Can Feral Cats be Tamed?
So you've found a stray cat or kitten outdoors that you'd like to bring into your home to care for. However, it isn't as tame or friendly as you'd like it to be. So how do you go about taming this cat or kitten?
First of all, lets define the term "feral cats." Feral cats are cats or kittens that haven't had enough exposure to humans to be properly socialized toward them. As a result, they are very fearful of humans. For more on feral cats see the article Living With Feral Cats.
If the cat or kitten you want to bring indoors is feral, you will have a very hard time catching it. There are several ways to do this, but the easiest is usually to start putting out food for the cat to make friends with it and to keep it coming around. Sometimes you can make friends with what seems like a feral cat in this way. However, if the cat truly is feral you will most likely have to catch it in a humane live animal trap. For more on catching stray and feral cats see the article How to Catch Stray Cats.
How to Tame the Feral Cat or Kitten Once You've Caught It
The first thing to remember is that a feral cat or kitten is going to be very frightened. It is best to put it in a room by itself with a litterbox, a water bowl, and some food. The cat or kitten will instinctively know how to use the litterbox, especially if the litterbox is in an easily accessible location. You should leave the cat or kitten in the room by itself for a few hours so that it can explore the room and get used to its new surroundings. Make sure that there are no exits out of the room or open windows.
You might want to use this time to call and make an appointment at your veterinarian's office to get the cat or kitten examined. Anytime you bring in a stray it needs to be seen by a veterinarian. Stray cats and kittens typically have all kinds of internal and external parasites and these will need to be treated for your cat to be healthy. You should also get the cat checked for other diseases such as feline leukemia and FIV. The cat will also need vaccinations.
It is a good idea to leave a pet carrier in the room with the cat. Keep the door to the carrier open and place some towels or other bedding on the floor of the carrier. Most likely the cat or kitten will use the carrier to hide in when you enter the room. Having a place to hide from you will make the cat feel more secure in his or her new surroundings. This will make it easy to get the cat to the veterinarian's office too. If the cat is hiding in the pet carrier you can simply shut the carrier door and take it to the veterinarian's office. Typically, this only works once, however, because the cat will learn that it can get trapped in there.
If the cat hides in the carrier, don't try to coax the cat out. You should speak to the cat in a quiet voice when you go into the room. Canned food also works wonders for making friends with a feral cat. Don't make any load noises or sudden movements that will frighten the cat. Try to move slowly and to speak softly.
If the feral cat you are trying to tame is very young (under 10 weeks) then you should begin to handle the kitten so that it can get used to it. I would try petting the cat first to see how it is going to react before trying to pick up the cat.
If the kitten is older than 12 weeks, or is an adult cat, then the cat will probably never be fully tame. However, this doesn't mean that the cat can't be successfully kept in your home. It is very possible to keep a happy feral or semi-feral cat in your home. In fact, they are usually much easier to deal with than tame cats. Tame cats generally walk all over your computer while you are typing and want to be involved with everything you are doing, but feral cats don't do these sort of things. Feral cats are the easiest cats to live with because they are very good at entertaining themselves.
The key to having a happy feral cat in your home is to let it have as much space away from you as it wants to.
For example, I took in a feral kitten (the cat in the AboutCatsOnline.com logo) when she was twelve weeks old. Unfortunately, this was a little too old to be able to tame her fully. Her name is Tinypie and she is a very happy cat. I let her have just as much space away from me as she wants. It took her over two years to trust me enough to let me pet her, but now she really likes it. She will be three years old next month. However, any contact I have with her is always on her terms. She doesn't let me pick her up or anything and she only lets me pet her at certain times of the day.
Keep in mind that all cats have different personalities and so it isn't only the age of the feral cat or kitten, but also their individual personality that determines how easy they are to tame. Some cats are less fearful than others and are easier to tame. I also took in all of Tinypie's siblings. Some of them are less fearful than she is and so they were easier to tame. One of her sister's will even let me pick her up and kiss her on top of the head, despite that they were about the same age when they were caught.
Another step you can take toward taming your feral cat or kitten is to sleep in the same room that you are keeping the cat in. After the cat is forced to spend 7-8 hours with you each night and nothing bad happens to it, the cat will begin to learn that you are not going to harm it. Most likely you will wake up some morning and the cat will be sleeping right next to you.
You should also set aside a little time each day to play with the cat. Interactive cat toys work best, but you can even roll little balls to the cat. If you play with your cat at about the same time each day the feral cat or kitten will learn to expect this and to look forward to it each day. Even feral cats or kittens that can't be fully tamed really enjoy playing with cat toys with their human caretaker each day.
The most important thing to remember is that any bad behavior from feral cats only originates from fear. If you go slowly in trying to tame your feral cat and try to make the cat feel secure, then the cat will be happy.
Also, remember that most feral cats that are first exposed to humans after the age of 10 weeks will probably never be lap cats.
However, if you would like to give a feral cat a good home, they can be successfully kept in your house as long as you give them the space away from you and other humans that they desire.
Then your feral cat can end up happily living indoors with you like the little cutie below:
She started out as a feral kitten (10 weeks old), but now is almost as tame as any other domestic cat.
Below is another cat (Samuel) that was so afraid when I first caught him that he wouldn't come out of the upstairs closet for 6 months. Now he doesn't seem to be frightened at all. He still doesn't let me pet him though, but at least he is no longer afraid so we are making progress. Samuel was already 2 years old when he was caught and so I don't know what his history was or if he was ever owned by another person or not.
It is important to note that not all feral cats become as tame. Pickletiny's sister Laura (the orange cat below) has never become fully tame, not even after 9.5 years of living in the same household. Laura and her sister Pickletiny were caught about 3 days apart. Laura has never become tame, but her sister Pickletiny is very tame so sometimes it just depends on the cat's personality. See Laura's photo below:
Even though the orange cat (Laura) has never become fully tame, she does just fine living in the house with us as long as we give her some space and don't try to force any sort of interaction with her. Getting her to the vet is a little challenging, but otherwise she does just fine.