BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

How to Tame a Feral Cat: From Stray to Domesticated in 7 Steps

Image showing a wild cat
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

Some pet parents planned for the arrival of their new baby well before they went and adopted one, whereas it just happened to others by accident. If you’ve just had a fated meeting with a stray cat in your backyard and you have fallen completely in love with her, now is the best time to learn how to tame a feral cat. It won’t be easy—feral cats are not like the everyday cats; they are used to surviving alone in the wild and won’t accept you as their family easily—but it’s totally possible.

Having rescued a few stray cats off the streets ourselves, we can tell you that there is no hard and fast rule to this. It will take some time, effort, and quite a lot of patience—but, of course, if you put all your mind to it because you really want to share your home with the cat and have a peaceful coexistence with her, you will reach your goal in the end.

Relaxed cat looking at his owner while is taking a picture

Taming a feral cat can be a really rewarding experience. Not only will you help reduce the population of stray cats, but previously-feral cats are also known to be some of the most intelligent and loyal companions.

In this piece, we have detailed the most practical steps to help you tame a feral cat so they will feel comfortable in your presence and your home. By the time you’re done setting the things on this list in motion, you won’t be able to tell your cat was ever feral in the past. Before we tell you precisely how you should go about this mission of yours, first we would like to introduce you to some basic information about taming a feral cat.

Things to Know Before You Tame a Feral Cat

Contrary to popular belief, not all feral cats were born in the wild. Some of them might have been born as a house cat, but they escaped into the wild for one reason or another (abuse, abandonment, etc.). Because of this, most feral cats show at least some level of hostility and inherent distrust towards humans. This brings to mind the question of how difficult a task taming a feral cat really is.

How Difficult Is It?

The answer to this question is not etched in stone; it is dependent on you and the cat. Taming a feral cat is not like getting a degree. With a degree, you are already aware of how long it should take under normal circumstances. When it comes to taming a cat, depending on the cat’s personality, years of living in the wild, encounters with humans and other bigger predators, their level of upbringing, and other such factors, the time required can vary widely.

Two cats laying down and looking at the camera

While some cats would be warming up to humans by the end of the first month, you will have to go multiple months before getting anything tangible from the others. It is always advisable to go for the younger feral cats if you want to adopt one. This would be easier since they are not as used to living in the wild as their older counterparts and are not as opposed to change.

In addition, feral cat colonies that have been fed by humans will be easier to tame than those who have always been bullied or shunned by mean humans. To be honest and completely realistic, even after several months of training and taming, the feral cat you wish to adopt might still not be comfortable around humans. That does not make trying harmful, though. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Just make sure you are prepared for all the mental and emotional investment involved.

Is It Worth It?

They are out there, living wild and free, enjoying life as nature had planned it. Why should you want to have them for yourself? Especially when it takes so much time and effort? Why not go the easier way and adopt a cat from catteries or shelters? Many will argue that these cats are exposed to a lot of dangers in the outside world, and they deserve to have a home of their own.

Two cats in a park

Others will counter the same argument by suggesting that these cats are accustomed to the outdoor way of life, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. For that reason, the interested person should just find a way to care for them without having to tame them. What do we think then? We think there are plenty of reasons why you should consider adopting and taming a feral cat for yourself.

Reason #1: Reduce Disease Spread

Feral cats are exposed to a lot of disease-carrying substances (such as fecal matter). As a result, if they are infected, they will also produce said disease-carrying substances. This can be harmful to both the cat and other creatures in the environment. If you adopt them, you will be doing the society a service.

Reason #2: Reduce Feral Cat Population

You might think that adopting one feral cat wouldn’t make such a huge difference to their overall population, but you’re doing a bigger service than you initially realized. Something you should know about feral cats is that they breed, and they breed fast. Adopting them (and spaying them too) will reduce the potential feral cat population explosion.

beautiful feral cat in the woods

Shelters do this with that purpose in mind all the time, but there’s just not enough space. Feral cats breed much faster than what the current number of shelters can keep up with. If only everyone considered adopting one feral cat instead of purchasing from catteries, we wouldn’t have as many of them as we see around today.

Reason #3: Offer a Better Life

Many stray cats look like nothing more than a bag of skin and bones. In the wild, they will have to compete against other cats (and animals) for food, take care not to get preyed upon, compete for territories, withstand the battering of the elements, and so on. That is not the life for a cat. Capturing and taming them will be stressful for them initially, but it would not be as stressful as what they have to contend with in the wild on a daily basis.

Taming a Feral Cat

Now you’re well informed of what’s in store for you if you plan to adopt a feral cat. If you’re still dedicated to making feral feline your friend, we’ll help you every step of the way. The feral may still want to bite, scratch, and gouge your eyes out, but she doesn’t really hate you—she’s just not feeling very secure around you. Dig into the list below and see how you can turn that agitated fellow into a little purring ball of happiness.

Capture the Cat

This is a no-brainer. How else would you be able to tame the cat if you do not capture her in the first place? By “capture,” we don’t mean you should go the “handsy” way and snatch them off of the streets directly. It would be best if you could lure them in slowly.

A person trying to capture a cat

Make them comfortable enough around you that they are the ones approaching you instead of the other way around. Give them treats and play with them. We believe that if you love a feral cat enough to want to adopt them in the first place, they should be comfortable enough to act cute around you already. However, if that’s not the case—if you’re not familiar with the cat at all, you may have to go a bit extreme and consider using some cat traps.

When we talk about cat traps, know that we do not mean those that would end up hurting the cat. There are a ton of humane cat traps that you can use for this process. Find one that suits the cat and the purpose, then go for it.

Designate a Training Room

Even if the cat is quite used to being around you, she is still feral, and you need to give her a lot of space in the initial taming stage. The bathroom usually has the ideal amount of space for this purpose—not so much that they start getting ideas to escape.

Image of  a cat in a bathroom

Make sure the taming room is one that doesn’t have easy—if any—escape routes. This is a cat that has been keeping herself alive in the wild. Not accounting for doors, windows, and every other vent that she could use as an escape route is like insulting the cat’s intelligence.

Provide Essentials

Even though the cat will be confined to the training room, you don’t want them to feel like a prisoner. It is bad enough already that she doesn’t trust you yet—don’t add hateful feelings to the mix. Provide the cat with a litter box, feeding bowls/ troughs, water bowls, a bed, and every other thing an already-domesticated cat should have.

Provide a Cave

The whole idea of taming a feral cat is making her want to associate with humans, so why a cave, you ask? In the initial stages of taming, your new friend doesn’t know what you have in mind. She is used to being able to run away and hide when she spots predators in the wild. That is why your training room should replicate that in part.

Cat pods provide a perfect hideaway for any cat.

Make a cave (this can be done with the use of some old cartons) in the room that the cat can retreat to anytime she feels stressed or threatened by your presence. That will give her a feeling of safety, keeping her head calmer for your taming to take effect

Feeding

One of the most effective ways a mother bonds with her newborn is by breastfeeding. With a cat, the same feeding-bonding cycle is true. Especially if the cat is underweight (which is usually the case), provide her with a good serving of good food till she regains her body mass and settles at a healthy weight.

A persong feeding feral cats

As the cat eats, don’t make any move to intrude on her private space. Stay in the training room with her, but never go beyond a set boundary. While she eats, speak to the cat in a low, gentle, and reassuring voice. There is no template for this speech, so you can say anything at all. The goal is to get the cat used to your voice (and human voices in general) over time.

Touching/Physical Interaction

Building a physical relationship with the stray cat is the next step, and we think this to be the most important step in the taming process. As a rule, you must never try to touch a feral cat before she is ready.

Group of wild black, gray stripped cats

On your part, there is no telling how many bites and scratches you will take away from the experience. On the cat’s part, you might have just undone all the good work by making them scared of you. After all, they can’t tell what you want to do to them if you reach out all of a sudden.

When the cat has started allowing you to touch and pet her, go on with little sessions till they start to enjoy the attention and care. It is at this point that you can now consider picking up the cat.  For the first time, is advised that you pick the cat up to a low height. Going too high might startle your feline, so work on it slowly till you get there eventually.

House Training

Remember when we said you should provide your cat with essentials in the training room? If the cat still happens to be doing her business outside the litter box, potty-train her before you let her loose in the house.

A cat laying down on the floor

When cleaning her fecal matter, take some of it and place it in the litter box. That helps the cat identify her scent with that location. When you feel the cat has mastered the use of the litter, you can then think of letting the cat out of the training room.

Visit the Vet

You have done all the hard work, and little Fuzzy is ready to live with you in the house, happily ever after. To make sure your cat doesn’t have any underlying problems, take her to the vet.

cat at veterinarian visit

If you have properly tamed the cat, she should not find it hard to socialize with your vet at all. Get all common feral cat infections (feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus, etc.) ruled out, and have your cat pronounced safe.

Consider spaying your cat. You’re probably doing this partly to reduce the feral cat population, so you don’t want to end up adding to that by letting her birth litters. You both can then go back home and enjoy some treats to get the cat to warm up to you even more.

Wrap Up

The population of feral cats and the rate at which people consider adopting some of them today has necessitated this article. People are starting to realize that if they leave all the hard work to the shelters without doing their part to support the good cause, they will never stop seeing feral cats in all kinds of pathetic state wandering around the parking lot and the streets.

When taming a feral cat, patience is the absolute key. Everything on this list will work for you, but only if you have the patience to go with it. If you have friends around quite a lot, encourage them to approach the cat gently and pick her up. That will allow her to ease themselves better into a new world with big creatures that won’t harm her. Take good care of your cat like you’ve always wanted to, and very soon, Fuzzy will want nothing to do with the wild again.

Wild cat sitting in the middle of the road

Do you have a feral cat that you’re absolutely in love with? Or perhaps you are already living with a once-feral cat? If you have any tips and tricks on how to tame a feral cat, please share them with us in the comments section below. As you know, each cat is an individual, so the methods of taming them vary widely as well. We can never have too much information on this topic.

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

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