Almost every day we can see cats roaming around scavenging for food, but the moment we go near them to offer fresh food and water, they would run away and hide as fast as they can.
Many animal lovers who find themselves in this situation wonder if stray cats and feral cats can be domesticated.
So, in case you are eyeing of helping a stray or feral cat nearby, this article can guide you with the first critical steps on how to tame a cat.
What’s the Difference Between a Feral Cat and a Stray Cat?
It’s not uncommon for us to think of feral cats and stray cats as the same, but in reality, several features set them apart. Essentially, they are cats just like our dearest feline buddies at home.
But if you dig deeper and find some time interacting with both types of cats, it won’t take long for you to realize that the biggest difference between them is their level of socialization with human beings.
A stray cat is simply as its name suggests, one that has been led astray outdoors. Stray cats are previously domesticated cats that were lost or abandoned.
As a result, they are left without a choice but to fend for themselves and to thrive outdoors exposed to the elements and other animals if they want to live.
Since stray cats had a home once, they’re used to interacting with humans, so, they may approach us for food and may even allow us to touch them or pet them.
Stray cats can also exhibit welcoming behaviors such as meowing and purring, and they would also make eye contact with humans. They may even be the first ones to initiate a friendly interaction with us.
Feral cats, on the other hand, live outdoors all their life. They were born in the wild, and they were never socialized with humans or had very little contact with us.
Feral cats are probably the offspring of other feral cats or even stray cats. Generally, they would avoid human interactions since they see us as potential predators just like the way they view other large animals.
Feral cats would also appear frightened or hesitant around humans, and will likely exhibit protective gestures such as staying low on the ground or crouching.
Additionally, feral cats would often exhibit little to no eye contact with humans. And they usually live in colonies in abandoned buildings, junkyards, and other areas near a food source, such as a restaurant.
What Should You Do If You Found a Feral Cat?
Whether a feral cat has found its way into your yard or you frequently see one walking around your neighborhood, there are some easy steps that you can take to ensure that both you and the kitty are safe.
Remember that feral cats have never bonded with humans, so, they often consider us predators. Hence, they could hiss at us, scratch us, or even attack us to protect themselves even if we don’t mean them any harm.
And since feral cats have been living outdoors their entire life, they are exposed to all the elements, including viruses, bacteria, and other opportunistic pathogens.
Hence, even if the cat is not showing signs of sickness, there’s still the possibility that he is incubating already. So, you should keep a safe distance and never touch or pick him up immediately even if you want to do everything that you can to help him.
Also, if a feral cat has randomly appeared in your yard, it’s safer to call local animal control to prevent the risk of being bitten or scratched.
While waiting for their response, you can leave a bowl of food and fresh water nearby that he can see, step away at a safe distance and just let him act at his own pace.
Can Feral Cats Be Domesticated?
Taming feral cats is a slow and difficult process, but it can be done. It is possible to domesticate and adopt feral cats as house pets, but this is also dependent on several factors including the cat’s age, personality, experiences in the wild, and degree of human contact.
Apparently, it will be harder to domesticate older feral cats than younger ones. We can say that older feral cats who have spent years in the wild have adapted and settled more to their living conditions compared with kittens or younger feral cats who are still learning the ropes of living independently.
Some feral cats, though, may never be comfortable with human interaction even after several months. And they won’t be as docile and friendly as domesticated cats. Feral cats may never wish to live indoors, but they may live in a less enclosed space such as a garage, utility room, or shed with easy access – as long as there are no humans around.
Additionally, other feral cats may be domesticated, but they will only bond with the human who socialized with them. Hence, they are not good candidates for adoption. It is also easier to domesticate feral cats that have reverted to feral behavior than feral cats who never had human interaction.
Deciding Whether to Socialize a Feral Cat or Not
Before you start socializing a feral cat, you should first consider your goal. Would you like to socialize a feral cat with the end goal of finding him a new home? As mentioned earlier, while feral cats can bond with humans, they can only do so with the people who domesticated them.
When placed elsewhere with other humans, they can regress and act like their old ways. Hence, feral cats with zero human interactions in the past are not suitable for adoption, unless the adopters are the ones who socialized them.
If you are planning to feed the cat regularly without the intention of adopting him eventually, you can take the role of a caretaker. You can call the animal control in your area, volunteer groups, or organizations with experience in TNVR or trap-neuter-vaccinate-return. You can try reaching out to organizations like the Humane Society and ASPCA.
TNVR helps control the population of feral cats, while also allowing them to continue living the life that they were used to by returning them to their colonies after the procedure. This way, they can live out their days in the environment that they are most comfortable in without you having to worry about unplanned pregnancies along the way.
As a colony caretaker, you can provide food, water, and shelter to the cats without necessarily touching or petting them, unless they would initiate. While doing so, you would also ensure the health of the cats, and make sure that they are well-nourished.
Alternatively, if you have bonded with the cat for some time and you already got his trust. You may not need to trap him since you can already touch him without the danger of being scratched. In this case, you can simply take him or her to the vet for his/her spay/neuter procedure and vaccination.
After the surgery and his shot, you will be advised to place the cat on cage rest to ensure his faster recovery and avoid infections. After a few days or after a week, you can release him to his usual hiding area and/or take him back to his alley cat allies.
Additionally, it’s important to consider the health of the cat before deciding to socialize him. By observing the feral cat at a distance, you can have an idea of whether or not he is sick or perfectly fine. You can watch out for symptoms of rabies, which include drooling, loss of muscle control, aggression, and other odd behaviors.
Also, even if the cat appears healthy, you should never disregard the possibility that he can be a carrier of feline leukemia or feline immunodeficiency virus. So, avoid going near him. Change your clothes and wash your hands after any contact with any feral cat, especially if you have indoor cats at home.
How to Tame a Cat?
Taming a feral cat takes time. You’ve got to earn his trust little by little. Avoid rushing it, because any wrong move can take you back to square one. And you definitely don’t want to start all over again.
Having said this, while it’s difficult and it takes time to tame a feral cat, it is still possible. Below are seven steps that will steer you in the right direction in taming and/or domesticating a feral cat:
1. Observe the Cat’s Overall Condition
Get to know the cat first for a few days to determine if you can’t get close to him or not. If you think that he is dangerous, or is sick, it’s safer to keep your distance and call the animal control center or humane society, instead.
You can also observe the cat’s body language for cues. Some signs that you need to back off are ears that are flattened back, switching tails, arched back, and fur standing on end.
A relaxed and content cat, on the other hand, has ears that are bent forward, and his tail will be up in the air. A relaxed cat will also have his fur flat, and he may even lie flat on the floor, stretch, and roll on his back.
As mentioned earlier, you should also observe for signs of illness. Feral cats and kittens are generally unvaccinated, so, they may carry the risk of the deadly rabies virus, as well as other feline viral infections.
2. Slowly Let the Cat Adjust to Your Presence
Let the cat make the first move. And once he goes near you, provide him with a positive interaction. Allow the cat to be comfortable with the sound of your voice, and with your presence. If he looks welcoming to taming, sit down near him and talk in a soft, gentle voice.
At this time, you can start establishing a positive routine with the feral cat with the help of tasty canned food or crunchy kibble. Feed him at the same time and in the same place every day. He will start trusting you as each day passes by as he begins to associate you with the positive experience of eating.
Remain nearby as the cat eats, and observe from a distance. Once he gets used to your presence, let him go closer to you to get his food. Avoid having eye contact with him because he may see it as an act of aggression.
Additionally, you should avoid touching or picking up the cat until you sense that he is ready. You can take cues from his reactions. If he backs off, you also need to back off. Again, be patient and go slowly but surely. If you move too quickly, he may act defensively, which can lead him to scratch or even bite you.
3. Make Contact with the Cat
Once you notice that the cat is more relaxed with your presence, you may try touching him slowly. However, to be on the safe side, it’s best if you can wear thick gloves, long sleeves, and long pants to minimize the chance of being scratched or bitten.
As he becomes more comfortable with your presence, you can try picking him up with a towel or a blanket. It may take a long time for you to get to this point. And some cats may never be tamed enough to allow humans to pick them up. It really depends on the cat.
4. Take the Cat to the Vet
Once you are able to eventually handle the cat, take him to the vet immediately. This is important, especially if you are planning to take him home with you, and you have other pets at home.
At the vet, you can get his health evaluated, get him vaccinated, have him tested for common feline viral infections, and have any other treatments that he may need.
You can also ask the vet about flea and worming treatments since the cat has been living outdoors his entire life.
Depending on his age, you may also schedule his spay or neuter procedure to prevent the birth of feral kittens. This is important whether you intend to adopt him or return him to his colony.
5. Respect His Space
Once you have welcomed him into your home, make sure that he has his own space where he can run to whenever he wants to hide.
Chances are, he may want to be alone, especially during the first few days as he is still adjusting to his new living environment. Giving him his own space also prevents her from being cornered.
You should also avoid giving him a huge space, as it can also be overwhelming. A small room, with fresh food, water, and a litter box is enough.
However, you should ensure that the room is cat-proof by removing fragile or potentially harmful things, such as wires that could be chewed.
6. Continue Taming Him with Food
This time, you can let him lick food from your finger. You can also pet him while he is eating his food, and then, slowly transition to petting him without food.
You may also want to start a regular petting session with him after he is done eating and is full. This way, you can eventually touch him whenever you want, and he would still enjoy it even if there is no food involved.
7. Slowly Introduce Him to Other People
If you are taming the feral cat for adoption, you need to make sure that he is socialized with other people besides you. Hence, you should start allowing one person at a time to spend moments with him.
Just like what you did with him, these people should start feeding him with a dish and eventually with their fingers.
Eventually, he will be accustomed to their voices, scents, and actions. So, when the time comes, they can easily get comfortable with their new fur parents.
Do Feral Cats Pose Health Risks to You and/or Your Pets?
It’s difficult for us, humans to catch a disease from feral cats since we are not often in contact with them, and feline diseases are usually transmitted between cats alone.
However, feral cats can carry diseases, worms, and viral infections, and they can pass these infections to your domesticated cats at home.
You should also be aware that cats are territorial, so, both the feral and your indoor cats can be stressed by each other’s company. It may take weeks or even months for them to get along.
In some cases, they may never tolerate each other’s presence. So, you may need to relocate the feral cat elsewhere, or you can start socializing him with other potential adopters.
Most feral cats may run away if they see humans approaching them. However, with patience and a regular feeding schedule, it’s possible to tame and domesticate them with the end goal of having them as house pets.
Of course, this depends on the cat. As mentioned earlier, adult feral cats are harder to tame since they are already used to living independently without human contact. Nonetheless, it’s still possible to tame them.
However, if you want to help adult feral cats, you can trap, neuter, vaccinate, and return them to their colonies, instead of adopting them and keeping them indoors. You can also act as their caretaker by giving them food and water regularly, and watching over their health and general condition.
It may be difficult for us to accept, but some cats are happier living outdoors. And the best that we can do to help them is to control their population, assist them by giving them food and water regularly, and look over their health even from afar.
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