Tips to Tame a Feral Cat
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Cats have a solitary nature and, if they are unaccustomed to human contact, they can be very distrustful. If you've recently adopted a cat from a shelter, or if you have found a feral kitten or adult cat that you want to make part of the family, you may have to tame them.
Taming a feral cat can be a long process and requires a lot of patience. If the cat is not used to people, you should be very cautious, as they could be dangerous. In this AnimalWised article we will share the best tips to tame a feral cat, with the help of a step-to-step guide.
Before you begin, it is fundamental that you understand the psychology of a feral cat. Cats can be fearful for several reasons, whether they are feral or not, and the taming process can take varying amounts of time. It will depend on the cat's previous experiences with people and their own particular character.
- Domestic cats who have become feral might be easier to tame than cats who have always been feral. However, the steps you should follow are the same in both cases.
- Cats that have been feral their whole lives, without any human contact, can easily become afraid of us. If the cat has a positive experience with you, they could become completely domesticated; on the other hand, if you scare them or try to capture them, you could end up scaring it off for good. Take a look at our article on what to do with a feral cat colony if the cat is living sociably, as the process is more complex.
- Cats that have had a negative experience with humans in the past are the most difficult to tame, and this applies to feral cats and domesticated cats alike. These experiences might be something terrible, such as abuse, or they might be more innocent, for example if children have chased them.
If a cat has been traumatized in the past, you might never be able to hold them cat or even stroke them. However, the cat's behavior could still improve with time.
- Kittens and young cats are the easiest to tame, except in certain cases. Very young kittens require special care and need to be socialized more extensively. In general, it is not recommended to separate kittens younger than four months from their mothers.
As you can see, taming a cat is more or less difficult depending on the cat's experience with humans and age. In order to start the process, take your time to observe the feral cat's behavior and temperament.
During the first few days, simply watch the cat and their body language. These are signs of fear and anger in cats, which signal they're willing to defend themselves:
- Ears pushed back
- Dilated pupils
- Flicking and twirling the tail
- Arched back
- Bristling, raised fur
If you notice any of these signs when you're near, do not approach the cat further. Here you can learn more about cat body language with pictures.
It is important not to put your health at risk: signs of rabies may vary, but if you see a feral cat that seems aggressive, disoriented and has convulsions or paralysis, you should should call 999 (or your local emergency telephone number) and avoid approaching the cat for your own safety.
The third step to tame a feral cat is to let the cat become used to you. Approach the cat a little and sit down; talk in a calm voice so that they get used to your voice. At the same time, offer them some food to eat. Do not try to touch or catch the cat.
After about three days you can try to get a little closer to the cat, throwing some treats for them to eat. If their body language displays aggression or fear, give them some more time and avoid approaching. The most important thing is to gain the feral cat's trust at their own pace.
If the feral cat still seems very fearful and distrustful, you could use a pheromone spray around the house so they feel more comfortable around you, especially if they are completely feral. However, avoid using the spray around the cat because the noise might frighten them.
When the cat lets you get closer without showing signs of fear or aggression, you can slowly approach them whilst they eat. Try to stroke the cat very gently, not with your hand but with a wooden spoon or spatula: this will allow you to establish contact while also keeping a distance so that the cat does not feel threatened.
It may take a few attempts or several days for the cat to allow you to do this. If the cat runs away, it is important not to run after them; just try again later.
Now is the time to establish direct contact with the cat. When stroking an untamed cat for the first time you should wear protective clothing, such as a shirt with long sleeves to minimize the risk of scratches and bites.
Once you have managed to pet the cat with a long spoon for a while, you can then try to touch them on the back of their head and shoulders using your hand. Avoid stroking the cat's chin, throat or belly if they are not completely domesticated yet.
When the cat trusts you enough and seems relaxed and calm, try to catch them in a towel or a blanket after stroking them several times. The time it takes to reach this point will vary from case to case, depending on the cat. Some may never reach this stage. If the cat tries to escape when you hold them, let them go. Otherwise, they may get hurt or really scared, ruining all the previous effort you made to tame them.
Over time, the feral cat will get more and more used to you. They will let you hold them when they trust you completely. Remember that this process will take longer if the cat is particularly suspicious and mistrusting of people - patience is key.
Now you'll be able to adopt the cat officially. Check your country's legislation to learn the process you must follow and don't forget to take them to the vet as soon as possible.
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