There are several ways to bring a cat into your family home. Getting a kitten from a breeder is the most popular choice. Adopting a cat from a shelter is an excellent way to help a feline in need. Also, there’s the option of domesticating a feral cat that spends time on your property.
There are also various dangers associated with adopting feral cats. Before you bring one into your home, they’ll need to be thoroughly examined by a vet. This guide discusses the risks and rewards associated with caring for feral cats.
What is a Feral Cat?
As Neighborhood Cats explains, feral cats are feline that are born wild. They have never been socialized to live with humans, and tend to live in colonies.
While strays sometimes live in colonies with feral cats, there is a difference between them. Stray cats were once pets, but find themselves homeless. This may because they got lost while wandering, or because former owners have abandoned them.
This means that a stray cat may be more open to becoming a pet once again. Feral cats, however, struggle with the idea of domestication. It’s completely alien to everything they know.
Are Feral Cats Dangerous?
Feral cats can be dangerous, for many reasons. The same can be said of any undomesticated animal, though. Do not assume that a feral cat means you harm. The truth is, the opposite is likely true. Most feral cats are afraid of humans, and will avoid contact wherever possible.
There are certain things to consider surrounding feral cats, however. Bear the following in mind before reacting to the presence of feral cats:
- Feral cats will not attack you unprovoked, but they will aggressively defend themselves. Never attempt to handle a feral cat. Don’t try to pet them, and certainly avoid picking them up with your bare hands. They do not understand human anatomy, or motivations. They will assume that your hand is a claw, and protect themselves accordingly.
- If you happen across a colony of feral kittens, keep a distance. Report the finding to animal control, but don’t attempt to remove the young cats yourself. If their mother is close, which is likely, she will not take kindly to your intrusion.
- Feral cats can carry disease. The worst-case scenario is rabies, though this condition is rare in the Western world. The cat may have various parasites that can affect humans. Their waste may contain the toxoplasmosis virus, which can cause blindness in vulnerable people. They could also be carrying commutable diseases. Many of these will not infect humans. If you have pets, however, they could become sick if they spend time with feral cats.
- If you have house cats, they may be bullied or attacked by feral cats. These felines live for territory, and have not been socialized. They may consider your pet the intruder on your property, rather than the other way around.
As the Humane Society explains, feral cats need to be treated carefully. This may not mean attempting to bring them into your home.
How to Tell if a Cat is Feral
There are many telltale signs that a feline is feral, as explained by Alleycat. You will typically be able to judge that a cat is feral by the following behaviors:
- The cat is extremely skittish, and appears afraid of humans. Never attempt to handle a feral cat.
- The cat will stay low to the ground, protecting every part of their body. They will also likely watch you carefully, in case they need to bolt without warning. Feral cats also rarely make eye contact with humans.
- The cat will be silent. No meowing, no purring, no chatting. They’ll do whatever it takes to avoid detection and interaction with you.
- The cat is nowhere to be seen during daylight hours, and becomes more active after dark. Felines are nocturnal by nature, and feral cats were never socialized to keep human hours.
- The cat has some scars or wounds. This is especially likely in males. Male cats are famously territorial and aggressive without neutering. Less than 2% of the feral cat population in the USA has been fixed. This makes it likely that feral males will often fight over territory and potential mates.
- The cat is well-groomed and tidy. Feral cats live by their instincts. Every day can be a battle to survive, and avoid attacks from predators and other felines. Regular grooming will mask the cat’s scent, making it easier for them to avoid detection.
- The cat is accompanied by fellow felines. Domesticated cats – including strays – are more independent. Feral cats live in colonies, and may hunt food in packs.
- The cat is missing the tip of their ear. This suggests that the feline was captured and spayed or neutered at some point. Feral cats are usually released after this, as they’re used to living free. This is referred to as the TNR approach, which stands for Trap, Neuter, and Return.
If you believe that a feral cat is visiting your property, you should take action.
Can a Feral Cat Become a House Pet?
Optimists would have you believe that anything is possible. Sadly, these individuals have never attempted to domesticate a feral cat. Once feral felines reach adulthood, it’s often impossible to turn them into pets.
If you adopt a feral kitten, however, it’s possible to tame them with help and patience. You will need to time this well, though. Trapping a feral kitten too soon is just as dangerous as waiting too long.
Like a kitten born to a pet, feral kittens rely upon their mother at birth. Just because a cat is feral, it does not mean that they are cold or unfeeling. A feral queen will be just as protective of her litter as a housecat. Arguably more so, as feral cats tend to live in all-female colonies. It’s quite common for multiple different felines to assist with keeping kittens fed and warm.
Removing feral kittens from their mother before the age of six weeks is risky. Equally, however, letting them age past twelve weeks could mean they become set in their ways. It’s difficult to know a kitten’s age, so there will be an element of guesswork involved.
If you do attempt to tame a feral cat, let them make the running. Never impose yourself upon the animal. Remember, they will very afraid of you. Keep your distance, and slowly gain the cat’s trust through food. A regular source of food goes a long way to settling a cat’s nerves.
An adult cat may never fully accept a human, and may always remain afraid of you. This is likely. If you can forge a bond with the cat, however, trap them and get them to a vet.
Before you even consider anything else, the animal must be given a once-over. A vet must treat any parasites or diseases before you attempt to take them home. It’s also highly advisable to have them spayed or neutered.
Socializing Feral Cats
If you manage to get a feral cat to come home with you, they’ll need to be socialized. Again, let us stress – this may not be possible. Some cats are born to be wild, having never known anything different. If you do want to share your home with a feral cat, follow these socialization steps:
- Give the cat his or her own territory in the home. This will ideally be an entire room, with plenty of places to hide. The feral cat must be kept separate from other pets.
- Keep the feral cat indoors. They will hate this, and may take it out on your furniture through scratching. This is one of the many instances that you’ll need to demonstrate patience in. However, the cat must spend time with you from a safe distance. It’s the only way they’ll start to trust and accept you.
- Get the cat on a strict feeding schedule. Food will be vital to the feline. Be vigilant about locking food away, and remove anything toxic to the cat. Cats unaccustomed to living as pets will worry about where their next meal is coming from. This means that they’ll try to eat anything and everything they come into contact with.
- Let your cat decide how much human interaction they want. You cannot force a feral cat to become a purring, lap-swelling pet. Fishing poles are ideal for play. These will allow your cat to utilize their hunting instincts, and avoid any handling.
Domesticating a feral cat will be a lot of work, and likely impossible. It’s certainly an admirable act of kindness. As a result, it could see the cat living much longer than they otherwise would.
What is a Semi-Feral Cat?
Some felines are classed as semi-feral. These are cats that live on the streets, but do not display classic feral behaviors. The most likely reason for a cat being semi-feral is that they are a long-term stray. Cats that were once pets but have grown accustomed to wild living take on feral traits.
This is a simple survival mechanism. Alternatively, a semi-feral cat may be a feral feline that has spent time around humans by proximity. Some feral felines grow to rely on friendly humans for food. Over time, this can soothe some of their rougher edges.
These cats will be slightly more confident around humans. A semi-feral feline will not be affectionate, like a housecat. They may, however, vocalize to humans and even make eye contact.
If you believe a cat is semi-feral, keep your distance. Let them make the first move. If the cat does approach, offer attention and encouragement. This will teach them that you are trustworthy.
Once you have gained a semi-feral cat’s trust, you can consider taming them. Follow the same advice as applied to feral cats initially; get them seen by a vet, and spayed or neutered.
How to Tame a Semi-Feral Cat
It’s slightly easier to help a semi-feral cat to adapt to a new home. Please read that again – we said that it’s slightly easier, not easy. You’re still going to need bags of patience, and plenty of help.
However, you can tame a semi-feral cat. As you’ll see, many of the steps are similar to those associated with feral cats. You are just more likely to have a little more success:
- Give the cat plenty of space. Your cat will not go from independent, free-roaming semi-feral feline to a purring housecat overnight. Give your cat their own room, so they can acclimatize. This will also mean that the cat always has somewhere to escape to. Hiding places are essential.
- Use food to your advantage. The fastest way to a cat’s heart is through their stomach. Get the cat in a regular feeding schedule, and leave them alone while they eat. Over time, providing food will help the cat bond with you.
- Speak to the cat. Cats recognize their owners by their voice, rather than our faces. It will be some time before the cat considers you an owner. If they get used to your voice, however, they’ll relax. The tone of your voice will become something they trust.
- Don’t force interaction. Speaking is fine. Physical interaction is most certainly not. Let the cat call the shots when it comes to physical contact. Don’t enforce any handling, and try to avoid even making eye contact.
Perhaps most importantly, you’ll have to be very patient with the cat. They will be undergoing a huge transition. The feline may destroy property, scratch furniture, and generally be a pain initially. You will need to ride out this phase if you’re to tame a semi-feral feline.
Should I Feed Feral Cats on My Property?
There are pros and cons to engaging with a feral cat. If you find such a feline on your property, make the best decision for all concerned.
The cold truth is that feral cats need human help to survive. Without a good Samaritan providing food and shelter, most feral cats only live around two years. A shelter does not mean inviting the cat into your home as a resident, though.
Many feral cats congregate in barns and sheds. Farms are a particularly popular location. Some landowners offer food scraps, encouraging feral cats to stick around and act as mousers. Avoid overfeeding a feral cat, though. If they become reliant on humans for their food, their hunting instincts will be dulled.
There is a downside to this act of kindness, however. Remember, feral cats live colonies. This means that if one feline finds a reliable food source, they’ll tell their friends. Before long, there will be a host of wild cats on your doorstep demanding food.
Feral cats are not shy about making their desires known, and they’re very active after dark. You could be kept up all night by wailing, crying and fighting. Even if this isn’t the case, they may wreak havoc on your garbage bins seeking food.
If you’re prepared to accept this, then you can help feral cats put by feeding them. The ASPCA also offers tips on making a winter shelter for feral cats. Just try not to get too attached. While feral cats can forge bonds with humans, they’re not comparable to that of a pet.
If a more plentiful food source or quieter shelter becomes available, the cat will move on. Don’t judge the feline for this. They are not rejecting your hospitality. They’re just acting on instinct, and trying to stay alive.
If you find a feral cat close to your home, resist taking them to a shelter. Cat shelters do fantastic work, and we would never suggest anything different. Unfortunately, they are also frequently stretched beyond capacity. Feral cats require special care in captivity, and many shelters lack the resources. As a result, feral cats are often euthanized.
Calling animal control is a better option, as this will result in the aforementioned TNR approach. This does mean that the cat will be returned to what is considered their territory, though. You may well be seeing them again.
If you are keen to convert a feral cat into a pet, seek professional advice. It’s not as simple as offering them a home, and plenty of affection. This could work with a stray, who may have fond memories of human interaction. Feral cats have no such associations, and will struggle to adapt.
Feral cats are not deliberately problematic, or worthy of disdain. The truth is, though, they are wild and have grown accustomed to independence. Unless you have experience in taming feral cars, it’s best to leave them to run free. There is nothing wrong with offering help and support to free-roaming felines. Expecting them to become a pet, however, flies in the face of everything they know.