You have most likely heard the expression, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” There is also the widespread belief that you can’t train a cat young or old. Pairing these two beliefs, there is little wonder that the notion of taming a feral cat is often greeted with skepticism. While it may be difficult to earn the trust and love of a cat that has lived like a wild creature all of its life, there are numerous success stories. The effort it requires to tame a feral cat is substantial, and the tamer should have knowledge of feral cats, training techniques, compassion, and patience. Even the most experienced tamer may not be able to tame every feral cat. The success of the project largely depends on the circumstances, the pet’s history, the type of home the feral cat is being introduced to and the personalities of the feral cat and the tamer. One method might work very well for one feral cat, and it may have no impact on another one. It may be difficult to predict whether taming will be successful or not. It isn’t unheard of for a feral cat to become tame to a certain degree and then revert entirely back to wild behavior. On the other hand, a feral cat who has been distrustful might make a sudden move towards the person taming them and decide to give in. The only way to know whether or not a particular feral cat can be tamed is through trying it out.
The terms “feral cat” and “stray cat” are often used interchangeably, but they are significantly different. A stray cat was raised in a home and has some recollection of having had an owner. The stray cat became separated from its human owner either through abandonment or another misfortune, such as the death, a fire or ill health of the owner. A stray cat has a keen feeling of abandonment, particularly if it was abused in its home or has been mistreated by humans while it has been living on the street. As a result, stray cats shy away from humans, but they can be tamed, and may actually welcome the possibility of living in a home once again. Since these cats have experienced human companionship and at one time trusted people, many of them can be tamed and introduced into homes. They feel that humans have let them down, but many of these cats still have memories of positive interactions with people, and they can be influenced to place their trust in people again.
Feral cats may look and act like stray cats, but they are different. Feral cats are descended from domesticated cats and their parents may be strays who at one time lived with people. However, feral cats have never had the experience of living with people and regard people the way a squirrel would. They have no notion that people could love or care for them and may eat some food laid out by a human, but will otherwise flee at the sight of a person. Naturally, feral cats are harder to tame than stray cats, because they have no positive memories of a human home. However, in some cases, feral can be tamed and encouraged to live with human beings. However, the road to taming a feral can be a long and arduous and without guaranteed success. There are some success stories of taming feral cats, nonetheless.
If you want to tame a feral cat, you may not necessarily receive positive encouragement from friends, family, and neighbors. The public, in general, has a negative view of feral cats and some view them as a public health problem. However, there are some people who tame feral cats to deal with the problem by encouraging them to come closer so they can have them spayed and neutered and then place them back into their natural habitat. While this may seem like a shock to the cat, efforts to sterilize these feral cats have at least prevented indiscriminate breeding and has enabled these wild cats to live healthier lives without creating more feral cats. Some municipalities have workers focused on dealing with this issue and create some sign that a feral cat has been spayed or neutered, such as having a mark on the ear.
Feral cats create significant problems for local wildlife, and that is one reason why these cats are often culled in some places in the world, such as Australia. While animal rights activists protest the killing of thousands of wild cats, wildlife preservationists argue that it is a necessary step to prevent these wild cats from killing species, some of which are endangered. A compromise solution to either culling cats or letting them run wild and breed at will is for government workers to capture some of these cats and having them fixed.
Cats are predatory animals by nature, and if their numbers increase in a wild setting, they can pose a significant threat to small wild animals. In addition, wild cats who live on the streets can spread disease and are responsible for 16% of rabies cases in the U.S. Rabies is a ruinous disease that can be fatal for humans and animals and is caused by a bite from a wild animal infected with rabies. A bite from a feral cat that has been bitten by a rabid creature such as a rat or a bat can cause a serious illness. In addition, most stray cats have intestinal problems and infections that can be passed onto semi-feral and outdoor cats. One reason to keep your cat indoors is to keep it from having contact with a feral cat that may carry diseases that can be passed onto your cat. A few of these problems, such as toxoplasmosis, can be passed onto humans through contact with cat feces. Although toxoplasmosis doesn’t have many implications for humans under ordinary circumstances, it can cause birth defects in fetuses and is one reason why pregnant mothers should avoid emptying the litter box themselves.
When taming a feral cat, the possibility of the cat carrying microbes should be taken into consideration. Before attempting to calm the cat and getting it used to you, it should be captured and taken to a vet so it can be checked for illnesses and given vaccinations. Work with a veterinarian who is used to dealing with feral cats. Use thick work gloves if you are going to come in contact with a feral cat to prevent it from biting or scratching you and drawing blood. You may feel that capturing a feral cat is not the kindest way to deal with felines, but keep in mind that what you are doing is for the cat’s benefit.
Once the cat has been captured, that doesn’t mean that it will necessarily be easy to tame. However, getting a feral cat to step into a carrier is an important first step. Many feral cats won’t go near anything that a human has given them, except food, and the mistrust of human beings is pervasive. If you can’t get the cat to step into a carrier, give yourself some time to encourage the cat to make steps closer. Every day, put some dry food in front of an open carrier until the feral cat gets used to the object. With every feeding, put the bowl of food closer to the entrance of the carrier and finally, place it within the carrier. It is helpful if you put the food out for the cat at the same time every day, so the cat gets used to you and knows what to expect.
After you have captured the feral cat, you may have to build up trust all over again. It is possible that the captured wild cat is even less trustful of you than it was before, and it may hiss at you. If you are determined to tame the cat, you may be able to work past this phase. Chances are, the cat didn’t like its trip to the vet, although if it has been spayed or neutered, it may be calm because of the after effects of the anesthetic. This docile manner does not necessarily signal a change in attitude but may wear off along with the anesthetic. What could result is a heightened level of mistrust, which may or may not be reversed.
Taming a feral cat is usually a long process not without its frustrations. The ups and downs, conflict and drama could make taming a cat an interesting reality show. Feral cats may seem to warm up to you and may even let you pet them only to put up an emotional wall the next moment. It is not unusual to see a wild cat start to warm up only to retreat further. Remember that the cat has internalized the notion that human beings are not to be trusted, and by allowing itself to come close to you and allow you to pet them, the cat feels he or she is violating a “rule” of its cat society. Of course, cats don’t think about their society in our terms, but cat societies are real and have dynamics and codes that can be observed by animal behavior scientists.
Before deciding to tame a feral cat, first be honest with yourself about whether you are up to the task. Are you passionate about the issue of feral cats in general and want to help them receive vaccinations and reduce their birth rates by making sure they are spayed or neutered? If this is the case, it might be a good idea to join an organization that deals with this issue, become active in the Humane Society or discuss the issue with your municipal government. This may be easier than trying to improve the situation one feral cat at a time.
You may have noticed a mother cat and feel protective of her and her kittens. Keep in mind that while the sight of a mother cat nursing her young may elicit tender feelings, mother cats can be particularly fierce. Think about the lionesses in the jungle who are often more violent than lions because they have young to protect. Perhaps you simply have fallen in love with a feral cat that lives near your home and you want to keep it as a pet. Winter may be coming, and you are concerned about whether it will survive the cold. If you have a draw to a particular feral cat, keep in mind that you may be disappointed in your efforts to tame this cat you feel drawn to, and accept the fact that there are no guarantees of success. If you have “fallen in love” with this cat prepare yourself for the possibility of having your heart broken. If you are emotionally prepared for the risk of disappointment when trying to tame a feral cat, then you can take the risk of trying to tame one.
The process of taming a feral cat can be a long one, and keep in mind that the cat may revert to its wild ways now and again. A feral cat, even after it has been successfully tamed, will most likely always be different from a cat who was born and raised in a home. They may always be a bit more wild, independent and restless than lifetime domestic cats. When former ferals play, they tend to be a bit wilder than other cats and can play rough. It may be a good idea, when looking for a companion for your former feral cat, to find another former feral cat who has the same background and may also play rough. It is easier to tame a feral kitten than a grown cat, and in this case, it is a good idea to tame two littermates rather than just a single cat. Feral kittens most likely have lost their mother early, either through death or abandonment. Taming several feral kittens from the same litter can be an easier task than taming an adult feral cat alone. Kittens learn from each other, and as soon as one warms up to you, the others may follow suit. In addition, it is good for these kittens to be together to comfort each other and to help each other with socialization.
It is easier to tame a feral kitten than a grown cat, and in this case, it is a good idea to tame two littermates rather than just a single cat. Feral kittens most likely have lost their mother early, either through death or abandonment. Taming several feral kittens from the same litter can be an easier task than taming an adult feral cat alone. Kittens learn from each other, and as soon as one warms up to you, the others may follow suit. In addition, it is good for these kittens to be together to comfort each other and to help each other with socialization.
When you decide to tame a feral cat, make sure you have enough time and patience for this undertaking. You should interact with the cat at regular intervals, preferably at the same time of day until it is ultimately successful. The first thing you will need a special space, preferably an entire room, for acclimating the feral cat to its new surroundings. The room should be enclosed and contain no opportunities for the feral cat to escape. Don’t assume that the cat can’t break through screens or make a small hole larger. Remember that feral cats have lived in the wild and are crafty when it comes to dealing with obstacles, so do a thorough inspection to ensure the room is one no cat can escape from, even with the sharpest most persistent claws.
The room should contain a litter box, a scratching post, the cat’s carrier, food and water bowls and a hiding place. The hiding place is important and it is a good idea to have more than one. Your cat may spend a lot of time in its hiding place at first, and it is important to have a safe space for your cat to remain when it feels nervous or needs privacy. Before you enter the room, knock to let the cat know that you are coming in. The cat may not recognize this as a human signal at first, but with time, it will associate the knock with your entry. Once you open the door, the cat is likely to retreat to it hiding place. If the cat is becoming tame, you may notice that it eventually does not run away as quickly at your entrance. You may also notice that the cat peeks out at you from where it is hiding. This might be out of fear at first, but as time goes on, the cat might be genuinely curious about where you are and what you are doing.
Avoid seeming like you are hovering over the cat and do not make direct eye contact. Just as human beings don’t like being stared at by other humans because a direct gaze is a primal signal of a potential attack, cats do not like being stared at, particularly if they are feral. One way you will know the cat is warming up to you is if it looks over at you and gives a feline winking or blinking expression. A feral cat will do this rather than looking at your directly.
Every day when you enter the room, move the food closer to you. Do not be in a hurry to pet the cat. Many expert cat tamers say their number one mistake is to be too eager to make physical contact with these felines. When you approach the cat, do so slowly and practice standing closer before attempting physical contact. Start with the feeding bowl close to the carrier or hiding place and put it gradually closer to the door. You may want to feed your cat small portions several times a day rather than leaving a lot of food in the bowl for your cat to graze on. If your cat is a bit hungry and anticipating the meal, they are likely to be more receptive. Of course, this does not mean you should underfeed your cat to get on its good side, but if your cat is looking forward to eating and realizes you are the one providing the food, this may aid your relationship with the cat.
You should not be in a rush to touch the cat and should be even more reluctant to pick a cat up. It is likely that even if you manage to tame the feral cat, he may never let you pick him up. In the wild, being picked up is the same as having been captured by a predator, and is not something a feral cat will allow. Don’t be overly concerned about backsliding or reversion. It is likely you will make progress with a feral cat after a few days or weeks of attempts to tame it, only to have the feral cat retreat entirely and never approach again. If you are unsure whether an unsuccessful taming session should result in your allowing your cat to go his own way and leaving the door open or whether it is best to keep trying, consult a professional such as a veterinarian or an expert in animal behavior. It is important that failed attempts at taming a feral cat are dealt with in the most sensible and humane way possible.
When undertaking the task of taming a feral cat, try to look at the situation from his or her point of view. If you have been living in the wild all of your life and are “born free” you may not take kindly to attempts to woo you away from your autonomy. When you see an adorable feral cat and immediately think that the little darling wants a home, keep in mind that feeling may be largely a projection of your own emotions and your own desire to have the cat as a pet. Cats that have never had a home and have had mainly an antagonistic and distrustful relationship with humans are not likely to feel that they want to live with a human. Be clear about the motivation for taming a feral may be at least partly for their own good but try to understand to what degree the feral cats themselves don’t realize this. It is hard to want something, like a home, that you have no concept of. However, once some feral cats experience the pleasure of human companionship, they may be won over to the concept and become loving pets.