Should You Try And Tame A Feral Cat?

Jun 6, 2017 · Updated Nov 8, 2017 · ·
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    Should You Try And Tame A Feral Cat?
    Many cat lovers care for feral cats by providing food, water, shelter and medical care. But should more be done? Should feral cats be socialized with humans so that they can be adopted into loving homes as affectionate pets? Is that even possible? Let's take a look at the question of taming feral cats and see if and when that's a goal worth pursuing.

    What are feral cats?

    Feral cats are those born and raised with little or no contact with humans. They are usually street cats that find food in trash cans or maybe hunt the occasional rodent or bird. The lucky ones are fed by caring humans who also provide shelter and medical care. Responsible caregivers make sure to spay or neuter these cats as well.

    Feral cats are not stray cats. They're not lost or abandoned by past owners. Unlike stray cats, they generally see humans as a threat and shy away from people. That happens because they had no positive association with humans during their kittenhood. Read more about how to tell a feral cat from a stray.

    Feral cats are not wild animals, either. They are domestic felines that are biologically identical to our own pampered pet cats. You can read more about feral cats in the following articles -
    Feral Cats - The Invisible Felines
    10 Facts You Should Know About Feral Cats
    A Feral Cat Or A Stray Cat? How To Tell The Difference

    Yes, while feral cats are not wildlife, they often behave like wild animals. They're scared of humans and shy away from anyone they don't know and trust. Once trapped, feral cats can and will turn very aggressive against anyone who tries to touch them.

    What does taming a feral cat mean?

    Taming is the process where an animal's behavior changes from wild and hostile towards humans into more docile and sometimes even affectionate towards humans.

    As many rescuers know, feral cats can be tamed. It is possible to teach a feral cat to trust humans. These are domestic animals after all, so when taming is successful, feral cats can actually become very affectionate towards their humans.

    The taming process is usually long. It involves trapping the cat and confining him or her in a small space. An experienced rescuer then uses various techniques to help the cat lose its fear of humans and - with any luck - get him or her to enjoy human contact.

    Should you try and tame a feral cat?

    Taming a feral cat is not easy. Results are never guaranteed either: Just how tame the cat will turn out to be differs from case to case. The process itself requires time and effort from a dedicated human. What's more, trapping and confinement - necessary for taming a feral - are stressful for the cat. In many cases, the cat will never be entirely comfortable around people.

    There's also a good alternative to taming: The cat can continue to live life as a feral. After all, feral cats can live happy and long lives if they have a dedicated human caring for their needs -
    • Food
    • Shelter
    • Medical care
    • Spaying and neutering

    So why should you even try to tame a feral cat?

    If and when taming is successful, the cat can be adopted into a loving safe home. There's no arguing that pet cats enjoy a better quality of life, safe from predators, the elements or harm from humans. A constant supply of food, excellent medical care and lots of love in the safety of a home are always better than life in the streets.

    So when should you give it a try?

    Given the pros and cons, when should taming a feral cat be considered?

    Generally speaking, adult feral cats should not be tamed. In all likelihood, the process will be too stressful for them to justify the result. In a world where so many well-socialized stray cats are in dire need of good homes, feral cats are best cared for in their natural environment.

    You should consider making an exception in the following cases -

    1. Feral kittens

    The younger the kittens, the easier it will be to tame them. In fact, with very young kittens, it's not so much about taming as about properly socializing them, just like you would a kitten born in a home. Kittens younger than four weeks are not likely to be hostile to humans yet as they have barely opened their eyes, so they shouldn't even be considered feral.

    A few weeks later, the kittens may have acquired fear of humans as a learned behavior from the mother cat. Yet they are still very young and flexible, so you should be able to work with them and socialize them within a few weeks.

    2. When the cat needs continued medical help

    When a feral cat is injured or sick, caregivers usually trap him or her and get them to a veterinary clinic. Vets that know how to work with ferals can offer suitable solutions to most problems. For example, if stitches are required, they would use dissolving ones to save the cat another trip to the clinic. If antibiotics are needed, they will opt for a slow-release injection.

    Sometimes a feral cat needs more than that. A feral cat that's diagnosed with a chronic disease may need medical treatments on a daily basis for the rest of his or her life. A sudden disability may mean the cat can no longer survive outside and must be cared for in a home. When that happens, taming the cat and helping him or her adjust to people may be unavoidable.

    What about after the cat is tamed?

    Always consider the next step. Taming a feral cat can be a long process, but once it's done - what happens to the cat? Are you going to adopt that cat? If not, can you find him or her a suitable home?

    Kittens are easier to find homes for. Adult cats, not so much. Caring for an adult former feral - and possibly still semi-feral cat - may be too much for some owners. The odds of finding a good home for such a cat may be too low to justify putting him or her through the additional stress of the taming process.

    If you decide that a feral cat or kitten needs to be tamed, ask for help. Unless you're an experienced caregiver of feral cats, do not attempt this on your own. Look for organizations that work with feral cats in your area and see if you can get a mentor. Post about your situation in our Caring for Feral & Stray Cats forum and ask our members for advice and support.

    Taming a feral cat can be a long and difficult process for all involved. It should not be entered into lightly. However, it is also very rewarding. There is nothing quite like gaining the trust and love of a feral!

    What about you? Have you ever tamed a feral cat? Share your experience in a comment - we'd love to hear from you!

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  1. Lmiller
    I have tamed many feral cats and kittens while caring for them on the property. One became so friendly he would greet me every time i came home. When he first showed up he would run away if you even made eye contact. It took a lot of patience but he was a total sweetheart. We were the able to get him fixed and vaccinated
      Shane Kent and weebeasties purraised this.
  2. tarasgirl06
    Two houses ago, we cared for any cat who showed up in our yard. There were a lot of them, as it was a neighborhood where people were basically not unkind to them and some fed them, but no one took personal responsibility for spay/neuter and adopting, so they were "community cats". We adopted as many as we could, getting them vetted, spayed/neutered and innoculated. One was a completely feral kitten living in our woodpile out by our perimeter fence. She wouldn't let us touch her but she did eat and drink from the food and water we always had available. Finally, my then-husband was able to catch her and take her to her doctor for spay and innoculations. She never became domestic, but at least she was spayed and had regular food and water.
  3. 2BlkKitties
    My two are from a feral colony and about 3-4 months when they were picked up. Wednesday is still a little skittish when entering the room, but she is definitely open to lovings. Her brother was bottle fed, so he is SUPER lovey and I think she sees him getting attention so she slowly gets closer and closer every day for her daily petting and cuddles. Today she even climbed on my chest and gave me a head nudge. Most days ( I work third shift so sleep in the mornings) she is right next to me, close enough to let me pet her, while Pugsley is rubbing all over my face.
  4. Merlin77
    It took us a year to tame Raini, but now she is the most enthusiastic cuddler ever. Her purring is off-tune though, which is super adorable. We really can't afford the time/effort to get her vetted, because she'd just pick up every parasite in the book again and honestly the money isn't worth it. Plus we'd be clawed to bits and the vet would be in real big trouble. But no one can deny she's happy when she gets to curl up our deck and be petted.
  5. momtotomandjes
    We had a litter of kittens born in the backyard about 2 years ago. I brought the 4 kittens in and eventually they were all adopted (one by me!). We trapped the momma cat and had her spayed, and we cared for her outside our house. However, as we live in the North East, winters are harsh, so I got her a heated cat house and water bowl (my husband calls it the kitty-condo). This "condo" went from my front porch to my garage in the evenings and on particularly cold days. She she slowly began to trust us. One particularly cold evening, even the garage was bitter cold, and I was able to coax her into our house. This started a pattern which continues to this day. She prefers to live outside, but comes in at around 6 p.m. for dinner. She then finds a comfy place to sleep (sometimes on my bed next to me!), gets up for breakfast with my other cats and then goes outside for her day. Both momma cat and our inside cats are all tested and vaccinated against just about everything, and all wear flea collars. The hardest part is getting her to the vet annually for her booster shots and trimming her nails, though it is getting easier, as I will sneak attack pick her up and cuddle her when I can to get her used to close human contact. Although I did not intend to have another, we all kind of got attached. She is a lovely cat that gets along with everybody so, yeah, if you take your time, you can have a feral for a pet.
  6. graywing
    Four of our indoor cats started as ferals and I'm currently working with a feral outdoors.

    Gizmo was only about a month old in November when we found him so it just took a day to get him more or less tame. During that winter I saw a couple white kittens but they would never get close enough to be caught.

    It was approximately 6 months later that one of the white cats seemed to ask me for help. I don't know if I'm anthropomorphizing or not but that's just what it seems. I was suspecting that there were people in the neighborhood that were feeding him and then stopped. I had been feeding him for a little while when one day two feral kittens poked their heads out from the azaleas wanting food, too. I tried talking to shelters and rescues about them but the advice I got was that they were already too old and I should just TNR them.

    Over time they became more used to me as I sat closer and closer to the food. Eventually I was able to touch them. Wolf was the first to tame and the first we took in. Then I think it was in October that we got both Raven and Winter TNR'd. They finished mostly taming after that. Well, Raven certainly did. Winter is still a semi-feral but I still see signs of improvement. They're inside now, too.

    Now all that's left is Muffin, Winter's brother. He never really came around much when Winter and Raven were still outside. I started putting a little bit of food out for him at some point and now he's here every day. I did the same thing of slowly getting closer to the food. Now he's eating by my feet. I just can't touch him yet. I've been thinking of moving him onto our large back porch if I turn it into a catio since I don't have a quarantine room available.
      weebeasties purraised this.
  7. master tabby
    My mother took one in, but she was the only person who could touch the cat. I came home after being away for a couple years. The cat was sleeping and I was petting him and he woke and bit me right on the knuckle to the bone. Later on he was outside sunning himself and I take a stick and started rubbing him with it. He loved it, as soon I put the stick down, and walked towards him he took off. My mom could rough house with the cat and it wouldn't get mad at all. I guess it is like don't bite the hand that feeds you.
  8. mercer
    In Florida, many people are told to set up cat traps to get feral cats taken to a vet or shelter to at least be neutered and have their ear clipped/tagged before being released back home, to at least control the population of feral cats. It's the same reason there are gator farms.

    Some people take in feral/stray kittens they find and they grow up a little wild but are otherwise amazing. I think an older cat we owned was a semi-feral, or maybe he was a shy guy. I don't think I've heard of or met anyone who took in a feral full-grown, and we have some insanely large feral cat breeds out here. I'm talking about their kittens being the size of a full grown cat. They're scary little mutants but I love them.
  9. charless
    We have an eight year old nutered male who was a semi-feral. As a kitten he shown up at our home. We fed him and provided a warm comfortable place to sleep. At first we weren't sure that the cat did not belong to someone else. When the kitty matured and became a Tom cat we realized that we had to make some decisions. We trapped him and took him to the vet. He was quite agressive. After his surgery he began to come closer to us, then one day he walked up and rubbed my wife's leg. Soon he would let us pet him. It took him a long time to make the transition from wild to almost tame. We think the kitty must have had some socialization before he came to us.
      tarasgirl06 purraised this.
  10. deewdogs
    In early 2017, my neighbor complained about a cat spraying against their downstairs exterior window & that her husband was going to either move it or destroy it. As I walked away, I thought, "not on my watch"! I had not yet seen this cat & suspected another neighbor who had several cats. So I warned the neighbor w/the cats. I began putting food out @ my garage but keeping my distance. Years ago, on a farm there were multiple feral cats that I started feeding. Over time I won their trust simply by being very patient, moving slow. After about a month the neighbor complained he'd sprayed their window again w/urine smell in their home. She still couldn't ID the cat. Continuing to feed him, I'd get occasional sightings, so I moved his food inside my garage, propped the side door open to provide shelter. As time passed, I saw him more frequently but he was not having any part of me, I didn't push the issue. My ultimate plan was to earn his trust no matter how long it took. I purchased a wifi camera just to ensure he was the 1 I was feeding, he was. In February with help from our neuter coordinator he was trapped, neutered vaccinated, ear tipped & dewormed. Upon returning, he disappeared for a few days causing concern. Then I relocated his food/water to my front porch along w/the camera. It was him & what a big boy he was. Then in March he was beginning to calm somewhat, becoming accustomed to my leaving/entering my home w/o running off too far. In April I chose to sit on my porch while he ate, he did eat but w/much caution. As time passed, you could see him relaxing @ my presence, so I sat on the porch floor as he entered the porch, I never moved, barely breathed while he ate. A few repeated evenings, I reached my hand out to him, he sniffed my hand, I did not move! The next evening reaching out a hand to him, he gave my hand a head butt. This once very afraid feral trusted me, I'm really blessed for waiting for this handsome boy's trust.
      bigbadbass, tarasgirl06 and weebeasties purraised this.
  11. master tabby
    I have dealt with feral cats a few times. The first was a disaster in a barn I found a mother and her kittens. I was about twelve I think, but going the this barns that my friends and I had built swings. Anyway, mama cat sees me and go over to where she was and there 5 little kittens. I like cats, and the kittens didn't or hiss at me so I picked one up and for about one second the cute little XzQKHFx kitten proceeded to rip me apart. I had scratch marks all over my forearms. Later in life, bought a trap and welders gloves that went the full length or my arms. I catch them shelter picks them up.
    1. tarasgirl06
      You must not be aware that "shelters" kill feral cats and especially little kittens, whom they say they don't have the staff and time to give the intensive care they need. Experts all say NEVER to take ferals to "shelters" but rather to take them to rescues and sanctuaries who have policies of accepting ferals, or doing TNRM (trap-neuter-return-manage the colony).
      Shane Kent purraised this.
  12. bigbadbass
    The author is correct...bringing 3 year old Bug indoors was not an easy process. He was quite violent when approached, withdrew for weeks after neutering...until his hormones normalized. Stressful and time consuming....the helpful, expert advise I got from established TCS members was invaluable...and pulled me (us) through. Though I was especially determined and committed...such an involved, difficult undertaking is certainly not for everyone. There is no way to predict the level of difficulty until you are well into the process.
    Fortunately (approx 10 months on)...he's adapted and fit in wonderfully.
      Shane Kent purraised this.
  13. Shane Kent
    If the conditions are right most definitely. It requires lots of patience is an understatement. Of course it depends on the individual cats and how old and how long you know them before cornering them in a room. It helped that the two I trapped were young and knew my voice, scent, and seeing me for several months.
  14. orange&white
    We had a small cat get into our warehouse at work in January. My boss bought a humane trap and I trapped her and took her for TNR. When I picked her up to release her back to the colony, she meowed at me and I saw baby canine teeth. She was younger than I thought; about 4 months old. She was so tiny that I took her home and socialized her. Farrell is one of my indoor cats now. She is one year old and wonderful.

    At home, there are always dozens of feral kittens born every year. People in the apartments close by put food out but do not TNR. One of the ferals from last fall/winter's "crop" started coming up to my patio to drink rainwater from a plant watering bucket. I trapped her, a little too late as she gave birth to 4 kittens at the shelter 4 days later. They kept her and the kittens for 2 months. The kittens, (3 survived, 1 failed to thrive) all got good homes through the shelter after fostering. I picked up momma kitten. Misfit turned one-year old last month, and has permanently moved onto my patio and backyard. She is getting more affectionate as time passes, but still lashes out once in a while and urine-sprays all over the place. The shelter deemed her "very wild and not fosterable, tamable, or adoptable". She eats on my lap and lets me pet her.

    While Misfit was in "jail" at the shelter nursing her babies, a 5-week old kitten from the spring "crop" was abandoned and crying in my front yard for 2 days. He would crawl up into my car engine when I was home. I trapped him on the evening of the 2nd day. Being a baby, I fed him for a few weeks until he was over 8 weeks and weighed enough to be neutered. The shelter said that Dasher was adopted almost immediately.
      tarasgirl06 purraised this.
  15. tarasgirl06
    Several years back, my then-husband and I lived in a community where there were many community cats. Some people fed them and cared about them, but never got them neutered. We took it upon ourselves to neuter and get baseline medical care for as many as possible, and built a fence with a lockable gate around the property we lived in -- not cat-fencing and not ideal, but at least it would keep dogs and other marauders out. We were successful during the time we lived there in getting all but two male kittens fixed, that I know of; some tiny kittens were taken by a rescuer/adopter friend who told me they were easily homed. The rest of the cats and kittens had a lifetime offer of food, water, medical care and caring from us, and most took us up on it. When we moved, over time, we succeeded in moving most of them up to our cat-fenced barn compound, which had climate control, 2 barn stalls, and a fairly large compound we planned to improve. We had our large family of indoor cats in addition to this group. Unfortunately, my ex decided to dump all of us, but that's another story. One of the kittens in the first community was definitely feral. My ex was able to box her up and get her basic meds, checkup, and spay, and she returned to us, living in a woodpile on our place. When we moved, he was able to again box her up and bring her to our new place; she was so desperate to get out of the compound that we were afraid she'd do herself in, so after speaking with a couple of feral cat experts, we took their advice and my ex brought her back down to her original neighborhood and released her. We loved her very much and I have always prayed for her.
  16. weebeasties
    Wow. I'm really glad I read this article AFTER I successfully socialized 2 adult ferals. I guess I shouldn't have even tried. Rocky, who is currently laying on my lap, might disagree with the authors.
      maggiedemi, kat0121 and tarasgirl06 purraised this.
    1. kat0121
      I think the author was trying to say that while it CAN be done, it may not be successful in all scenarios and that the person who is attempting to socialize a feral cat needs to know what he/she is getting into and that it really takes serious dedication- the dedication that you showed to 2 very lucky cats! Bravo to you. You are a hero for sure.
      Shane Kent purraised this.