Can Feral Cats Be Tamed?

Can feral cats be tamed? The general consensus is that a true feral cat (as opposed to a semi-feral  or stray cat) can not be tamed, unless they are taken in as a very young kitten, but I’m not so sure.

A girl with the screen name “Diviant Tart” wrote in asking about a couple of feral kittens she found in her yard. She took them to the vet, and he said they were about 3 months old, too old to tame. In an online forum, she asked what others thought about that, and got a lot of responses. As I said, I’m not so sure that they can’t be tamed, with enough time and patience. I’ll tell you my stories, and then I will tell you some of the things that Diviant Tart was told.

When I was about 12 years old, I encountered a very frightened Siamese cat behind my neighbor’s house. I don’t know if it was feral or not, but it was definitely very scared of me. I sat down about 15 feet away, and began to talk softly to the cat. It took about an hour, but eventually, the cat ended up in my lap, purring. About then, some neighbor kids came out and yelled for me to come play with them.

I knew the cat would freak out if I jumped up and ran away, so I moved him gently off my lap and got up moving very slowly, until I was several feet away, then took off running towards my friends.

Feral Kitten

Now, I work in a huge factory, and there are feral cats that live in the buildings. They hide under stock racks, and come out when no one is around to grab left-over snacks and food that the workers have behind at their work stations. A co-worker in the shipping and receiving department had been feeding one of the ferals, and pointed him out one day as I was down there on my lunch break.

I sat down a few feet from the cat, and tried to recreate what had happened when I was 12. I spoke softy to the cat, who was hiding under a table and had his back raised and was all puffed out. I only had about 20 more minutes, so I didn’t have quite that same relaxed calmness as I had when I was 12. However, in that 20  minutes, the cat began to relax, and finally laid down in a little circular ball. He didn’t come any closer, but he was beginning to trust – at least from a distance. I truly believe that if I had had enough time, I could have gotten that cat into my lap.

Puffed Up Feral Cat

You’ll find various experts and amateurs alike, each with their own ideas on whether or not feral cats can be tamed, at what age it is too late, and how to do it. The following are snippets from a few of the comments that Diviant Tart received to her question about taming the feral kittens.

Feral Cats

At What Age Is It “Too Late”?

  •  The vet tech said they were about 3 months and at this point cannot be socialized.
  • When I was a kid, we’d have mother cats give birth outside, then bring their babies home at about 6-8 weeks. It was frequently too late at that point. 3 months old? Forget it.
  • Feral kitties at 3 months have already developed their sense of distrust for humans.  My stepmom rescued a feral kitty at 4 weeks, and despite caring for her from such a young age, she is still not a trustworthy cat, and will bite for no apparent reason.
  • Actually feral kittens can become socialized but it takes lots of time and patience. I worked at a shelter for several years and saw it work in foster homes. However, 3 months is usually the cut off age. After that, they are really hard to socialize.

Don’t Think So

  • As far as being tamed, I have seen feral cats become great outdoor cats or barn cats but never indoor cuddly cats.
  • I rescued a feral kitten when I was a teenager. My parents had her for 12 years, she never really tamed and was lovingly referred to as “evil kitty.”
  • We tried and tried but just couldn’t convince the kittens we could be trusted. (6 weeks old)

Success!

  • 3 months old is not past the point of no return. We took in 2 feral kittens- one we found a home for, and the other we kept. Our kitten was extremely scared and hostile for several weeks, but he is 4 now and the biggest mush ball ever. A total lap cat.
  • Gradually he calmed down and would both hiss/growl and purr at us. Eventually it just became purring.
  • Check out the guy from “My Cat from Hell” or whatever that show is called. I’ve seen him get through to an older cat that was pretty much feral. It’s going to take some intense work though.
  • Visitors hardly ever see our (once feral) cats because they hide, but when it’s just us, they come and sit in our laps or rub against our legs.
  • It can be done, but my family has spent years training our neighborhood feral cats to love and trust us. One was about 9 months old, the other was at least a few years
  • I tamed these two nine year olds when they were seven to eight weeks old and had never been touched by humans before even once.2 tamed feral cats
  • I tamed a feral kitten at around 8-9 weeks. She had URI and flea bite anemia so was too weak to really fight, but boy did she hiss at me! She ended up being one of the sweest cats I’ve ever had, although very untrusting of strangers.
  • After a year of sitting with her and talking to her, she just jumped in my lap one morning and looked at me as if she were saying, I am ready to come home now.

 Some Steps to Take

These 4 steps were written by Savanna Y Lujan, a writer from over at PetsLady.com

1. Keep Them In Captivity This might seem hard at first, but ultimately it’s best for the kitten. Once a feral cat is brought into the house, it will be tempted to run and hide. If this happens, it will make it difficult to feed them and give them medical care when necessary. Give them a dog cage or a cat condo with a small litter box and something soft to cuddle and sleep in.

2. Associate Yourself With Food A feral kitten will have an easier time warming up to you if they begin to associate your presence with food. Start by feeding them baby food or soft cat food with a spoon through the cage. Once they begin to warm up to you a little more, try feeding them some soft cat food directly from your hand.

3. Get Kittens Accustomed to Your Presence Start out by sitting near them. Soon, you’ll be able to play with them too. Try purchasing an interactive toy that has some reach to it. This way, they’ll be able to associate the toy with your presence, and you won’t have to get clawed in the process.

4. Be Patient, And Move Slowly Get the kitten accustomed to being petted before you try to pick it up. Once it allows you to hold it, you might be able to start doing things like grooming the kitten. When you pet the kitten, try massaging the skin near the shoulders and on the top of the kittens neck. This gentle massage will release endorphin’s and make the kitten feel more relaxed in your presence.

Other Suggestions

  •  Just sit with them every day and offer food. Eventually they’ll make the connection.
  • Offer them food on a long wooden spoon. One that will let you be as far away from them as possible. They will associate you with the food.
  • Of course it can be done. Just take it very slow and let the kitties determine when you can cuddle them more.

I agree with taking it slow. Let the kitty determine how much he or she can take. Petting, holding, feeding, it’s up to the cat as to when they can trust you.

What experiences have you had with feral cats? Can they be tamed? Is there an age limit? Or should we just let them be outdoors/barn cats, and love them for who they are?

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