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Can You Tame a Feral Cat?

Can You Tame a Feral Cat?

One of the most common questions that I am asked is whether or not you can tame a feral cat. So can you tame a feral cat? Why don’t rescues and shelters tame feral cats to get them off the streets? Can you adopt a feral cat? Why? Why not?

The short answer to this question is not the full answer. A lot of the time, people call any free-roaming cats “feral” which isn’t actually true. Most of the time when people tell me they tamed a feral cat, they mean that they taught a scared cat to trust them. Or they tamed a feral kitten.

However, it is totally possible to tame an adult cat that is legitimately feral if given enough time and cat behavior expertise. But the question we should be asking is not “can you tame a feral cat?” We need to ask if we SHOULD tame a feral cat.

Wait? What?

That’s right. I’ll explain why.

What is a feral cat?

Feral cats are cats that are not socialized to humans. This either means the cat was born outside and has had no contact with humans or the cat was socialized so long ago and lost all contact with humans that they’ve become feral.

Feral cats are the exact same cat as our house cats, but they just live without humans. Feral isn’t a genetic trait in cats, it’s a behavioral trait because of the lack of human contact.

Most community cats aren’t truly feral but fall somewhere between feral and friendly. Cats that live in cities and human settlements often have had some contact with humans and most have been socialized to some degree. Cats isolated in the wilderness or islands are more often the truly feral cats.

Related Post: What’s a Feral Cat?

Feral Cat Trapped for TNR by a volunteer

Can you tame a feral cat?

Technically, yes. You can tame a feral cat with enough time and cat expertise. If the cat is a young kitten, then this can happen overnight or take a few days. If the cat is an older kitten, it might take a couple of weeks. If the cat is a teenager, it might take a few months. If the cat is an adult, it could take a few months to a few years.

However, chances are if you tame a truly feral adult cat, that cat will only be tame to YOU. So then you’d need to have the cat work with strange humans over a long period of time so that they start to accept other humans. This can also take months to years to achieve. And they may never accept everyone.

The longer you can work with a feral cat, the tamer they will become. After a decade, you may even get them to act like a friendly cat in the local shelter. Too bad by then, he or she will be a senior cat.

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Should you tame a feral cat?

If you want to adopt that feral cat into your home for the rest of his or her life, then I am all for anyone taming a feral adult cat. In fact, you’ll be my hero!

There are only a few instances when you should consider taming a feral cat.

  • You want to adopt the feral cat yourself.
  • You have the space and time to take months or years to work with the cat.
  • You have the ability to keep the cat if taming him or her for adoption fails.

You also have to consider what’s in the best interest of the cat. A former feral cat is not going to enjoy meeting and moving into a stranger’s home. It’s going to be traumatic for them to be ‘abandoned’ by the ONLY human they trust in the world to go to a scary stranger who might “eat” them (in their minds).

Cats are not big on moving to a new environment. And the older they are, the harder it is on them.

Of course, not all cats are the same and some appear to accept change fairly easily. That said, most cats are also VERY good at hiding their emotions when they’re stressed or hurting.

You also have to keep in mind, that former feral cats aren’t often that accepting of strange people. They’re often shy and scared of strangers and strange environments. Most people looking to adopt a cat often look for friendly, happy cats.

Grey Kitten

Why don’t rescues and shelters tame feral cats?

The reason why your local Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program insisted on returning the newly neutered kittens to your yard is that they’re old enough that taming them isn’t guaranteed. And because it will take so long that they won’t be able to help other cats while the feral teenage kittens are being socialized.

All kittens have a socialization window. This is the age that the kittens are most easily introduced to people, other cats, carriers, strangers, harness training, and the vet so that you can have a cat that is not fearful of new people or situations. The primary socialization window in kittens is between 3 and 9 weeks, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. This is the BEST time to introduce kittens (both feral and not) to new experiences. After 9 weeks, the socialization window starts to slowly close and it starts becoming a bit more difficult.

With regards to taming feral kittens, it is best to do so when the kittens are between 5- and 16-weeks-old, but the earlier they’re socialized, the better. After that, it becomes quite a bit harder. Alley Cat Allies recommends not taming kittens over 16-weeks-old, except in special circumstances.

Why wait until 5 weeks? Because you don’t want to take kittens away from their mothers before that period. It is actually best if a kitten remains with their mothers until 8- or 12-weeks-old, but as taming feral kittens at 12-weeks-old takes more time and effort than at 5-weeks-old, it’s a matter of priorities.

In the best-case scenario, you can trap the mother and kittens and then begin to work with the kittens at 3-weeks-old until they are old enough to be fixed and adopted. However, if the mother is completely feral she can teach her kittens to fear you as kittens often take behavior cues from their parents and siblings. It’s not that easy to socialize kittens to humans when the mother is hissing and swatting at you.

TNR groups, animal shelters, and cat rescues often return kittens over 16 weeks old to their outdoor homes after being fixed during TNR, while they will foster younger kittens to put them up for adoption.

This is simply the best allotment of resources. It takes too long and has no guarantee of success to socialize older kittens and cats, when they COULD be helping younger kittens and getting more adult cats fixed.

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When is it NOT a good idea to tame a feral cat?

You should not tame a feral cat if you don’t have the time, space, or inclination to keep that cat. It’s that simple.

Say you tame a feral cat and then realize he’s never going to be adopted because he hisses and swats at strange people? What do you do with him? Put him back outside after months of indoor life? Months where maybe he LIKES indoor-cat life now? Dump him back in his old outdoor home that he likely won’t recognize anymore?

Abandon him? Because that’s what it is. You taught him to trust you, even if just a little bit, and to just say, “Hey, I can’t keep you so out you go!” and expect him to go back to his feral cat ways? Once he’s learned humans bring yummy food and it’s warm and dry inside?

Or he could be a cat that is absolutely miserable indoors even after months, so you bring him back to his old home outdoors. He might not recognize it anymore or his siblings and other cats might not recognize him anymore, and chase him away.

It’s a kind of big mess, if you think about it.

The only possible option for a cat that failed to tame properly is to find a barn home for him or her, but that can be difficult to do even in emergencies.

Tabby Cat After TNR

What is the best thing for the cat?

That’s what you have to think about. What is the best thing for that particular cat, both mentally and physically?

In a perfect world, there would be enough fosters to tame and keep every single feral cat in the United States. That’s the goal of those of us who spay and neuter feral cats during Trap-Neuter-Return. But right now, there are too many cats to get fixed, too many kittens being born, and not enough fosters or adopters available.

So if you want to adopt that feral cat you’ve spent years feeding into your home, more power to you! Please remember that he may never adjust to being an indoor-only cat and it might make him miserable. But if you’re determined, know cats, and want to keep him for the rest of his life, then you’re awesome and should tame that feral cat.

If you want to find the feral cat a home after taming him, then you’re best just leaving him be unless you can keep him for the rest of his life if it fails. With a dedicated caretaker, he’s likely happier where he’s at outdoors than having to be re-abandoned later on.

I learned this lesson the hard way with my former feral Tweety.

Have you tamed an adult feral cat? What happened? Did you keep him? Let me know by leaving me a comment below!

Lovies!

30 thoughts on “Can You Tame a Feral Cat?”

  1. My daughter began feeding a feral a couple of months ago only to find out she was pregnant and gave birth to 3 lovely kittens. They are quite large now and not yet weaned but getting wilder and roaming out further into the front yard so we fear for their safety. We don’t know what to do but your article will be helping us make a decision.

  2. Precious was a 4-5 week old cat that was rescued by the son of my now late sister (d. 1/21). Her non-stop meow screaming made my nephew insist that my sister take the cat in.

    On May 20, 2019, my mother took the cat for my brother who has survived several medical incidents…

    During the last 2 years, I have helped Precious overcome Pica issues, trust issues and her feral nature.

    Today, she is resting as we speak completely comfortable in my big laundry basket (with her bedding) after having about 3 hours of outside play (on harness and leash).

    She’s already sleeping as we speak.

    What a cat.

    Cats can be tamed.

    1. Hi, Michael,

      Yes, they can be! Especially when they were only 4-5 weeks old. Feral cats are no different than pet cats, they just live like wild animals, they are not actually wild animals. So take a young one, you can tame it overnight.

      Thanks so much to you and your family for taking this poor kitty in! I’m sorry for your loss. It is nice to see a family come together to care for someone’s beloved pet after they’re gone. So thanks from all us cat lovers!

  3. I have a roughly 14 month old cat who was trapped at 4-5 months, which seems to be near your maximum for taming. I didn’t get her directly though, she and her brother were kept in a foster situation for another few months but was pretty far from tame.

    I worked very hard to get her to trust me, and she basically became a spoiled lap cat who was given whatever her heart desires or that she begged for. Unfortunately, part of that was harness training outside and four days ago she slipped everything she was wearing and bolted when something startled her. We’ve since seen her twice on our outdoor cameras but no luck getting her back yet.

    I’ve been having an awful time feeling like some part of my heart is just wandering the neighborhood with her. I don’t regret working with her though, every day was a gift.

    1. Hi, Jemand,

      I’m sorry about your cat! Harnesses have to fit perfectly and be tight or this can happen. So sorry! I hope you found her by now!

  4. Hi, I have been feeding an outdoor cat for almost 6months. We think he is feral because he used to roam with what I think was his mother. They hung around our deck daily and we fed them. No human contact. She stopped showing up overnight, and then it was just him. He became friendly, playing meowing, and rubbing against our legs. Wearing gloves I managed to pet and rub his head. He reaches up for hands and arms, not sure how to interpret that. We trapped and had him neutered. I know he is at least 6 months old and my heart fell for him and was considering keeping home/taming him because of harsh winters in PA. I’ve read your article and worry that I am doing him HARM by keeping him indoors. We are older and worry he may outlive us, even if we can tame him. Please help me with any helpful advice. thank you Ruth

    1. Hi, Ruth,

      I apologize for my late response, I was on hiatus.

      If he’s that friendly and young, yes, bring him in and try to turn him into an indoor cat! That would be great. He does not sound feral any more. He absolutely can be tamed. Just take your time and work WITH the cat, not forcing him. Does that make sense? Cats respond well to yummy treats, attention and toys!

      Hope that helps!

  5. Thank you for this article. I adopted 2 brothers, they were trapped at about 6 weeks old. Their foster Mom kept them until they were 16 weeks old.
    I didn’t know they were born to a feral Mom. I got them Nov 4th 2020 and have worked with them every day. One is sweet, affectionate, still jumpy about noise however is improving.
    The other won’t let me touch him.
    So while the sweet one was taken in for his shots. I’m at a loss how to get his brother to the vet. Right now I’m throwing treats in to the carrier and he does go in. I’m worried about how he will act once locked in. I wish the woman who advertised them had mentioned they were feral. I had no clue

    1. Woah! Did she not work to socialize them at 6 weeks old? It doesn’t matter that their mom was feral, because it’s behavioral, not genetic, but at 6 weeks old, most kittens can easily be tamed if done constantly at that age.

      At 16 weeks, though, it takes longer. But certainly still possible. You just need to push on handling him with treats and food and play.

      However, he’s likely never going to be comfortable with strangers if he’s still that leery now. It may be a good idea to talk to your vet about a mild sedative like gabapentin they give animals that are hard to deal with or aggressive at the vet. At least to just get him in for vaccinations/neuter!

      It’s also possible he’s tame, just scared of new situations and people if you haven’t had him long.

      Also, the Kitten Lady has an instructional video on socializing hissing kittens on YouTube. She’s pretty famous so it should be easy to find. I’d check that out and use those suggestions to get him around to where you can at least handle him, even if vet visits are a nightmare.

      And any fosterer/rescue or whatever should absolutely be honest about a cat/kitten and their circumstances. If he is just scared, she should have been forthcoming that he is shy and takes awhile to warm up. If he’s actually still unsocialized, that should have been brought up too!

      I’m sorry you had that experience. Hopefully, he turns out sweet, just a scaredy cat.

  6. A year ago today our cat disappeared and my daughter went to our local shelter to see if he had been brought in. My daughter saw a cat that looked like ours but was labeled a barn cat…(if our cat was captured he to would act like such) So she adopted him and brought him home. He had been nurtured and shots given and ear cut to show was nurtured. Right away went into hiding.
    My daughter was living in a motor home, and has worked with Tommy ever since, mostly later evening hours with feeding, watering, toys, blanket, clean litter box always, and lots of talking ,cooing, and now petting to the point he comes out some but not much. Or he will start meowing loud when she is sleeping. She has left the window open in case he didn’t want to stay but he stays. She recently moved to a nice quiet calm place, and Tommy is hiding first place he found – under the bathroom sink.
    The problem is!!! Others are telling my daughter he will never be “normal” – that its cruel to keep him- on and on. My daughter is heart broken and loves Tommy but yet don’t want to be doing the wrong thing for Tommy. She has very few people over and consistent with the one she has. She loves him forever but doesn’t know what to do and I don’t know how to advise. And we don’t know exactly the things she should be doing to bring him out!!! We just want what is best and him to know and feel loved and belong.
    Thank you for any input regarding this matter truly!!!!

    1. Hi, Celeste,

      I apologize for the late response.

      So… in cases like these, it isn’t like you can just release him outside after he’s been confined indoors all this time. Many of us who tried to socialize an older feral have ended up with a semi-feral living with us because we can’t let him go now and he just doesn’t want to socialize easily. That’s when we all learn to STOP taking in older ferals because people are correct, it isn’t fair to force a terrified cat to live inside with the very humans he’s scared of!

      However, it seems he isn’t all feral and your daughter worked very well with him in the original place, to the point he felt safe inside and didn’t leave the first chance he got.

      It’s just going to take time at the new place to get him to feel safe again. Cats don’t like change. Cats who can’t rely on humans to feel safe, REALLY REALLY hate to change their homes even more!

      If he responds to her, purrs for her, and even plays some, I’d tell her to continue working carefully with him. He’ll eventually accept her, at least. If they’re home alone together. If he’s completely miserable and hiding 24-7 after all this time, THEN I would consider trying to find a barn for him to be relocated to where he can take over a tack room for a few weeks before being released into the barn.

      Just because a cat doesn’t act normally around strangers though, doesn’t mean the cat isn’t happy when the cat is home with their preferred human, though. Normal is overrated. You just want to ensure the cat is happy or content and not stressed and miserable.

  7. How do you know if a cat will become socialized if you don’t know what age they are? I began as a kitten tamer at a local rescue this year. I TNR’d all the big boys around my apartment building. Then a new guy showed up.
    I thought he was a girl- so much smaller than my puffy-cheeked boys! I trapped him because he was very food motivated and the rescue did a quick eval and said he could be tamed -but i’d need to do it. I got him back after his neutering & vac and took him home. The rescue warned me that he was hissy and aggressive, which surprised me. I thought it was because they tend to be aggressive in socializing. I decided that if that didn’t work for him I’d try something different. I asked to rescue workers for advice. The head of the rescue told me I had a week. I didn’t ask “a week to what?”
    As I thought, she just was very scared and apprehensive and didn’t care for the aggressive approach. I have been taking things slower and gentler, and so far I have him eating out of my hand, sleeping near me in his bathroom, and we started on petting today after 4 days of 5 hours a day with him. He’s never been aggressive with me. He’s in a totally new world and he’s understandably apprehensive. I know I need to do a lot of repetition of the socializing steps with him, and it’s going to take more than a week! Is he tame able? When can I tell? What are the signs that point to no?
    He looks like a young cat but not the 10-week kitten type i’m used to. No puffy cheeks and small body.
    I don’t want to make him a “limbo” cat but from what i saw of him outside he’s not a good feral, unlike my big boys.

    1. Hi, Kathy,

      Cat ages can be hard after about 12-16 weeks old, so it’s basically guessing. And sometimes kittens are smaller than they should be! And it definitely sounds like yours is tameable and possibly had SOME socialization at some point, but it’s also very likely that they may be timid with strangers their whole lives. Sigh. My best advice is to try and see. You already have him and it’s best to continue working with him at this point.

      Some kittens just do not respond to typical ‘forced’ socializing techniques and I almost never use those myself. I work to earn the kitten’s trust, not force them to understand I’m not hurting them. Does that make sense? I’ve had kittens react very negatively to being forcefully cocooned and held, even at very young ages, but respond easily to food and sneak pets during their meals to the point after the third or fourth time, they’re realizing I’m not trying to hurt them. Then I push boundaries without making the cat TOO unhappy. Until they start accepting and enjoying it and I reward everything with nummies.

      Hopefully your kitten socialized okay!

  8. Hello!

    I had been caretaking a small colony of feral cats for a few years, already TNR’d. A new little cutie started coming around on a schedule, and he wasn’t part of the crew, and had a hard time fitting in. He seemed like a stray- not so feral, meowing, and rolling around to get belly rubs. No response to a month or two of trying to find an owner. I finally got him trapped, and no chip, so we have him in a small bathroom- living like a king with regular wet food, cat nip toys, litter.. It’s still be only about 1 month, but he hides behind the toilet all the time- though he comes out and eats every bite and uses the litter box. But hisses when anyone walks in… Is there hope you think? Just take a lot longer? I feel guilty because he is certainly not happy now. We have a few stray/ feral that adjusted and live in the home (though still private, quiet). ? Any advice would be really appreciated??

    1. Hi, Kim,

      So I apologize for the late response, but I’m still going to answer in case other people are having similar issues.

      Sometimes, confining the cat will make them act MORE feral then they originally were to begin with. And the longer you confine them, the more scared and violent they can become as the stress continues.

      If a cat is reacting badly to being confined like this, is when I find a bigger area for him to be confined in. An entire room, for example. Once they don’t feel like they are ‘trapped’ without an escape, they usually start to relax.

      I tend to find the cats that react badly to these situations are the LEAST feral cats out of the colonies, usually the friendlies. Whether it’s because they don’t exactly fear humans as ferals do, so they feel safe enough to lash out in anger and fear more, or something else, I don’t know. It’s almost always a cat that someone swears is friendly and adoptable and they bring him or her inside, confine him, and it will turn them vicious. It’s weird, I know.

      So my advice in these situations is to bring the cat out of the bathroom and into the bedroom or a spare room. Let him have his own ‘cat cave’ where he can escape when nervous and where you don’t bother him at all, but continue to interact with him during meal times and hang out with him. When they stop feeling cornered in a tiny room/cage with no escape, they do tend to chill out a bit. Then you can work with him more.

      Hope that helps!

  9. To quote you: “So if you want to adopt that feral cat you’ve spent years feeding into your home, more power to you! Please remember that he may *NEVER* adjust to being an indoor-only cat and it might make him *MISERABLE*. But if you’re determined, know cats, and want to keep him for the rest of his life, then you’re awesome and should tame that feral cat.”

    I very much disagree with your opinion that it’s acceptable to keep a cat long term in any situation that makes them miserable. . . . Whether indoor-only or in an outdoor cage, or a mix of the two. . . .

    So many cats would be very happy in such circumstances that a person should opt to help one of those, rather than to selfishly make a ‘wild’ cat miserable for life, no matter what reason the person thinks they have to do so. . . .

    Cats need to be allowed to make certain decisions for themselves, and when/if their circumstances have led to them being miserable/terrified living among humans, they should retain the right to remain free of human contact as much as possible . . . that should be their right . . . to *NOT* be traumetized.

    Making them miserable for years trying to get them used to what is -to them- a terrifying environment, takes a HUGE chunk out of their lives, anyway . . . while at the same time introducing ongoing terror & fear & unease (things that stress them awfully) . . . and for what . . . ? So the person can claim to be ‘helping’ them . . . ?

    We should help them to live *happier* lives . . .
    rather than lives that fit our ideas & agendas . . . even when theirs do not coincide with ours.

    1. Hi, Pam,

      I did not say they should keep a cat that is MISERABLE inside. I said if they WANT to tame them because they want to adopt them they need to keep in mind that they may never adjust to being indoor-only and it may make him miserable! I didn’t say ignore that and bring them indoors anyway! I said they may never adjust to being an indoor-only cat. A person can ‘keep’ a cat that isn’t inside, or is indoor-outdoor, etc. You made the assumption that ‘taming’ equals “indoor-only” that they’re two very different things. Many people let their pet cats outside that are all perfectly tame, even to strangers. And some people try forcing a completely feral cat to live in their apartment, where it lived for 5 years under the bed, scared and miserable. Both issues are completely different issues.

      I keep cats who live outside and refuse to come inside. I have a few that come in at night. And I have some that are indoor-only. Taming doesn’t mean ‘indoor-only’ and ‘keeping’ a cat doesn’t mean indoor only.

  10. I have been feeding cats at my old apartment complex (it’s OK with management) as I TNR them. One had the friendly switch flip on last November, became really friendly and affectionate, so I put him in a carrier (easily) and had him overnight (and found I am allergic to longhairs!), and he was taken to an adoption center last weekend and has a new family!
    Another cat that I wanted to become friends with has warmed up to me, and tonight was the first night he’s showed up since the last guy was taken away, and he is very loving already! Head-butts, loves pets and head-scritches, and I heard some purrs and got a few flops on his side from him. He was TNR’d last August and didn’t come back after his release for 10 days. He used to run if I acknowledged him. Now, he’s also flipping that switch! I’m so excited. I hope he doesn’t have any fatal disease, as the previous friendly kitty tested positive for FIV and has a heart murmur (so glad he’s going to get cared for and be an inside kitty now). I am hoping my newest buddy will choose to come home with me soon.
    The other kitties I feed do what you mention here — they recognize me but keep their distance. I don’t force interaction on them, so if they are happy and surviving in this area (which is not a great area IMO) then I love them enough to let them live on their terms.

    1. Hi, Kathy,

      Thank you for taking such good care of them! I’m happy you were able to get the long-haired kitty adopted! I love hearing of TNR/feral cats getting adopted! I do hope the new friendly kitty is healthy too. Living outside like they were, ESPECIALLY as unfixed male cats, they fight and mate so much that they are often the cats that test positive for FIV (and FeLV) instead of the fixed cats or even unfixed females.

      And an even bigger thank you for loving the standoffish ones just as much as the ones that flipped the friendly switch on. Once you gain their trust, it’s always fantastic. Even more, if they turn friendly enough to be adopted! Huge thank you for all the work you’re doing with these cats. If only everyone worked so hard to save their colonies!

  11. I’m so torn. 3 yrs ago a dull coated, skinny approx 6 mos. old cat walked past my door, so I put out food for him. He covered that food and growled and hissed eating the whole bowl. I noticed he was ear tipped so I’m assuming he was part of the local colony in our woods but probably wasn’t getting enough food because of the older cats. He’s truly feral and not an abandoned house cat. Fast forward to now, and he will actually come in by the door to eat his food, but rain, snow, freezing weather, he wants out and won’t stay in at all. He does meow at my door if other cats are around so I can shoo them away, and sometimes he just wants my company so he can rub against my legs. He doesn’t allow me to touch him though. Last week the feral was in the house and my son came in bringing bags of groceries. The feral freaked out and tried to run through the glass door. He’s afraid of my husband even though my husband feeds him too. The problem is I’m moving out of state and I don’t know if I should take him with me or not. One of my other neighbors feeds the strays but this feral is so attached to me so I feel incredibly guilty at leaving him here, but on the other hand I hate to take him away from all that he knows. This is a safe area for a stray cat and surrounded by woods. The new house is in a less urban area. I think I already know the answer to my question but will someone make me feel less guilty please? Lol

    1. Hi, Laurie,

      I apologize for my late response, I was on hiatus for a bit.

      These situations are hard. IF your new area is safe and you want the responsibility to keep him confined for 3-4 weeks and take care of him for life, then I would move WITH him. Him being REALLY bonded to you is important too. However, if your new area is not very safe for him, I’d ask the neighbor to look out for him for you and to make sure to keep feeding him away from the other cats if he can’t get enough food with the other cats around.

      It really depends. I would move cats with the caretaker if they’re bonded to them or there is no choice. Because that means that not only is his home important to him, you are important to him too. And MOST of the time, when a cat is moving WITH their favorite human it is successful because they WANT to stay around their favorite human, as long as they are properly confined before releasing outside.

      The time when relocating the cats is NOT recommended is when you’re just trying to find homes from there away from their home territory with strangers. Then there can be a 10% fail rate even with proper confinement. So we never recommend relocation unless there’s no choice.

      But relocating WITH you is a little different.

      You can also use catios and such to keep him safe and allow him outdoor access if your new home isn’t as safe as you’d like. If you’d love to take him with you, I would, as long as you feel it’s relatively safe or you can make it relatively safe. If he’s bonded to you. If he’s not bonded to you, then leaving him there with that feeder would be best.

      Of course, I can only tell you what *I* would do, based on the little information you gave me. There may be outside factors that affect your decision that I didn’t take into account, so there may not be any right or wrong answer here. That’s just what I would do based on the facts you gave me.

      Hope that helps!

  12. Hello,
    We have 6 semi-ferals, one domestic cat and we have just taken in about a 2 year old feral that was living in the same alley as our 2 youngest semi-ferals. Anyway, she was living in a home with a fellow that had never had cats and he had 2 big dogs. He kept her over the winter but since he was making no progress with her he wanted to put her back out on the street so now we have her. Anyway 2 weeks we have her in a basement bedroom. She’s very frightened although she has started eating well. We introduced her to one of her “siblings” yesterday. She hissed but did not attack her. We thought it would help her to know there are other cats here and that she’s not the only one. Anyway, not sure whether to keep her in bedroom or let her in bigger room whether that would be better or worse. The other 2 were fearful but they have come a very long way. We do let them out in the yard (we have cat fence in) once they are integrated and I know she’ll love to be outside when she gets there but not sure how to get us there. Not sure if we are moving too quickly with her or not. We sit in the room with her and read and I offer her treats as a “gift” when I leave the room. Should we just let her settle longer or let her have access to larger room. Thank you.

    1. Hi, Barb,

      I apologize for my late response, I’ve been on hiatus lately.

      I advise always listening to the cat and going at the cat’s pace. If she’s mildly uncomfortable at first, that’s fine, let her get used to it until she’s not uncomfortable anymore, and then increase the ‘pressure’ until she’s uncomfortable again. Then let her adjust to it for a bit.

      And just do that with everything you’re trying to introduce her to. Push her comfort level somewhat, but don’t freak her out completely.

      It really depends on the cat how fast you end up going. I’ve had a cat take MONTHS to be released outside after surgery and confinement for relocation to my barn. She kept running back inside! Would only spend seconds at first, for weeks. Then slowly and gradually, she kept going further and longer until she finally stayed out a full night before running back inside Some cats adjust and go fast, some go very, very slowly. So just take your time and pay attention to her cues.

      Hope that helps!

  13. Rochelle-
    I would love your advice, as I am in dire need of it. I saw a cat out in the daytime in my neighborhood, and started feeding her. I finally trapped her, and had her vaccinated, spayed, etc…The TNR clinic guessed that she is 8 months old, and said has already had one litter. She is now 2 days back from the spay, living in my bathroom in a large dog crate. She is very depressed, will not eat dry food (to get her to eat, I have to give her canned food), and has hissed and tried to bite me when I try to pet her with ski gloves on. She does not seem motivated by treats at all. I put a piece of fried chicken in her crate and she didn’t touch it for hours. I was hoping to tame her and put her up for adoption at our local shelter…but I am having doubts this is possible. So, my other solution was to let her go and continue to feed and shelter her. However, it seems like she hates me as she associates me with everything bad that has happened to her. I’m now afraid she will associate my house with bad experiences and leave this neighborhood?? I need to make a decision quickly because the TNR clinic where I had her spayed told me if I was to re-release her to only keep her for a week or so so she can heal properly. I am closing in on having her for 3 days. Another cat rescuer told me I need to give her more time to decompress before assessing her tameability. I feel like this is a lose-lose situation.

    1. Hi, Anita,

      So here’s the situation with an 8-month-old ‘feral’ cat. She’s very scared and not eating is usually a good indication of that, as is the hissing and trying to swat/bite. But at her age, 8 months, there is a big chance of failure for taming her. ESPECIALLY for a shelter adoption.

      Even if you get her tamed to YOU, that doesn’t mean that she will be wanted by adopters, because they may have to earn her trust too. She won’t adjust to the shelter at ALL. She will be huddled in a corner, completely reverting to terrified. I definitely don’t recommend shelter adoptions of former ferals, especially one this old. If she were anywhere under 12 weeks old, I’d say try. After that… I’d recommend 4-5 month-old ones being adopted straight out of your home, not a shelter. And any cat over 6 months that is feral simply be released after surgery instead.

      Now if you were talking about keeping her for yourself, I’d say you can certainly try and then I would suggest giving her time to decompress, and then if taming fails, release her then.

      But to try to tame her for adoption, what happens when she’s been inside for months and totally trusts you but still hates all other people? That’s what you have to think about. And that’s IF she takes to indoor life without dangerous escape attempts or severe depression.

      Because if she stays inside for that long, releasing her outside will be more dangerous if taming fails.

      Honestly, I’d recommend releasing her outside once she’s healed some and just continue to care for her. That’s what I would do in these circumstances. If she had shown signs of being people-friendly BEFORE being trapped, I may choose to work with her instead but I would be prepared to keep her if it fails.

      When she’s released, she will most likely come back for food. It may be a couple of days or longer, but she will come back. I’d make sure to offer her wet food, just to ensure that. Wet food is often preferred by many cats, though not all, obviously. It also helps keep them hydrated so it’s always preferred if people can afford to offer at least one meal of wet food a day.

      Cats easily forget these traumatic events of the spay/neuter/trapping after regular food offerings. It’s the number of negative associations versus the number of positive associations. The more food she gets, the more she will associate you with positive things and the less she will focus on that ONE time you kept her in a cage for a week.

      I’ve had many ferals I’ve kept confined for a week while giving antibiotics in food, to the point of getting attacked and completely traumatizing them (I thought) and they STILL came back, though the males usually don’t show back up until testosterone levels decrease. I’ve never had one disappear and never return. I mean, there’s certainly a first time for anything, but food sources are limited and if she likes your food, she WILL come back. Unless someone else in the neighborhood has just as good of food.

      There’s also something we like to call ‘cage rage’ where even semi-friendly cats just get SO stressed out being confined that they get more and more stressed and violent the longer they are caged/confined inside. So it’s also certainly possible that she may not decompress. She may get worse and worse the longer she’s confined and the only solution to that is to give her more space by releasing her into the house or back outside.

      Of course, maybe I’m wrong and she showed signs of being very friendly before being trapped. I obviously only know the information you gave me, so can only go off that and what *I* would do in your situation. But it sounds to me, that this would be a circumstance where I’d return her outside instead of foster her for a home.

      Hope that helps!

      1. Rochelle–Thank you for the quick response. I am so depressed about this situation…and have gone through your entire site and been checking to see if you answered me yet, lol. Your kindness is much-appreciated.

        A couple of things I wanted to add. She has shown no signs of ever being handled or friendliness. When she was outside, she kept her distance. But I thought since she was outside during the day, that she was maybe a stray. But I don’t think she is.
        She lunges at me even if I am just reaching for her litter box and not reaching for her. She seems miserable, but I’m sure that is to be expected. She is only 3 days from her spay. If I do let her back outside, how much longer should I keep her in the crate in my house? Also if I let her outside, how can I keep her from getting worms again? Your response about cats forgetting trama and coming back for food has given me hope.

        I have already looked at heated cat houses, and have no problem buying one for the harsh winters. Question: Will she also use a house in the summer? Our summers can get very hot. But if she will use it in the summer, I will purchase a summer house for her now. We do have raccoons and probably coyotes, though I have never seen a coyote in my yard.

        As far as you asking your readers about their experience with ferals, I’d love to share mine. I saw a man from animal control unsuccessfully trying to catch a kitten at our local park. So that night, I set my own trap, and caught the kitten. The only problem was, I caught an adult male black feral with the kitten. I took them both to be neutered and vaccinated, and then to my house. The feral hid under my bed, was constantly throwing up, and when I went to reach for him he bit me. (I was stupid back then).

        After getting antibiotics, I called my vet and told him what happened. He offered to tame the feral for 6 weeks and then give him back to me. I didn’t want a cat…but I reluctantly said okay. The vet also discoved the cat had lung worms, which is why he was throwing up constantly despite being dewormed.

        Since I was stuck with the feral, I kept the kitten, too, as he was very easy to tame. I resented having the feral–because i wanted to get another dog and felt now I couldn’t b/c the feral would be tramatized by a dog in the house. To make a long story short, the feral (who I named JP) eventually won me over. I ended up adopting a cat-friendly dog and JP loves the dog! But the best part is that when I had cancer, JP was my pet that was most concerned about my well-being. He would walk me to the toilet, watch me throw up from the cancer drugs, then walk me back to bed. Once…after I fell back into bed after throwing up…I could feel JP’s paws, patting me on the back like a mother would a child. I swear I think he understood how sick one is when they throw up (as he often threw up himself with the lung worms). The love this feral has knows no bounds. He still doesn’t want me to pet him much or pick him up and hides whenever anyone comes to the house…but I ADORE this cat…and he is sitting next to me right now. But your statement about how ferals attach to the person who tames them is true. Though my vet originally tamed him, I had to work with him a lot when he came back to my house. He doesn’t like any human but me.

        1. Hi, Anita!

          Thanks so much for sharing your survivor story! I’m happy you had him through your cancer ordeal and that he is happy and loved, despite not liking to be handled much.

          I like to phrase the feral taming process like this: All ferals have the POTENTIAL to be tamed to humans. Most of the time, the cats aren’t actually completely feral anyway. Living around humans as they do in town or human homes, they often have some socialization. So it is not impossible to tame them to a person. All it takes is time and trust, and some yummy food.

          The problem is actually “SHOULD they be tamed?” Because they are never going to be completely friendly like a kitten raised from birth with humans, you know?

          True feral cats with no socialization (these cats are usually skittish and rarely seen, refusing to eat near their feeders although some will eat in front of them as long as they aren’t close.) should probably be left alone, just returned after surgery. They’ve lived this far completely wild and we shouldn’t disrupt that. As some rescuers say: “We should respect their feral-ness. They’re wild. Leave them to be wild.” And they say this because there are MILLIONS of cats without homes, we should focus our efforts on the cats we can easily socialize with and leave the wild ones to live out their lives happily as wild, after spay/neuter of course. Some of them, even after they socialize, don’t move to indoor-only very well either. And their very feral nature helps to keep them safe from humans outdoors! Not to mention, it’s pretty traumatic to do to a feral cat. So I would only consider it if it were necessary, like a feral cat that was blind or something.

          All other cats, I always try to base my decision on what is going to happen if socialization fails. Because the older the kitten or cat, the more often it is going to fail. And being successful doesn’t mean the cat is happy friendly cat with all humans. Most adopters do NOT want a cat they have to ‘work’ to get them to like them. Sad, but true!

          Most long-time rescuers have that one cat that they were forced to keep because the cat completely failed at getting tamed, but could no longer safely be released outside. These cats will live their home, hiding under the bed all day, and joining them in bed at night or only coming out at night or when the human isn’t home. Or they have a room to themselves where they can live separate from humans. Some rescuers have more than one.

          From the sounds of it, this cat is more on the feral side of the scale as she’s shown no socialization before being trapped or after. So unless you want to keep this cat, I’d probably just release her after about a week. And maybe after a couple more days, she’ll actually show more friendliness, I don’t know. Sometimes that does happen, something just clicks in their head that you won’t hurt them and suddenly show signs of having been friendly. Pet cats abandoned outdoors sometimes revert to feral behavior just to survive and they’ve lost all trust in humans. But it’s not that common, you’d probably have noticed by now. So I would still continue with food and treats. If you have a back scratcher, you could use it to try to touch her and pet her with it, that’s often used to help socialize ferals too. If at the end of the week, she’s still showing NO signs of approachable behavior, I’d release her back outside.

          AND if after her hormones level out and disappear, she suddenly starts acting friendly when you feed her and less terrified, you can always work with her more then too!

          As for worms, I’m sorry, but that’s impossible to prevent. She’s going to get them. (Though probably not lungworm, that’s actually not common, I’m shocked your JP had it! It definitely requires a different medication if I remember right.) What I do with my outdoor crew is I use pyrantel pamoate once every 2-3 months. It can be mixed with wet food and isn’t that nasty for the cat to eat. That gets rid of roundworms/hookworms, the two most common parasites in cats. And can be used in dogs, cats, and even humans!

          The REAL problem is going to be fleas and tapeworms because she’s feral. Maybe eventually you’ll be able to apply a topical flea medication, but right now, not so much. The ONLY monthly oral flea medication that I know of right now is Comfortis and it’s a prescription. You could order it from Chewy or another pet pharmacy if you can get your vet to write a script for it. That will help PREVENT the flea tapeworm, usually.

          But if you see tapeworm segments coming out the rear-end of the cat (little white grains of rice), then she needs a tapeworm medication like praziquantel, which is non-prescription depending upon which brand. But praziquantel comes in a pill and… it is very hard to hide in food. It’s pretty bitter. Some cats may eat it, but I’ve never had any luck with mixing it in food! There is a topical medication that does kill tapeworms and roundworms and hookworms, but you’d have to touch the cat and it is prescription as well. Sadly, for cats there is just not enough options! Drontal is a combination of the tapeworm medication with the pyrantel pamoate that I mentioned early. It’s a pill. And tastes awful. And oddly, non-prescription ONLY when you buy a full big bottle.

          It’s hard to medicate ferals. Here’s to hoping she’ll eat meds in her foods! The pyrantel pamoate is the most important one though. Flea meds are also important, IF you can manage it. There is another oral flea medication but it only works for 24 hours. It’s called Capstar. So it’ll kill all adult fleas on the cat for a day.

          As for the cat houses, it’s really going to depend on the cat, honestly. And if the house is out of the sun, the area is cooler than the rest of the yard, that kind of thing. You could try adding a cooling mat to a cat house and see if that helps.

          As for raccoons, they rarely bother cats, BUT they absolutely can gang up on cats and kill them. It’s rare, but it’s happened. I would try to avoid leaving food out at night to not attract raccoons and make sure there are areas the cat can climb to get away from the raccoons, even if it’s a porch railing or a tree or something. If they start competing for the same food source with the cats, I’d be getting very concerned. But we have raccoons and there have never been any issues with my cats. As for coyotes, those can be a problem. It’s another reason not to leave food out unattended all night, and give the cat access to areas they can climb to get away from them. You could also try to get the cat trained to come into the garage or something at night to be locked in by luring her in with yummy wet food, only at night, in the garage/shed, and locking her in for the night. That’s what some do.

          Anyway, hope that helps! I tried to give links to examples of the products I was talking about, although of course, there are other brands and other places to buy them from.

          Thank you SO much for helping her and investing so much into her welfare.

          1. Rochelle–I wanted to give you an update, as you probably wonder what happens after you dispense your wise advice. I am the lady that found an 8 month feral in her backyard. I did take your advice on releasing her back. After a little over a week in a kennel inside my bathroom as she recuperated from surgery, it was obvious she was going to be difficult to tame. In fact, I had orignally named her “Tulip”, but by the end of the week, I changed her name to “Karen”…because it seemed like she really, really wanted to call the manager on me, and all she did was complain while she was here, lol. She was biting my back scratcher, barely eating, howling at night and her claws were bleeding from her trying to escape the large dog crate. I’ve never seen a cat so happy to be released. After her release, she did not come back for days. But your words of wisdom calmed me, and sure enough, she is now coming back around for food. It’s funny b/c when she was caged in my house…I kept having to “up the anty” to get her to eat. By the end of the week I’d gone through Solid Gold cat food (no Friskies for her!) and even got her some fried chicken fingers. She was not impressed by any of it…and I worried that she was going to be the most expensive feral cat to feed ever! But, now that she is outside again, she is enjoying whatever food I put out for her. I guess food tastes better when you’re “free”. I also put dewormer in her food this month, and will continue to do so. I purchased a house for her, and I hope she will use it in the cold winter. I did see a coyote in my yard last week. I think the food I set out is attracting all kinds of animals. But Karen likes to eat when it is dark out. So, I am of course, worried. But in my heart I think this was best for her. Thanks again for all you do. Btw, I’m thinking of moving in the next year or so…so I will be seeking your advice on how to relocate Karen with me!

          2. Hi, Anita!

            Thank you SO much for the update! I remember this case! I’m glad Karen/Tulip is doing SO much better being released and that she returned to you. Sometimes confining cats for long periods of time gets them SO stressed and angry that we call it cage rage.

            And yes, I would try to avoid feeding at night. Coyotes WILL be attracted by cat food as well as other animals. Or start leaving smaller amounts so the cat can eat it all before coyotes show up. I make sure to pick up all cat food at dark to prevent coyotes and raccoons from being attracted to the food. (Plus rats and mice, of course.)

            And thank you for taking Karen with you when you decide to move, whenever that will be, and my advice is always available when that time comes!

            (Karen may be better about confinement by the time you move. Hormones and not being fixed is stressful and causes female cats to be… very difficult and violent, so just after her surgery, she maybe just could not deal with being in a crate after all that. Once the hormones are gone, she’ll be less stressed out so confinement may be EASIER when you relocate her. MAYBE. We won’t know until you try! But I’ve found females to be better able to adapt when they aren’t newly spayed.)

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