Feral Felines: How to “Tame” Them (Step 1)
I have 23 feral cats, so I’ve had a lot of experience in dealing with them. I’m hoping to pass on my tips so that more people will try to take care of the feral cats that show up in their yard. They really need help and the rewards you’ll reap are so worth the trouble it takes to make them friendly.
I had to put tame in quotes in the title, because you never really completely tame a feral cat. That’s not to say you won’t eventually be able to have them as a house cat and be able to cuddle and pet them. It can definitely be done and I have done it many, many times. But there are some areas that you might always have some problems with. One of them is visits to the vet or being friendly with other people.
A lot of people ask me, “What’s the difference between a feral cat and a stray and how do you tell the difference?” A feral cat has never had any social interaction with humans, or at least not good ones. They have never had a home and have only been in contact with humans in the wild, so to speak. A stray has had a home but, for whatever reason, no longer does. When you start feeding a stray, it shouldn’t take long before they will let you get near them and pet them. With a feral cat, it will take a long time.
The first step to dealing with a feral cat is to use only one person to interact with them. Feral cats don’t trust anyone. It has to be a one on one experience. I have to say right here that “socializing” a feral cat takes a lot of patience…a lot! It’s a slow process, so if you don’t have the time or patience, don’t even try. It took me a year and a half to finally get one of my feral mama cats inside and “tamed”, so you’ll have to be in this for the long run.
Obviously, the first step is to put food out for them. Try to establish a schedule so that the cat will get used to it’s feeding time. Put the food down a fair distance from the house and then call out, “time to eat.” I also make a whistling sound and then go back in the house. If you can watch from a window where they won’t see you, fine. Otherwise, don’t stare out the window at them. They have to learn that it is safe to eat…no one is going to try to capture them.
Keep this up every day and hopefully they will eventually start to peek at you from a bush or a distance. Say hi, tell them what a good baby they are, put the food down and go back inside. To jump ahead (because this may go on for months without them ever getting near you) when they finally do start to get closer to you, keep up the same routine… say sweet things to them in a soothing voice, put the food down and leave. Don’t try to pet them or even reach out towards them, no matter how tempted you are!
The ultimate goal is that the cat will eventually come to you on it’s own. It has to be on their terms, not yours. This will get you started and will take awhile. I am going to make more posts on this subject, but I don’t want to overwhelm you with a long post! I’ll do it step by step. I hope this helps you get started with bonding with that feral cat that you want to take care of. You are building a bond of trust with them that will grow…slowly, but one day, they’ll trust you and it’s such a wonderful feeling!
I have to say, obviously, if the cat appears to be sick, don’t try to catch it yourself. You don’t want to be scratched or bitten by a sick cat. You can try a Havahart trap.
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