If you live in an urban area, you’ve most likely come across a feral cat in your neighborhood. While the numbers fluctuate constantly, it’s believed that there are over 32 million feral cats in the United States alone.
Every animal deserves a loving, happy home, but this is difficult to accomplish with feral cats who lack socialization with humans. If you find a feral cat, chances are low that you’ll be able to fully tame them into a domesticated house cat, but it’s possible with enough patience and care.
What Is a Feral Cat?
A feral cat is one that lacks proper socialization with humans, so they can’t be adopted and placed into a home like a stray cat can. It can be tough for you to tell the difference between a feral cat and a stray cat when they’re outside and under stress, but here are a few common signs that a cat is feral:
- Actively avoids or hides from humans
- Part of a group (or colony) of cats
- Stays low to the ground
- Wraps their tail around their body to protect themselves
- Isn’t vocal
- Avoids eye contact
- Most likely out at night
How to Tame a Feral Cat
Before you try to tame a feral cat, it’s vital to set realistic expectations. It’s unlikely that a feral cat will ever become hyper-friendly or behave like a traditional house cat, especially if the cat is an adult. With that said, you can help the feral cat live a happier, healthier life. Here are a few steps you can take to tame a feral cat:
Trap the Cat
Before you can try to tame the cat, you’ll need to securely capture the kitty to transport them to the vet, as well as inside your home. This step can take a little time, as feral cats are very human-averse, even for the promise of food.
You’ll need to buy a cat trap, and get to know the cat’s patterns and frequent hangouts. Place the trap in an area the cat frequents and load the trap with food. It’s important to feed the cat from the trap for a few days without actually setting it.
Once the cat seems more comfortable with the trap, set it and wait. Never leave the trap overnight or unattended, in case the feral cat is injured and needs immediate attention.
Take the Feral Cat to the Vet
Once you’ve successfully captured the cat, it’s time to take them to the vet. Before you can work with them, you need to make sure they’re not:
- Carrying a contagious disease
- Carrying fleas, ticks, or mites
Before taking a feral cat to your usual vet, you’ll need to call them. Some vets won’t take feral cats as a safety precaution for their other patients.
Give the Feral Cat Their Own Territory
Once the cat has been cleared of any infectious diseases, you can take them inside your home. Never let the feral cat interact with any other pet or family member in your home until they’ve been considered tame by a vet.
To keep your other pets and family members safe, you’ll need to keep the cat confined to one room. Provide them with easy access to everything they need: food, water, a litter box, and plenty of places to hide. Be prepared for the cat to urinate in the room to mark their territory.
Remember, feral cats aren’t used to being inside, so they may also destroy any available furniture in the room while they adjust!
Build Trust with Food
To tame the feral cat, you need to establish a positive association with humans. The best way to do this is through food. Feed the cat at the same time every day to create a routine and a sense of safety.
At first, you’ll need to keep the cat caged or kenneled while you place the food for your own safety. Feral cats have no socialization with humans, so they can be aggressive while they’re learning to trust you. Always take precautions before you try to handle them.
While you’re in the room with the cat, talk to them. It may seem strange at first, but cats get to know humans through their voices. The more you talk with the cat, the more likely they are to recognize you.
Slowly Build Up Trust Until You Can Handle Them Safely
This will be the longest part of the process, and it’s important to know that you may never get the response from the cat that you want. Feral cats aren’t conditioned to life indoors, and they have no concept of interactions with people. They operate purely in survival mode, so it will take a long time for them to approach you – if they ever do.
Get on ground level and go slow with your movements so you don’t startle them. Offer them treats and wait for them to make the first move. If they let you approach them, that’s a great sign that they’re on their way to being considered tame. Keep up with these slow movements and frequent visits until you’re able to pet and even hold the cat.
What Should You Do If You Find a Feral Cat?
If you’ve found a feral cat, don’t approach them right away. Feral cats can carry a variety of diseases, including rabies, so it’s better to be safe. Consider informing a local animal rescue organization that participates in a Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) program. They will be able to capture the cat and get them any medical attention they require.
If you do decide to try and tame the feral cat, follow the steps above with caution. With luck and a lot of patience, you may be able to provide them with a long, happy life as a tame cat. However, if you can’t, remember that it’s not a failure on your part, and there are many other ways you can help the feral cats in your community.
A Final Word of Caution
As mentioned earlier, before introducing a feral cat to your family or other pets in your home, be sure to get a professional opinion from a veterinarian on whether or not you’ve obtained the status of “tame.” While it might seem like the cat is beginning to trust you, they may revert to their feral state when startled by the presence of other animals or people they’re less familiar with. So, make sure to exercise extreme caution to avoid any mishaps or injuries that could occur from a feral cat attack.
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