Living With Feral Cats
What are Feral Cats?
Feral cats are cats that haven't been properly socialized. What this means behaviorally is that feral cats are untame toward humans. Very often, feral cats result from the offspring of cats that were once owned and then abandoned. As a result, the kittens are not properly socialized to humans. There is a critical period during kitten development in which kittens must be exposed to human caretakers, otherwise they will be feral or at least semi-feral. This critical developmental period is generally from birth to 8 weeks old. If the first human exposure occurs past the age of 8 weeks this usually results in a feral or semi-feral cat. Sometimes older feral kittens can be tamed at least toward one human caretaker.
What to do if You Find a Feral Cat or Kitten
Many well meaning cat lovers will find feral kittens and take them to their local animal shelter. Unfortunately, feral kittens aren't very adoptable and most of the time animal shelters will destroy the feral kittens to make room for tame kittens that are more likely to be adopted. Fortunately, there are some shelters that will spay or neuter the kittens and then return the kittens to their natural environment. This at least gives the feral cat a chance to live without the ability of producing more feral cats. This program is called Trap/Neuter/Return, and it is being implemented in many areas to control the outdoor cat population without having to kill the cats. It generally works like this: The kittens are caught in a humane trap, such as Havahart live animal traps. The animal is unharmed. Then the cat is taken to the vet or the shelter that participates in Trap/ Neuter/Return and the animal is spayed or neutered and is usually given some vaccines. When the cat has recovered from the spay or neuter surgery the cat is returned outdoors in the same location where it was found. Trap/Neuter/Return is a much more humane way of dealing with feral cats and kittens than euthanasia.
Feral Kittens Can Also Make Very Rewarding Pets
Some people who find feral kittens take them into their homes as pets. This can be a very rewarding experience as you gain the trust of these special cats. The following is a story about a litter of feral cats (see photo below) that I took in to live with me:
The feral kittens and their mother (the white cat) from the story below in their new forever home.
I was feeding the mother cat for about a year, but everytime I'd try to catch her she would run away. I tried catching her in a live animal trap, but she wouldn't go in the trap. Finally, I was able to make friends with her and one day when she came to eat I picked her up and took her in the house. She started crying, most likely because she was afraid, and also because her babies were still outside. I told her that I'd get them for her. That night I put out the humane trap that I bought online from Tomahawk Live Trap. I baited it with food and waited. About 3 am I woke up to the sound of a little kitten crying because she was in the humane trap I set out. I brought her in the house and reunited her with her mother. She immediately stopped crying. I caught the remaining kittens using the same method over a span of 3 days. I took them all to the vet so that they could be treated for fleas, worms, and other problems. They received their vaccinations and when they were old enough they were all spayed or neutered, including their mother.
Eight and a half years later they all still live with me, including their mother. The kittens were about 10 weeks old when they were caught. For the first few weeks after I brought them in the house, all of the kittens used to hiss when I walked by them. Eventually they came to trust me and stopped hissing when they saw me. They are still semi-feral and I'm the only person they trust, however, for me there is nothing more rewarding than living with feral cats. They are all indoor cats and they are very happy. They seem to really love one another, perhaps because they are from the same family. However, they aren't exactly like other cats. For the most part you can't pick them up. One of the kittens lets me pick her up and kiss her on top of her little head, but the other kittens don't allow it (Actually, they are no longer kittens, but they still seem like babies to me). However, they do like to play toys with me and except for one of them they do like to be petted and to have their fur brushed. When I wake up in the morning the kittens are all on the bed and they come to greet me the very first thing when I come home. They love playing with toys and they love looking out the window. I put up a bird feeder and they really enjoy looking out the window at the birds. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing how happy they are. Vet trips can be difficult because they don't always allow you to pick them up to put them into the pet carrier. However, there are ways to do it. Sometimes you can throw their favorite toy into the carrier and they will run in to get it and then all you have to do is shut the cat carrier door. They are well worth the extra work and they are the best pets ever! There is nothing more rewarding then gaining the trust of these cats.
As you can see from the story above, feral kittens can make good pets, providing that
you don't force them to behave exactly like regular cats. So, another option besides
taking them to a shelter who may kill them, or even taking them to a shelter who participates
in Trap/Neuter/Return is to keep the little sweethearts as pets. For more information on feral cats
please check out Alley Cat Allies.