You’ve probably encountered a feral cat a time or two in your life. These cats live in the wild and tend to shy away from humans (or hiss and scratch at them). But it’s hard to not want to adopt some of these feral cats into our homes to save them because feral kitties often have short lives 1 . But can a feral cat ever truly be tamed?
The good news is they can; however, it takes time and a ton of patience. Taming a feral feline is certainly not an endeavor to be undertaken by the faint of heart. But if you’re willing, you can absolutely tame a feral kitty.
The Difference Between Stray and Feral Cats
It can be difficult to tell stray and feral cats apart—after all, they’re all homeless kitties. But you should know the difference between them. What is that difference?
Feral cats are ones that are born in the wild and make their home there. They’ve never had owners or homes and don’t interact with people often. These kitties are wild and independent and more than happy to be on their own. And they aren’t typically fond of humans; they might run away from people or even get defensive if they run across one.
A stray cat, though, is one that has either been abandoned or gotten lost from its home. Cats that formerly had homes and human companionship may end up adopting feral behaviors, but as opposed to feral cats, stray cats will have an easier time re-adapting to humans and the life of being a pet.
How to Tame a Feral Cat
The first thing to know about taming a feral cat is that you won’t be able to tame some of them. Different factors will affect whether a feral cat is willing to be tamed, such as age (you’ll do better taming kittens than adult cats), the feline’s personality, and what sort of encounters they’ve had with other humans, as lots of previous bad encounters will make them much less receptive to you. But when you find a feral cat you want to try taming, there are a few you should follow.
1. Don’t approach the cat; let it approach you.
You don’t want to force your presence on a feral cat; that won’t end well for anyone. Wait for it to approach you and hold still while it does rather than moving closer to it. Do crouch down to kitty’s level as it gets closer, though, and speak softly to it.
2. Offer the feral cat food.
Yes, feral cats can get their own food, but they’re usually not going to turn down free food that’s ripe for the taking, either. So, set out some food in the same place at the same time every day for the cat. You can stay nearby while kitty eats if you’d like, but only if you remain unobtrusive. After a few days, you can try speaking quietly to the cat while it eats. This way, the cat begins to associate you with regular meals.
3. Get the cat used to human activity.
Once you’ve engaged kitty in regular mealtimes, you can begin working on desensitizing it to human activity. Let’s face it; people can be noisy, whether it’s by opening and slamming shut doors, talking loudly on the phone, or listening to music. And that will be overwhelming for a feral cat that’s had little human contact. If you slowly begin introducing noise during the cat’s mealtimes, it should become more comfortable with humans and their activity. Of course, start off small with something like shutting (not slamming) a door and build from there. This desensitization training could take a while.
4. Don’t touch the cat!
Not until it seems ready, at least. If you come close to the feral cat and it backs away, you need to back away, too, instead of trying to pet it. Petting lies getting scratched. If the cat has let you into its vicinity, wait for it to try to get closer to you before you attempt petting it. Also, wearing protective clothing during this part is wise!
5. Be patient and consistent.
Felines love routine, even the feral ones, so stay consistent in feeding and hanging out with a feral cat. And be patient because it will likely take quite a while for kitty to learn you aren’t a threat.
If you’ve managed to gain a feral cat’s trust using the above, you can eventually invite it into your house to see how it does. You don’t want to trap them there, so be prepared to let the kitty back out the second it seems ready to bolt. And don’t crowd it while it’s exploring your home. Allowing a feral cat to get used to being inside a home takes time, too.
With time and patience, it is possible to tame a feral cat. Whether a feral kitty can be tamed, though, will depend on factors such as its age and previous experience with human interaction. But if you’re willing to take the time to try, use the steps listed above to get your feral feline to trust you. It will be a slow process, but hopefully, you’ll eventually have a new kitty friend!