some feral cats might never be comfortable in the society of humans. They might not get the hang of using a litter box and they may cause injury and destruction. You’ll most likely know by intuition which cats are able to be tamed – they will seek you out and they will make hesitant gestures indicating they wish to know you.
By Gabrielle Allemeier
The Lucky Few: Feral Cats and How to Tame Them
Feral Cat Coalition: Taming Feral Kittens
About the Author
Gabrielle Allemeier volunteers her free time as an animal rescuer and foster pet parent. As an animal lover, she enjoys sharing the knowledge she has gained from her experience with a variety of animals. Along with being an animal lover, Gabrielle is a globetrotter. She lives in Los Angeles, California with her terrier, Thisbe.