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Tips on Turning a Feral Cat into a Friendly Feline

Updated on February 28, 2011
My  feral mama cat, Mia, on one of her favorite beds.
My feral mama cat, Mia, on one of her favorite beds.

Many people don't understand the difference between a feral cat and a stray cat. A stray is one that had a home and all of a sudden doesn't. They have had exposure to humans and human touch. Maybe they escaped from the car on a trip and took off, or, sadly, they were just left behind when someone decided to move. A feral cat is one that has had no, or very limited, exposure to humans. And sometimes that exposure has not been kind. Then they have a litter, and you have a whole new group of ferals. While dealing with a stray cat can be relatively easy, ferals are a whole other story. But with some tips you can eventually win over that feral cat and make him a lovable, friendly feline.

I have personally raised 26 feral cats and here are my tips:

1. How to tell the difference between a stray and a feral.

Sometimes it's hard to tell, at first, if it is a stray or feral cat. Stray cats are going to be hesitant to come near you, but usually after some food and sweet talk they will come around in a few days and even let you pet them. Feral cats, on the other hand, will be very skittish and never let you get near them. They will warn you with a hiss or growl and take off very fast. Once you've put in a few days or a week and you're pretty sure it's a feral cat, then you can start working on building trust.

2. Let them come to you.

You will have to resist the urge to try to approach the cat. If you love animals like I do (and I'm sure you wouldn't be reading this if you don't!) you want to go to them and comfort them. But this is very important- you have to keep your distance. You are trying to build up a trust with the cat and this is the way to do it. Let them know you are going to feed them, but that you are not going to try to catch them. You put the food down and go back inside. Talking sweetly to them, and telling them they are safe and everything is OK while putting the food down is good. Anytime you are actually outside with them, talk softly to them the whole time. Once you have done your job of putting the food out and fresh water, it's time to say "see you later baby" and go away. And no obvious peeking out the window at then while they eat..haha. If you can be sneaky and watch them, fine.

3. Patience, Patience, Patience.

The one thing I have to bring up is that this whole process will take time and patience. It took me a year to get a litter to the point that I could pet them, pick them up and finally move them indoors. It took me another 6 months to get their mama inside. So, if you don't have the determination, patience, or time to take this on, don't start at all. But if you do, the rewards will far outweigh the effort.

4. Keep things consistent.

Feed at the same times every day. I would recommend at least two meals a day. One thing I started doing was a "calling whistle" when I first went outside and then would yell "time to eat". Put the food down and go back inside. You will probably not see the cat until you leave, but he may be closer than you think, hiding in a bush or under a deck. Keeping up a routine works well with cats in particular. It will also encourage him to hang around, knowing that food is coming every day at a certain time.

5. Time to try out being outside with him.

Ok, this may have gone on for a few months (remember...patience!) so now it's time to try to stay outside with the cat while it eats. Put a chair, or just sit on the ground, a good distance from the eating area. Do your whistle or call and announce dinner. Then go sit, but don't look at the cat at all. Act like he's not there and hopefully he will eye you for awhile and decide it's safe to eat with you being there. You'll have to stay until he finishes eating and goes off and then you can move. If he won't eat with you there, just keep up the old routine and try again in a few days. Just remember not to look toward him while you are outside with him.

6. Back to "let him come to you".

If you sit around long enough, hopefully he will one day decide to cautiously check you out. He may only come a few steps towards your direction, but with the trust building up, he will eventually get closer. If he ever gets close enough for you to touch him...DON'T. Just talk softly to him and let him check you out. If he finally rubs against your legs, you are really making progress. If that should happen, don't try to touch him, just let him do his own thing. If he does this enough, then I suggest the next time you squat down (before he comes over to you), letting your hands dangle just over your knees. This may sound ridiculous, but it has worked for me so many times. Keep your hands very still and he may rub under them. Don't pet, just let him continue to do this. Eventually you should be able to raise your hand slightly so that when he rubs under them it becomes like you're petting him. The whole key is to stay calm, still, and let him do all the work.

7. A friendly feline.

As you can tell, the process is slow and sometimes even frustrating. And I can't forget to mention that you may encounter a few scratches or possibly bites. Keep your tetanus shots up to date and obviously, if the cat seems ill, you'll have to forget this and try to trap him and get him to a vet. But if this process works, you will be simply amazed that the cat that's snuggled on your lap was once that wild creature who wouldn't come near you. It is quite a journey and a very fulfilling one to turn "Ferocious Feral" into "Friendly Feline".

I hope this helps anyone who wants to help out a feral cat. There are many tips and tricks and you will come up with your own. They need our help, these homeless little creatures, and the love they give back is priceless.


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