Can Feral/Alley Cats Get Too Old To Make Good House Pets?

Although miracles can happen, any completely wild cat over the age of five will not be able to adapt to living indoors.
Although miracles can happen, any completely wild cat over the age of five will not be able to adapt to living indoors.

Cats are incredibly adaptable creatures. They learn mainly in their younger years, before they are set in their ways. Sadly, many are abandoned every day through no fault of their own. Some are born to feral parents and know no other way to live.

Perhaps there is a stray (or feral) cat that you are thinking of adopting. If the cat is over five years old AND acts completely wild, avoiding all human contact, then the chances of being able to make a decent pet of the cat are very slim. They are better off being trapped, neutered and released back into the only life they have ever known.

How Wild Is That Cat?

Many feral or stray cats were raised as pets in homes with people and were simply abandoned. These cats, no matter what their age, WILL make good pets, because they have already learned that living indoors with humans can often be a good thing. These are the cats who walk right up to you, or will walk up to you given a few days or weeks of seeing you regularly.

These cats might act frightened, since they may have been abused, but they will also be openly curious about you, following you, maybe even begging food from you and rolling in the ground in front of you. They may let you pet them, but run of like a bolt of lightning when you try to pick them up.

A stray cat that acts like this can adjust to living indoors.

But if the stray runs from all people, will only eat any offered food when all people are gone and are over five years old, the chances are huge that moving indoors will terrify them. Cats can get phobias. It seems cats who have spent all of their lives outside under a big sky for five or more years are terrified of small confined spaces.

If You Want To Adopt Them Anyway

If you want to adopt this wild feral cat anyway, all power to you. Don't expect the cat to ever get affectionate with you or jump in your lap. They may spend months cowering behind the couch. They also will find it difficult (but not impossible) to learn to use a litter box. Here is a list of websites to help with some specific problems, but keep in mind they are mostly geared for cats under five years old.

If you are willing to put up with a cat like this, then go for bringing the cat in. Know that the cat will eventually have to go to the vet and get shots. If you already have cats, DO NOT bring in an older completely wild stray. They could be carrying illnesses like feline lukemia (FeLV) that are very contageous to your cats (but not to you).

If the cat goes into a panic attack (screaming, refusing to eat or drink, perpetual hiding, shaking, fainting) that lasts for two weeks, it's just not meant to be. It's kinder to let the cat go back outside rather than force the cat to stay in a place that clearly terrifies the cat.

Comments 10 comments

Michele Engholm profile image

Michele Engholm 9 years ago from Hutchinson

Rena, I always love your hubs. We have always fed the stray cats. Some have successfully become members of my family, some we have just loved from afar. You are right, the younger they are the better the chances you have. Great hub!


RenaSherwood profile image

RenaSherwood 9 years ago Author

Aw, you make me blush :-)


2besure profile image

2besure 6 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

I had a feral cat that I took in. I even managed to trap him to get him spayed. He ate and slept with us when he wanted,but when he wanted to go we let him out.

You could not pet him or pick him up, unless you wanted a scratch. We loved and accepted him on his terms, until one day he didn't come back.


James H. 6 years ago

Thanks for the info. I have a new friend hanging around who is sort of friendly and is exhibiting all the behaviors you have listed. I think he or she is about 3 or 4 years old and will eat from my hand. We'll see how it goes.


louise 5 years ago

i found a litter of feral one month old kittens, their mother had been killed and i kept the two boys and had them fixed at six months. they are the most devoted and loving cats ever. now at three years one of the boys has started spraying. he made no attempt to spray till a couple of weeks ago. he cheek marked everything and once he descovered how to spray he is spraying regularly. unfornunatly, we cannot have the house smelling like cat pee. we have to have him put down, which breaks my heart, i have never shed so many tears. i love this cat dearly, but can't live with the spraying. since he has never been outside, he dosn't know anything about killing mice or taking care of himself.


em 5 years ago

I'm happy that youve touched on the aspect of taking a adult stray and making him a house cat because it can be done. I own a siamese mix with blue eyes and a tail that is bent in half, tip touches the base of the tail...real bent. Anyway he was a stray with a hurt paw slowly dying from hunger when we decided to try and feed him. We put his food at the top of our fire escape and week after week we would go up a few steps till he ate with us sitting next to him. Then we put a pet bed had a food and water dish, fresh water is more important then food in the winter i feel. After 1 year i could brush,2 yrs I picked him up and he layed in my lap outside. 3yrs he jumped in our car and rode on my lap to get food and come back, about a 15min trip. We moved after 4 years and left oscar at our old place till we were moved then about 4 days after we brought him to our new home kept him seperated from our animals until he went to the vet. no carrier he just wouldnt have it so he slept in the back seat shots and clean bill of health then a month later he was neutered. Vet said he was about 7 years old. Long winded i know but i feel my oscar is a great story about adult stray adoption.. Hes now resting on my lap as I type and has no desire to go outside, none. He used the litter box great sometimes he misses the box when he poops but I forgive him. So please people take the time and it does take awhile but you feel so much love and hope and amazement from saving a adult stray and you really know how strong there love is for you....


emma 4 years ago

i have adopted two ferals approx age 7 years old, one you can stroke the other you can't they live outside in my garden and i even bought them a little house each for them to be sheltered from bad weather however i am planning on move and and i want to take them with me - my main concern would they adjust to another area.


Peter Geekie profile image

Peter Geekie 4 years ago from Sittingbourne

Dear renasherwood,

We currently have three totally mad Siamese cats that don't go out. We did try letting them loose in the back garden but they took one look and stomped haughtily back to their beds. I have had some experience of working cats, both in the Royal Navy on ship and ashore in the warehouses. These animals were given names, pay books (for that read food) vet care and lodging. Without exception they were well looked after and carried out their duties like a true professional. They had no need of human company but on a cold night watch they would curl up with you to mutual advantage. (see the story of Simon the ships cat of HMS Amethyst in the Yangsze River incident).

Kind regards Peter


Solaras profile image

Solaras 3 years ago

Voted Thumbs Up and Interesting! We adopted an older stray. I don't know if she had been a pet before, but she hung around the house for several years before anyone ever touched her. She would lead my father down the driveway to the mail box and then back to the house again. She never let anyone get within 15 feet of her, but she was very interested in us and the food my mother left out for our other cats.

Then one day I heard a strange yowling, and went looking to see who was injured. It was the little calico that no one could touch. She had dislocated her foot from her ankle. I sat down next to her and she crawled in my lap. I took her to the vet for repair, and when wee got home she became the sweetest most loving house cat ever. I guess she must have been owned before!


Snooker 3 years ago

While old cats can make the best of friends they can also wreak havoc on your life and lives of your family. My husband and I had an old Tabby-cat that was 15-16 years old. This thing was older than the hills and we loved it so much. The problem being that it was a feral cat and when we let it in the house it would terrorize the ferrets we keep and would piss all over our house to mark its territory. Long story short, one day it got in a fight with "Peaches," our girl ferret, my husband finally said that's enough of Mr. Kitty. He took the cat out back, skinned it and brought me the meat. I put the meat, which has a gamey flavor if you don't cook it long enough, in the crock pot with carrots, potatoes, celery, mushrooms, and seasonings and let it simmer for 7 hours (slow and low). We didn't tell the kids what they were eating because they would have missed the cat :( but the meal was a big hit! Everyone had seconds and there were no leftovers that night! So to answer your questions, yes, feral cats can get too old to make house pets.

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