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Socializing Cats: Two Semi-Feral Cats

Updated on February 12, 2014

Socializing Cats is Very Difficult

Socializing semi-feral cats is extremely difficult if not impossible. Some rescues have had some success by kenneling the semi-feral cat and handling it over a period of months and sometimes even up to a year. I personaly hate cages and feel this is no life for a cat. In an earlier hub, I wrote about one litter of kittens and how kenneling did help me tame them but I only used the kennel for a short time.

The two semi-feral cats featured in this hub, I socialized them while they were free in the house.

Blaze 5 Months


Socializing Cat Blaze

Blaze lived out in a shed with his mother and two sisters with no human contact except being left water and food. For about a month the kittens hid in a finished basement of another foster. I persuaded her to let me work with them. I kept them in a room that didn't have furniture or other hiding places. It had cat trees and easy chairs.

Blaze seemed the bolder one as far as coming towards me first when I brought in food. It may have been courage; it certainly wasn't trust. Ironically, it was the sisters who became used to me and tame and liked being petted. Blaze would not let me touch him.

Blaze, orange swirl tabby, with his two sisters at about 6 months of age.
Blaze, orange swirl tabby, with his two sisters at about 6 months of age. | Source


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Socializing Cats: Adoptions

The two girls progressed so rapidly! I would sit on the floor and pet them while they ate. Soon I was able to engage them in play. Soon I could also pick the girls up and hold them. I do not know why they responded so quickly was it their mother's example? The mother was a tame cat living outdoors. Blaze was not like his mother. He came close to me when I sat on the floor but would run if I reached for him.

Socializing Cats: Darcy

Darcy out of hiding
Darcy out of hiding | Source

Facts According to Hilda

  1. A neutered male is much easier to socialize than an un-neutered male
  2. Always talk when you are near the cat in soothing tones - that talk gets them used to your voice and the soothing tones help them relax around you
  3. Sit in the room with the cat as much as possible because it gets them used to your presence
  4. Don't make eye contact if it seems to make the cat nervous. In my experience it is best to avoid eye contact with all semi-feral cats in the beginning.
  5. Try introducing a toy on a stick. This puts some distance between your hand and the cat which might make the cat feel safe enough to play. Stop immediately if it frightens the cat. (this suggestion came to be from bestfriends website)
  6. When you want to try to be near the cat. sit or lay on the floor. You are much less threatening that way. Have some treats in your hand even stinky tuna fish. Socializing a semi-feral cat is not a dignified process but you are much less threatening when you are on the floor and not standing over them.
  7. If the cat is up high, say on a cat tree, he/she may be more approachable than when they are on the floor.
  8. Don't make unnecessary changes....semi-feral cats like sameness...being fed in the same place, same beds, etc. This doesn't mean they don't need stimulation and interactive play. A new cardboard box is always welcomed!
  9. It makes all cats happy to have many litter boxes and clean ones!

Darcy was feral and living with his mom at a farm. The farmer asked us if we could take them. The mother was easy to get but 12 week old Darcy we couldn't catch. The farmer kept tryough, though, and it took six nights before she could get him and by that time he had a bad head wound. The vet though it was probably from a Tomcat attack. The rescue had Darcy treated, then kept in a kitty condo, then neutered and vaccinated. Darcy had to be kept quarantined for a month, because he could have been exposed to rabies with that bite. So that little fellow was traumatized in every way possible: sudden separation from mom, traumatic head wound, neutering and then kept alone in a cage in a room for a month. The foster visited him as much as possibly but still it had to be a hard time for him.

It was no wonder that when Darcy was cleared for rabies and let out into the household, he hid all the time except for meals. He had always been gentle on visits to the vet, but once loose in the house, he did not want to be touched. I asked the rescue to let me work with him so he came to my house and hid under the bed except......he stuck his head out to eat and soon we could pet his head. Then he started making friends with other cats like Blaze. See photo below.

Blaze and Darcy on Cat Tree
Blaze and Darcy on Cat Tree | Source

How Other Cats Help With Socialization

Both Darcy and Blaze were accepted by the other cats in the house- it helped that they were perceived as kittens which makes sense since they were less than a year old. The females accepted them and didn't mind sharing a space with them, but it was the males who befriended them. The oldest male got Darcy to come out from under the bed and wrestle in the living room in front of us. Zeke the dominant male, adopted Blaze as a little brother and they often cuddle.

Zeke and Blaze
Zeke and Blaze | Source

Going into Year Three

Socializing semi-feral cats is a long process requiring a lot of patience. It is important never to take the cat's rejection of you personally. It really isn't rejection; it is fear. I work at home and that helped me take advantage of any opportunity which presented itself. I remember the first time I sat on the couch with a tuna sandwich. All of a sudden Darcy had his front paws up on the couch and he was sniffing. I put a peace of tuna near him. He usually would run if I moved my hand near him. This time, instead of running from my hand, he came towards the tuna. Food became a very strong incentive for Darcy. He eventually came all the way up on the couch. He started letting us pet him when he lay on the bed or cat tree. Next he began coming up on the couch just to be petted. This was towards the end of year two of his life. Now I can essentially massage him. He relaxes into the pressure like autistic kids relax into Temple Grandin's hug machine.

Getting a little nervous about the flash but initiates coming up on couch all the time now
Getting a little nervous about the flash but initiates coming up on couch all the time now | Source

Blaze is slower to relax than Darcy. The only counter my cats are allowed on are the bathroom counters. He is much more open to being petted there. He also loves it if I turn on the faucet for him. He has just begun to get up on furniture. He likes the couch and love seat best when he has them all to himself. However, entering this third year he is getting up on the furniture to be petted or fed by me. Whenever I am near him I move slowly and quietly. Blaze startles very easily so I do everything I can not to make sudden moves or noises. If he is near me on the couch, I pet him without making eye contact.

Both cats, going into this third year, have also learned not to hide from strangers. Strangers can't pet them but they do not run and hide anymore.

Love, the Immutable Quantity

Animals, at least mammals, know if you love them. This is my opinion based on my experience. The results of loving a semi-feral animal are much more immediate with dogs. But cat brains are wired differently. It is common knowledge that cats will go back to being feral much faster than a stray dog. Semi-feral cats will respond to your love but it is a very slow process with lots of rebuffs (which cats are famous for anyway).

Also based on my experience, animals know when you are committed to them. No vows or ceremony necessary but they know when you have decided to give them a forever home.


Guess who didn't hide from the first visit from husband's grandchildren....ages 1 1/2 and 4 1/2 years old......Blaze! fact he let the 1 1/2 year old could come up to a foot close to him and toss him a treat!!!


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    • CarolynEmerick profile image

      Carolyn Emerick 

      5 years ago

      This is a wonderful hub. I'm a cat lover as well and have rescued many cats. Luckily in my case they were neighbors cats that had gotten out (in the city where it's not safe), so I was able to hold them in my apt until I found the owner. But I did run across my first stray since I moved to a new city a couple weeks ago. I think he was definitely feral, a city Tom cat. I fed him and gave him water. He eventually sniffed my fingers and sat in the driveway watching me for a bit but wouldn't let me get any closer. He sprayed the neighbors hedges as he sauntered off and I haven't seen him again. But I have a feeling that trying to catch him and bring him indoors might be traumatic for him, me, and my other cats (I always keep a stray separated from mine, but mine are friendly and like to meet other cats). Anyway, with so much cruelty in the world it is always good to know that other people love animals too and will go out of their way to help them.

    • AnnaCia profile image


      5 years ago

      This is a very nice hub. Thank you for the information. I foster kittens, and one important aspect of fostering is teaching them social skills. Keep the great job.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      5 years ago from Wales

      What a wonderful hub; I loved it so interesting. We have been adopted by two cats two weeks ago and they are amazing. We love them both so much ;THEY are Tabatha about a year old and Megan who is only nine weeks old. They were abandoned when Megan was newly born ;four other kittens were found dead nearby. I cannot repeat what I would like to do to the vile scum who could do this but we are just thankful that we now have them and they are beautiful. Voting this one up and sharing all a round also.

      Take care


    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      5 years ago from USA

      You are a true lover of ferals and definitely a kindred spirit. I have several cats who are recovering ferals, and I am in awe of the trust that they have shown me. I have one cat, Elmer -- all white, adult male, had a huge neck wound, named Elmer because they had to "glue" him back together. He used to attack me when I first trapped him. I had to gain his trust and learn to pet him, as the vet required that I bathe him (a semi-feral!) due to his terrible wound and resulting skin condition. (Kids in a trailer park where I used to trap burned him, and I could not in good conscience return him). Now, 7 years later, he's a big teddy bear. Over the years, I've also had a feral from a paper mill that closed down, from grocery store parking lots where I do Trap Neuter Return, and from an urban college campus. Ferals are brave and beautiful. Your advice is excellent. Toys on a wand, sitting, don't eye-challenge them (but you can give them sleepy eyes, as it is calming). Excellent hub. Sharing. Voted up and much more.


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