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How to Relocate a Feral Cat

How to Relocate a Feral Cat

Most of the time, the relocation of feral cats is considered a no-no. Friendly cats and kittens can be safely removed, fostered, and adopted into homes. But the feral and semi-feral cats, you want to return them to their original home if at all possible after Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR).

In some cases though, especially if there is conflict with the property owners, finding a barn home (or another colony) is the only way to ensure their safety. We’ll discuss how to relocate a feral cat here, though this acclimation process can be applied to semi-feral and friendly community cats that fail indoor life as well.

If you are taking in a displaced cat from a community or feral cat rescue, please follow all acclimation procedures they ask of you. This guide is for those who don’t have a specific protocol for relocating a feral cat.

If you’re looking for a barn cat of your very own, please don’t take free kittens and put them outside. Please adopt from rescues and shelters who offer feral and semi-feral cats as working cats. They are spayed and neutered, vaccinated, AND usually free, in exchange for food, shelter, and care!

Disclaimer:  This post contains affiliate links.  I make a small commission on qualifying sales. See Affiliate Disclosure for details.  Thanks for supporting the kitties!

Relocation is the LAST Resort

Relocating outdoor cats should never be done lightly. It should ONLY be considered in the event of an emergency, such as property owners demanding the cat’s removal, or if their outdoor home is being destroyed by a new road or building construction, etc.

The reason Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) advocates return the cats instead of taking them to farms and sanctuaries is for a few reasons.

One, too many cats, not enough barns, farms, sanctuaries able to take them in.

Two, if you remove all cats from an area, more cats just move in. Usually, these cats will be unfixed of course. Then because the area has so few cats, the reproduction rate of these cats rises.  So relocating does not solve the feral cat population issue. In fact, it makes it worse in some cases!

The third reason that relocating feral cats is avoided is that cats are territorial. Feral cats even more so because they are bonded to their home territory NOT people. This means relocating feral cats often fails. It is very common to have a cat leave his new home and attempt the very, very dangerous journey back to his original territory. Cats are often hurt or killed attempting this.

Another reason relocation often fails is because outdoor cats are NOT solitary creatures and are often tightly bonded to each other. They were born in that area, they grew up with their parents and siblings and other cats in the colony, and they form bonds with the other cats. They should be moved with a few members of their colony, if possible.

I know we all want to take a kitty and bring him to our farms or barns or warehouses and save them from busy roads and the mean, cruel people of the world, but you could be doing more harm than good. Relocating a feral cat could inadvertently cause the poor cat to meet an untimely demise attempting to cross unfamiliar terrain, such as highways and rural areas where coyotes roam, as they try to find their way back home. Cats do MUCH better surviving in their home territory than traveling around unfamiliar areas.

So decide carefully before you relocate that cat you feel sorry for. It works if you take the time to acclimate him to his new home, but it is NEVER, EVER guaranteed.

Gray Tabby Cat in a Humane Trap

Step One: Trapping, Neutering, and Vetting

Unless you are adopting a working cat from a shelter or rescue, you may be trapping the cat to move him to your farm or colony. If that is the case, once you have your feral or not-so-feral cat trapped, you should make sure he is fixed and if he’s sick, get him healthy before moving him to a new location. This should include vaccinations and microchips if possible.

Trapping can be stressful on the kitties, especially if they are feral. Since you already have him captured, it just makes sense to get him fixed and evaluated while under sedation or anesthesia.

Related Post:  The Best Feral Cat Trap

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Step Two: Confinement Period

Wherever the new outdoor home is going to be, you need to have a place to confine the cat. This can be a tack room in your barn, a kitted out gardening shed, or even a pet cage like you would find at the shelters. Ideally, you would have a feral cat den so the cat can hide in it and you can close it up for the safety of you and the cat to clean the cage or move him, if the cat is feral. If you don’t have one (or can’t afford one), you will probably want to cover all or part of the cage to ensure he doesn’t feel exposed. Especially if the kitty is terrified.

The confinement period will mean that you will need a litter box and food dishes. Maybe a cat cave if you are confining them in a tack room or similar. Scared cats love to hide, so provide a covered cage area or cat caves, or even a sideways Rubbermaid tote.

The length of time you have to confine to the cat will depend on his level of socialization. Friendly cats need around two weeks as they more easily bond to you in their new home. Feral cats, however, need around 4 weeks. I tend to err on the side of caution and it is better to confine for a tad longer, than too short a period of time.

Always follow the acclimation process from the rescue you adopt a cat from, however. Every group has similar protocols about confinement and it might vary from my advice here, but you always want to follow their suggestions.

Confinement Period:

Feral Cats – 4 weeks

Friendly Cats – 2 weeks

You do not want to confine the feral cats much longer than this as it can cause him undue stress that can cause health issues.

During the confinement period, you want to get the cat used to you as his new caregiver. Get him used to your voice, pet him if he’s friendly, and bring him yummy food on a schedule you plan to feed him once he is released.

You also want to be sure the kitty can see and smell his new home. If you’re relocating a pair of cats from a colony, please confine them in the same area (together if possible!), so they have company and companionship. Domestic cats may be solitary hunters and independent, but they are social animals more.

Bonding With the New Kitty

You absolutely want to take the time to bond with the new kitty during their confinement period. These is typical bonding exercises for all cats, pets or not.

  1. Make sure to talk to the new kitty during feeding time or any time you interact with the cat.
  2. Feed yummy wet food, treats and stick to a feeding schedule so the cat knows when it is dinner time! Two times a day is optimal.
  3. Play! Play is a huge bonding exercise, though this might not work with some feral cats. A wand toy is ideal as it lets you interact with the kitty without putting your hands in danger of scratches.
  4. Petting and touch, if friendly. You don’t want to stress the cat out too much if he is feral by forcing your touch on him. If he’s not accepting of your touch, don’t push it more than a couple seconds at a time. Plus, you could end up hurt, badly, trying to force a feral cat who is caged (and thus feels trapped) to accept your touch. Petting should only be done with those cats that are open to it. Don’t force it on the feral too much.
  5. Yes, you can bond with ferals.  Just because they don’t come close to you, does not mean they won’t understand you’re good people and they can get food from you, and thus, decide to stick around this strange new home where he has now found himself.

Slowly Release!Orange Tabby Cat Peeking from a Barn Window

After the confinement period is over, you will want to open the confinement areas and allow the cat to come out on his own. Do this as quietly and calmly as possible while the cats are learning to explore the new area. Leave the area open as a kind of ‘safe spot’ for the cat to retreat to if he feels threatened or too scared.

Do NOT:

  • Force the cat out of his cage or confinement area.
  • Do not shut the door to the cage or confinement area after the cat has left.
  • Run loud machines or release cats into large activity areas.

Leave the area exactly like it is for the cats to have room to hide in there until all the cats are adjusted to the new home. This can take a few days. If feral, they may avoid you except for feeding, but once the cats aren’t running scared back to their ‘safe spot’ and are found sleeping or relaxing in other areas.

Remember: Only Relocate in Emergencies!

Locating feral and semi-feral cats is not always successful. Simply do the best you can to get the cat used to the area with confinement and a slow-release.

Get the cats used to you as their new caretaker by talking to them, feeding them, and playing or petting them, if possible. Ferals can even start to trust you to an extent, eventually.

Feral cats need love too! Feeding, clean water, shelter, and care should be provided to any animal under your care, which does include barn cats. Even feral barn cats deserve it.

Any questions or if you need advice on acclimating your new barn cat or working cat, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll happily respond!

Lovies!


8 thoughts on “How to Relocate a Feral Cat”

  1. We have a couple of outdoor cats as of right now. I have been thinking about relocating them; they scare my dog. Who is supposed to brave, but not so much? It’s also freezing outside, seeing them trying to find warm shelter is pretty heartbreaking. 

    Going through your post, now I’m wondering about how they will feel if they are separated, not fair to them. 

    You’ve created some great outlines, but we don’t have any one place where they can be released. I will talk to our local animal shelter and see if they can take them. 

    1. in most places, animal shelters will not take in lifelong outdoor or feral cats as they are unadoptable. Those that do take in these cats, often euthanize them. Unless they truly are strays and able to be adopted. Relocation should never be considered lightly as it doesn’t remove outdoor cats from the original territory: more just move in.

  2. Greetings.  We actually have an adopted cat that was considered a feral cat.  I am not sure if they do the same everywhere, but a potion of the tip of the cats ear was clipped off to indicate that he was once feral.  He is as lovable a cat as I have ever known, and we really enjoy having him.  I found your information very interesting in this article.  Especially the part about reproduction rates increasing when you remove feral cats.  Thank you for promoting rescue shelters, adoptions, and spay / neutering.  All of our pets are rescues!  Thank you for providing excellent resources!  

  3. I had no idea it was such a big deal to relocate a feral cat. Obviously, it’ll take some getting used to from the feral cat’s end. It does appear to require a good amount of attention and care to make the cat feel safe in his/her newly found environment. I have to say that this is not an easy task, but these tips will surely go a long way.

  4. Great piece. My mom has a feral that lives in her garage most of the time. My mom is 90 and lives in Northern California. We are moving her down near us in Southern California where I feed feral cats in my back yard – Spot, Samson, Blake, Adam and an occasional Raccoon😝. She wants to move her feral, Carlie, when she moves but wants to try and tame her and keep her in one if the bedrooms. I’m not sure this would be possible. I know it’s hard to leave animals behind… any suggestions? Thanks Nancy

    1. Hi! Thanks for the compliment!

      Regarding your mother and the feral cat: taking one with her when she moves might be the best option and I know many people who have done that. It’s hard to trust that someone else will take care of them after your relocate, and we love them, despite some not allowing touch. The cat is obviously bonded to her in some way and prefers her garage, obviously. So I agree that relocating the cat with your mother might be the best for the cat.

      However, if the cat is truly feral and not socialized at all, the older they are the less likely they will adapt enough to be considered ‘tame’. It’s not impossible, but there are reasons why animal rescue and TNR groups don’t tame adult feral cats. It’s because IF they do tame, it can take YEARS, and it’s usually only to the person who socialized him, not to anyone else. And sometimes it can be dangerous as feral cats will attack if cornered or scared. It can also be traumatic for the cat, who may hide and poo and pee behind the dresser because they are just too scared to come out.

      I heard a story just today about an older lady taking in a feral cat to ‘tame’ and had to have a TNR volunteer come trap it from out of the house, where it was hiding behind the washer and dryer for 6 weeks!

      My only issue with people taming feral cats is sometimes it doesn’t work, and then you have a feral cat living inside with a human he is terrified of and hiding from 24/7. That’s pretty traumatic for a cat used to having freedom outdoors and no actual contact with humans. To them, we are predators. So to force one to live indoors with a human the rest of his life doesn’t always result in taming them and results in one terrified cat who is absolutely miserable.

      If it were me, I’d decide if the cat is truly feral or not. If the cat is truly feral (thus wild, and no petting allowed), I would not attempt to tame an older cat. If the cat has shown some sign of socialization, meowing, approaching me, rubbing on objects or the ground in front of me, etc., then I would try to tame them.

      Just give it some time with the cat in a small room, with a cave or hiding spot of some sort where he or she can run to hide. I do recommend using a large animal crate to keep the cat confined in at first, with a litter box and a little cat cave of some sort. This will not allow the cat to hide when your mother approaches. Feed treats and wet food when a human is with the cat only, don’t free-feed. Play with wand toys and laser lights, etc. Use a long object like a back scratcher or something to ‘pet the cat’ without being in danger of getting scratched or bit. Sleep in the same room with the cat. Just keep an eye out for signs of stress, such as hiding 24/7 and the cat has been in the room for weeks, which will include peeing and pooping while in hiding instead of using the litter box. If the cat is over-grooming, terrified, even after a long period of time, it might be more humane to start to let him or her go back outdoors (with a careful transition to being out there).

      Be absolutely certain the cat is rabies vaccinated! A bite from an unvaccinated feral cat is a pain in the butt for the human AND the cat, as it requires the cat to be quarantined for 10 days or euthanized to do rabies testing. So don’t risk that at all.

      Another concern is that feral cats and community cats who want to leave might actually cause property damage to attempt to get back outside. Some have torn up sealant by windows, blinds, sealant on the doors, the actual walls, carpet in from of the door, etc. This reason is why I let my two adopted cats back out into the barns. They were feral kittens, older ones, but they got so used to being outside and LIKED it, that they literally tried to knock the air conditioner out to squeeze through a tiny hole. They loved me and tamed, but they did not love confinement.

      It’s definitely up to you all, as I’m uncertain how feral the cat truly is. An eye should be kept on the cat’s state of mind. He or she might not be completely feral and might actually want to come indoors now (as is evident by the garage living). Maybe he or she is more semi-feral than actually feral and obviously bonded to your mother. So if anyone can tame a feral cat, it would be their caretaker!

      Just try to keep the cat’s wellbeing in mind. Oh, and definitely make sure the cat is fixed. Tomcats can have aggressive tendencies and are already stressed and it would be harder to accomplish. Female cats can be moody and unpredictable, especially after kittens or during heat cycles.

      Good luck!

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