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Cat Training: Feral Cats

Updated on June 9, 2012
This is the type of cat behavior I'm hoping to achieve!
This is the type of cat behavior I'm hoping to achieve! | Source

Cat Training Tips

I’ve never been very interested in cat training, so I’ve never really felt a need to find cat training tips. That changed recently. We’ve been feeding several feral cats for a couple of years, and I didn’t mind doing so, but the feline population is nearing an unsustainable number. For me, training a cat didn’t mean teaching one to jump through hoops – I just wanted to teach them to be friendly and trusting. We’re spending a lot more money on feeding cats that don’t actually belong to us than we spend on feeding two Great Danes that do belong to us. If you’re thinking that perhaps we should just discontinue feeding feral cats, that’s not an option. I don’t let any creature go hungry around me – human or animal. I had to somehow tame these wily critters so that I could find them homes and/or get them sterilized. If you have a feral cat problem, you might want to try some of my cat training tips.

two of our feral cats
two of our feral cats | Source
feral kitten
feral kitten | Source
another feral cat
another feral cat | Source

Feral Cats

I’m not sure where all our feral cats came from, but I have a pretty good idea. We have a quirky neighbor who lives across the street, and she once had numerous cats. One day she decided she didn’t want to feed them anymore, and every time the cats would come in her yard, she’d chase them away with a broom. The unwanted cats spread across the neighborhood, breeding and having kittens. I’m pretty sure our feral cats are descendants of the original unwanted felines.

I’ll never understand how people can do this. How can anyone just up and decide one day that they no longer want to care for their pets? And if they do make that decision, why not call local animal shelters to come get the animals, instead of expecting the animals to fend for themselves? The neighbor’s cats were loving and docile, and I’m sure local animal shelters could have found good homes for some, if not all, of the felines. Now, the resulting generations are wild as minks.

My granddaughter wants this one.
My granddaughter wants this one. | Source

Catherders – Herding Cats

My grandchildren are wannabe catherders. They love animals, and when they found out we had two litters of kittens, the kids were delighted. Of course, they were itching to pet and play with the kitties, but the kittens wanted no part of it. The kids decided that since there were four of them, they could drive the kittens into a human trap.

As the grands went about herding cats, I couldn’t help but recall the famous catherding commercial from a years-ago Super Bowl commercial. I think it’s the best commercial of all time, and I’ve included the video so you can see it, just in case you missed it.

Herding cats isn’t easy, and the grandchildren had no luck in their endeavors. Maybe it’s because they didn’t have horses? Next time, I suppose they could saddle up the Great Danes and ride them. Actually, it’s probably a good thing the kids weren’t able to catch the kitties. I picked one up the other day and thought I was tangling with a buzz saw!


Animal Shelters

Okay, the simple solution to our feral cat problem would be to call one of the animal shelters, right? Yeah, we tried that. They came and set out live traps that were baited with canned cat food. When a cat was captured, we were to call the shelter, and an employee would come get the cat. I had a different plan, however. I figured once a cat was captured, I could tame it. I could at the very least take it to our veterinarian to be spayed or neutered and vaccinated. That way, the cat could live out the rest of its life without adding to the unwanted feline population. Sounds good, huh? Things didn’t work out as planned.

Our feral cats always have dry food available.
Our feral cats always have dry food available. | Source

Feral Cat Traps

The feral cat traps the shelter brought were live traps - wire cages, more or less. A can of food was placed at the closed end of the cage, and when a cat walked into the cage to get to the food, it stepped on a mechanism that triggered the opening to close. Hence, the cat would be trapped.

Most of our feral cats were too smart to go into the feral cat traps. Finally, we noticed that the food in the traps was disappearing, although we had no cats to show for it. Okay, we got defective cages, so the shelter brought out a couple of new feral cat traps. After a couple of days, we caught a cat – our neighbor’s. We released it, of course. After days of catching no cats, the shelter came to pick up the traps, saying they were needed elsewhere. I guess we’ll just have to buy our own feral cat traps. After researching, I think Havahart traps are our best bet.

Feral Cat Traps - Havahart Traps:

Cat Behavior

When training a cat, you need a basic understanding of cat behavior – especially of feral cat behavior. Cats are secretive and suspicious by nature, in order to survive. Cat behavior is much different than dog behavior. Dogs are predators, while cats think more like prey animals. Yes, I know that felines are predatory, but house cats are preyed on by dogs, coyotes, and occasionally foxes. Some animal experts believe that cats aren’t completely domesticated, and I agree with that assertion. Even loving pet cats have a mini-tiger lurking somewhere deep inside. Don’t believe it? Consider the following experiment that I’ve seen in action on numerous occasions.

Let’s say you find a litter of homeless puppies that are about four weeks old. They’ve never been in contact with humans. What happens when you pick up one of the pups? Nine times out of ten, the puppy won’t try to bite you, and it won’t go berserk. It might be frightened, but it probably won’t attack you. Try the same thing with feral kittens, and you’ll see real cat behavior in action. Such kittens will most likely do everything in their power to escape, including scratching, clawing, and biting.

This old tom has been a tough nut to crack.
This old tom has been a tough nut to crack. | Source
Cat training (taming) success!
Cat training (taming) success! | Source

How to Train a Cat

With cat behavior in mind, how to train a cat becomes easier to understand. Many cat lovers will disagree with this, but there’s a huge difference between training a cat and training a dog. I’ve trained many canines, and I believe that most dogs want to please their humans. Cats, on the other hand, are more interested in self-preservation. Most felines don’t care about pleasing humans – they care about pleasing themselves. Felines are much more independent than are canines, and they’ve never been as closely associated with man as dogs have been over the centuries.

With cat training, think like a cat: What’s in it for me? I used this approach with my cat training tips to tame our wild kitties. For a long time, whenever we went into our carport, which is our “cat haven,” the animals would scurry as soon as they saw us. There was no reason for them to stay. We always leave out an unending supply of dry cat food, so the cats didn’t think they needed us for anything. I upped the ante by introducing some canned cat food.

I’d place a can of food on a paper plate and call “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!” then I’d have a seat on the carport, about ten feet away from the food. You have to be patient for this. When the cats found the food, I’d remain in my chair and just talk to the cats as they ate, getting them used to my voice. At first, any movement I made would make the cats run away, but they became more and more used to my presence. When I left, I’d take any of the uneaten food with me.

How did this apply to cat training? It gave the cats a reason to tolerate my presence. They began to associate me with something good. After a few days, the cats would come running as soon as I called them. Cats might be hard to train, but it’s not because they’re stupid.

I gradually began to move the cat food closer to my chair. The key word here is “gradually.” Once I got the food to within five feet of my seat, I had to move it in inches. I continued to talk to the cats as they ate, and I was careful not to make any sudden movements. I finally had the cats eating at my feet, but I let them get used to that before I attempted to actually touch one of them.

I began trying to pet the “least wild” cat. At first, whenever I attempted to touch her, she’d run away. After several days, however, she’d allow me to touch her, but she didn’t like it. She finally got to the point where she didn’t mind being petted. In fact, I can pick her up now. I continued with my cat training tips with the other feral cats, and I’m making progress with all of them. The toughest has proven to be the old tomcat. He’ll allow us to briefly pet him sometimes, but sometimes he won’t. He doesn’t even want us petting the other cats. When he’s dining at our feet and we stroke one of the other cats, old Tom sometimes tries to slap our hand away.

Remember that with cat training, patience is a real virtue. Actually, it’s a necessity. You have to gain the feline’s trust, which isn’t always easy. Feral cats might have been abused by other humans, so they see you in the same light. You also need to make it worth the cat’s while by offering them something in return for their tolerance and eventual acceptance. In our case, dry cat food would never have worked, but wet food did. My youngest granddaughter wants two of the white kittens, so I’m eager to get them “human trained,” but I can’t get in too big a hurry. Success with cat training as taming feral cats has to be measured in small increments.

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    • profile image

      Karen Segal 

      2 years ago

      I'm a cat lady. I like your technique. Just got 2 black and one grey tiger about 8 weeks. I should say lions. Nails trimmed, bathed and dried but still lions. Some calming drops next. I am going to sit their for the next meal. Younger is better 6 weeks and not so ferocious. I had 20 last year. Started 6 1/2 yrs ago with a now felon neighbor killing the cats she didn't want to fix as kittens. So glad she moved. 88 cats fixed tamed or released. Many kittens got new homes.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      4 years ago

      I've worked with numerous feral kittens and cats and with love and lots of patience, they can be tamed. Just has two we worked with go up for adoption and we're currently working with a mother cat and kitten. Progress has been a bit slow, but it's working. Can pet both of them now and we can hold the kitten and play with her. I'm guessing in about 2 weeks they'll be ready to go up for adoption.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      A few year aago I took in a 1 month old ferel kitten, most likley born to ferel parents. He was very lovable and sweet. When he was about a year old ( he was a neutured cat) he started bitting me and my family occasionally. My vet said there is nothing wrong with him. My animal behaviorist told me some training techniques to use. About another year goes by and this cat starts to act diffrently. First we didn't want to sleep next to me anymore, he stopped using his litterbox ( It was always clean and he was the only cat) then he wasn't greeting me at the door and then he just wanted to be in a room alone. My animal behaviorist told me what I should do and My vet said he's perfectly healthy just crazy. I didn't believe him. One day he didn't greet me at the door. He just sat in a corner and that was not like him. I picked him up and he almost took out my eye. ( He was a 22 lbs cat double pawed 6 digits). After working months with an animal behaviorist and talking to my vet about his behavior. They told me some ferel cats will always be ferel. It's taking a wild animal in your home, evenually there going to be wild. Now if I find ferel kitten's I just take them to the humaine society. The same place I took my cat. It's hard to believe that a sweet lovable cat could tun into such a monster. So be careful when taking in ferel cats.

    • adjkp25 profile image


      7 years ago from Northern California

      We have a few feral cats that adopted us. We are pretty confident that at least one of them are abandoned house cats because she never had a problem with us. The other two have really come around. We took it very slow with them to show them we weren't a danger and they have warmed up to us since.

      Voted up, useful and beautiful

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 

      7 years ago from Planet Earth

      Awww - you are so sweet to care for these kitties. We have an entire 'underground' group of people in Austin who find and care for feral cats. They capture them briefly enough to get them spayed or neutered (and to get shots) and then set them free again. These volunteers know where the kitties hang out and they place food for them regularly. So touching.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Very informative hub. All the cats are beautiful. Did you have a problem with fear. Not coming up to the food.Fear of human voices, running when talked to?

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Great article!

      A note of caution: feral cats are almost 100% infected with T. gondii - a parasite with no cure... Be sure to wash hands after petting one! They can and do infect "domesticated cats."

      Most cats show no signs of infection as do all warm-blooded animals, as well as humans.

      Vets will tell you once a cat has been infected with T. gondii, it will not be infected again - not true. Re-infection increases their infectiousness abilities.

      Pregnant women should not be around feral cats - especially during the first trimester! Horrible things may happen to the unborn child... some consequences not realized until years after their birth...

      Toxoplasmosis is what we get when we are infected Toxoplasmosis Gondii (T. gondii). Over half of the human population is infected. It changes our behaviors. T. gondii changes entire cultures... Most motorcycle riders are infected. They have "risk-seeking" behaviors... People infected have 2.5 times more car wrecks...

      It appears brain cancers have a cause and effect with T. gondii. 70% of all schizophrenic patients are infected with T. gondii... All of the dead seals in Morro Bay California are infected with T. gondii. Morro Bay has the highest seal death rate in California. The local sewage plant dumps "treated" sewage offshore. They are aware (I have talked to them) of the possible cause and effect... They are building a newer, better sewage treatment plant. (chlorine does not kill T. gondii oocytes).

      Please investigate the proper care and feeding of cats. T. gondii must reside in a feline's intestine to sexually reproduce. Entire drinking water supplies has been infected by cougar feces... (Canada an example). T. gondii has also been discovered in farm well water...

    • alliemacb profile image


      7 years ago from Scotland

      Your granddaughter isn't the only one who wants the little white cat - it's adorable. We don't have a problem with feral cats where I live, but the information is useful nonetheless. Excellent hub.

    • Ann1Az2 profile image


      7 years ago from Orange, Texas

      Habee, I know in Galveston County, TX, if you bring in a feral cat to one of the clinics in La Marque,they spayed or neuter them for free, if you bring them in the live traps. Once they re-cooperate, you just turn them loose again, but at least they aren't multiplying. I've got 4 stray cats that I've raised myself, but two of them had a feral father. He was still roaming the neighborhood when I left Galveston Country. All of mine are fixed. I don't know why people don't get it done. There are discount clinics all over that don't charge but 30 to $40, and that's all they do, so they are good at it. You don't have to take them to vets that charge an arm and a leg. Good hub on a subject that needed to be told!

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Habee, really liked your story and its tips. Y'all have good hearts. The cat sticking it's head out the wood seat or old Tom looks exactly-in the head- lika young feral Tomcat i took in six months ago who is now a dyed-in-the-wool homeboy. He stood up to the big dogs over the scraps thrown out and won me over. Still can't get him to go in the litter box though. He meows to go outside for his biz. Extra extra nice one habee.

    • profile image

      Kattonic Cats 

      7 years ago

      I have four formerly feral cats living here right now. Your advice is excellent. Cats always want to know "what's in it for me" even when they realize that being pet and having your ears rubbed is a good reward for sitting by a human. The newest was an easy capture, he must have lived in a home before showing up at my place beat up, hungry and covered in burrs and knots. I did just what you did, dry food all the time but he had to tolerate me if he wanted that canned food. Then, a week ago, he walked into my house like he'd been here forever. The other cats don't really like him yet, but he was just neutered and still smells like a tomcat. They're not attacking him, they just don't want him in "their" space.

    • Nettlemere profile image


      7 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      Loved the advert - living in the UK I'd never seen it before. Really enjoyed reading about your dedication at training the cats. I took in a feral cat and kittens once, had the cat spayed and the kittens tamed nicely. The cat ran away, but to a garden a few streets away where they kept a milking goat - she was lured by the milk initially and they fed her too so I knew she would be ok.

    • dwachira profile image

      [ Danson Wachira ] 

      7 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      I love cats, i just like their smiley look plus they are good pets. I feel sorry for what happened to those cats and how badly they were treated by the neighbor. Nice tips habee, i'll surely try some of your tips. Thanks for sharing.

    • Lucky Cats profile image


      7 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Ahhhh, habee....this hub was written for me.....I concur and agree w/this..there are many rewards for taking the time to care and patience is required to soften the feral nature of abandoned, abused and stray cats. Just wonderful!! It CAN be done..I know this as a fact. Thank you for such a great hub! All ups!! from another Cat Lady!

    • fpherj48 profile image


      7 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Very good hub habee.....I thought immediately of a good friend of mine from Ohio. She's known as "the Cat Lady," due to her many years of rescuing abandonded ferals and nursing them to health and patiently training them and domesticating them as sweet, gentle pets.

      In addition to a simple love of cats, I know it requires an enormous investment of time, patience and expense.

      She claims she'll do it till she dies. Although I love cats and dogs and have 2 of each....I admire those who have what it takes to take in strays and ferals and be so dedicated.


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