People seem to be very negative about Feral Cat’s. People simply don’t understand why we bother use our time on them. But I can tell you that it is very rewarding when you actually manage to get trust from a feral cat. Here’s our view on how to tame a feral cat.
Foster Home For Feral Cats
So in Autumn 2015 we volunteered to be a foster home for a feral cat. This grey/blue cat was from a family of 9, abandoned at a fuelstation near a busy road (highway). All cats turned out be feral. Wild cats that don’t like contact with humans at all.
So we took one of these into our cat family house. At the time we had 4 cats, Tiger, Tabby, Kira and Nusse.
The RSPCA said they didn’t know the gender on this one. So we just let the cat out of the box in our house, not knowing whether we had a male or a female.
Usually we let new cats get used to our house and us and let them settle down a little in our bathroom. It’s a smaller space to get used to and we place a cat toilet, a food bowl and a water bowl down for them. After a while they go downstairs with the other cats and can roam (almost) freely. There are some zones we rather not have cats too much, such as the sleeping room.
Through websites we figured that it can take between one to two years before you earn a feral’s trust, so we were prepared for a long story.
So we had this cat and straight away people come with their comments:
– It is impossible to tame a feral cat
– Why don’t you just put those cats down?
– You will never earn a feral’s trust, they are too wild to be tamed
– They are not like your typical house cat
– Feral cats are dangerous.
The list goes on and on. These are just so non-welcome comments.
Taking Feral To Veterinary Clinic
This feral cat had to still get the check done, so we had to capture it. It showed what it was made off, so we had to use thick jackets and thick gloves to capture her and put her in a box. This is not something we enjoy, we don’t like to see a cat stricken by fear, but it has to be done.
At the vet we figured out it was a “she” and she was very healthy. She had a slight infection in her throat for which she got medicine. They did the entire package as they always do, spaying, anti worm injection, healthy vitamin injection, tattoo etc. We named her Felicia, which means Lucky in Greek.
Living Under The Sofa
I was very negative at first. I thought we would never earn any trust to that cat, but Theresa (my wife) continued her steady work with her.
Felicia lived underneath the sofa’s. She only came out at night or when we were gone to eat. We managed to record this by using an infrared security camera I have. It works excellent for this sort of thing. It is the type of camera you can control with a web browser or a phone and take screenshots with.
So Theresa went on her belly on the floor and tried to communicate with the cat by slow-blinking with her eyes to see if she would blink back (greeting).
She also fed Felicia either normal food or the special snack sticks you can get in shops. At some point Felicia allowed Theresa to cuddle under her chin and she accepted the snack bits.
Close to Christmas 2015 Theresa used a toy to see if she would react to that. To everybody’s surprise Felicia responded to the toy and started to play with it. First of all at her comfort zone underneath the sofa, but later on she started to come out from under the sofa.
A few days later we wondered where all cat toys had gone off too. The room was emptied. To surprise, we found them beside her underneath the sofa!
Many weeks later she started to jump furniture. Tables and on top of the sofa’s. We put a nice blanket down which she straight away loved and always sat on top of. Though, as soon as we came into the room or came down from the second floor, she ran away and back under the sofa.
We see that behaviour with many of the ferals we have had after her. Bobby runs also as soon as he hears humans coming and Angel, even though less feral, has also similar trades.
Later on in 2016 we got another cat in named Aron. This boy was very helpful in winning trust. He was the type of very furry and cuddly cat. Also a bit jealous so he always wanted cuddles from us, even though other cats had their attention moment.
Aron showed Felicia that we were no harm. He also took care of Felicia by licking her fur. Almost like babying her.
I try to use that same technique to tame both Bobby and Angel by cuddling with no one else than Felicia in front of them, showing I am not here to harm but to cuddle them.
As I sit downstairs with my PC I see them all the time, while Theresa sits upstairs and sees them when she is downstairs playing on her console or sitting in the livingroom.
She gets by the way visited by all sorts of cats in her office. Two cats live at the moment there too.
Four Months Later
Somewhere in January 2016 Felicia became more and more used to us being around and we could finally cuddle her without her bolting off. Sitting next to her wasn’t really possible though, but we could sit on our knees next to her and cuddle her. Her fur felt very rough.
In February Aron was adopted away, but Felicia got more and more used to us. She also started something new: Crying (mewing) for food in the morning. She would come upstairs to check on us, but as soon as we ‘spotted’ her she ran off downstairs. And while we had dinner in the kitchen, she sat with us on a chair.
This is something that is also happening with most of the other feral cats. They are nearby us when we are somewhere. Something I noticed outside with our non-feral cats is that they are also mostly nearby us when we are outside.
She also started teaming up with Kira and Nusse and she greeted us when we came home from a trip. She didn’t purr yet though while we cuddled her. We bought Felicia a little pink bed, with which she fell in love with. She finally allowed us to sit next to her on the sofa and loved more and more to be cuddled/stroked over her back. It became a routine of cuddling her every night before bedtime.
A while later Theresa’s parents came around for visit and the biggest surprise yet happened before our eyes: She sat on Theresa’s lap while her father was sitting next to her. So suddenly complete ‘strangers’ were also trusted. Only two days later we heard her purring for the first time. A beautiful sound to hear from a happy cat that once was feral.
We took Felicia over from the RSPCA so she can stay here forever and be our therapy cat for other people and other cats.
Nowadays her fur feels like silk. She loves to be outside exploring the garden and the outside world and she also enjoys being inside with the other cats. She still sleeps in her pink bed and on the blanket she started with. She also still plays violently with all the cat toys, especially near a table leg.
Felicia recently started jumping on our laps while we are sitting somewhere like a chair or on the sofa. She now acts like any other cat, ‘helping’ us in our work. She jumps tables and chairs, walks in front of our keyboard or tries to catch the cursor on the screen, or the things on TV of games on the video console.
Here are a couple of tips if you want to tame a feral cat:
- Give them food and feed them snacks manually. Win a cat’s heart through their stomach
- Lots and lots of patience. Unfortunately it takes a long time to earn trust. We were rather fast with Felicia. Bobby is now almost a year here and still we cannot get close to him.
- Greet your feral cat. Use the slow-blink. How? You slowly close your eyes and you slowly open them at the cat. If correctly and approved by the other side, you will get a slow blink back. (works also on non-feral cats!)
- Be Quiet. Lots of noise, especially sharp noises scares the cat. A noisy kid is not the way to go. Go slowly around them.
- Play. Or try to that is. With feral cats its best to start with either a laser pen /toy or a stick with rope and mouse/feather. The advantage of the rope version is that you can get closer to the cat underneath the furniture without having to poke them with a stick.
- Make sure they are comfortable and have safe places in your house. A cat bed or a simple blanket on the sofa, or on the ground. A higher place to rest, a little box they can hide into (cat tree is another solution).
- Spend lots and lots of time with them. Even if its not directly with them, they can still smell and hear and sense you when you are in the same room as your cat. Spend also some time eye to eye, or toy to cat with them.
- Be kind and loving and gentle. The reason they are feral is because they fall back to instinctive afraid of everything behaviour.
A Final Note
Not all feral cats were feral all their lives. Some of them have become feral because of a traumatic event, such as being dumped by humans at places, by a mom that got killed and the kittens remain or by simply not being taken care of for a longer amount of time.
To name a little example:
If we are on holidays and come back from holidays. Even though we got people that take care of our cats, some of our cats that go outside end up not coming back to the house until we come back home. The cats go astray and become a little bit wild/feral. We end up calling for them for hours and looking for them in the many hectares nature around our house/living area.
We hope to solve this problem in the near future by building a catio. Then only those who have to have a bigger area will be able to go beyond the catio and the others will stay within safe grounds.
Ever saved or kept a feral cat at home? How did that go? Did he/she get used to humans? Please share in the comments.