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Can you tame a feral cat?

Intro Text
Is it possible that the feral cat roaming your neighbourhood could become a regular visitor? Maybe – but there’s a few things to consider before you start feeding it.
What is a feral cat? How is a feral cat different to a stray?
What is a feral cat? How is a feral cat different to a stray?

A stray cat is one that has been abandoned or become separated from its owners. She may be living rough now, but she had a home once and this means that she is, or has been at some point, socialised to human beings.

Feral cats are also living rough, but the key difference is that they have never been socialised to humans, and are therefore likely to be the offspring of stray or feral cats.

Both strays and feral cats can be loners or part of a colony, and they will hunt or take food wherever they can – whether it’s from bins or your pet’s feeding station.

Because they’ve never been socialised with humans, feral cats can be wild and unapproachable. They may well have diseases, worms and almost certainly fleas, putting your domestic pet at risk.

It is generally not possible to tame a feral cat, but with time and commitment (and lots of food!), it may become more relaxed and friendly. If you continue feeding it, even inadvertently, it will certainly come back but it still may not welcome any contact.

What should you do with a feral cat?

The first step is to inform your local cat protection or feral cat rescue shelter about the problem, and it will offer advice. This will probably involve the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) process, an official programme for feral and outdoor cats, involving humanely trapping the cat, having them spayed or castrated, and returning them to their outdoor homes.

The first step of TNR is to catch the cat using a baited cage. The specialists will then sedate her, check her for a microchip, examine her for diseases and treat her for worms and fleas. They will also neuter so the animal can’t add to the local feral population. She may also have to be shaved if her hair is matted and badly infested. If she’s very sick, sadly she may have to be put down; if not, she may be returned to her colony.

Generally, it is advisable not to try and tame a feral cat. They are unused to human contact and it is unlikely they will ever become as docile and friendly as a domesticated cat. The one exception to this may be if it is a feral kitten, which is only a few weeks old – then you may have a better chance of taming and domesticating it.

But remember, if you choose to start feeding a feral cat then effectively you are agreeing to take responsibility for her. Bear this in mind before you start to feed a feral cat. On the plus side, feral cats can be good at catching mice and other vermin, and need minimum interaction from humans.

It’s unlikely a feral cat will ever move in with you, but eventually she may become confident enough to sleep somewhere like a garage, shed, outhouse or utility room with easy access. Try putting some bedding down – cats can’t resist a bit of comfort, especially if it’s cold outside.

Be warned that if you already have a cat or dog then there may be issues. Your pet may well be upset by the presence of another animal. A feral cat may not tolerate them and fur may fly, in which case they will have to be kept apart or, more likely, the feral cat will have to be rehomed elsewhere.

Attempting to tame a feral cat is a challenge that may not have a happy ending, but if it does it can be enormously rewarding, even if it is unlikely you’ll end up with a tame house cat for a companion.

For advice on adopting a rescue cat, read our guide to cat rescue.