Feral Cats: January 2009 Archives
Kate Tilmouth of Our Happy Cat writes about socializing feral cats.
The literal meaning of feral is “gone wild” and when used to describe a cat usually means that they have either been born in the wild or have once been domesticated but have been lost or abandoned and have reverted to the wild. Feral Cats are usually found living in groups or colonies where there is an easy and plentiful supply of food.
Feral cats may have very limited experience of human contact and so will generally keep away from people and run away if you try to approach them. However, as long as the cat is not too old, it is perfectly possible that they eventually could become very loving pets, if approached correctly. But be warned it can be a very long process of gentle persuasion and patience on your part. It can take weeks, even months before a feral cat may feel comfortable enough to be a part of your family.
It is essential that anyone considering re-homing a feral cat that they have a good understanding of cat behaviour and be prepared to take things at the cats pace. Cats generally learn by experience and so making the whole socialisation process a pleasant one will help to teach the cat not to be afraid of people and domestic life.
There are several steps to take to socialise your feral cat and each one can take weeks or months to complete and may even have to be repeated if a set back occurs. The first step is to provide the cat with a small room or pen where the cat cannot escape from and that does not have any hiding places. It should be a quiet area and be equipped with bedding, fresh water and food and a litter tray. Let them become accustomed to this area for a while before you attempt to introduce yourself to them. It is important that they feel safe.
Next spend some time with them, talking quietly to them but not attempting to touch them. After a while you may even be able to tempt them to take treats from your hand. Repeat this process daily until you sense that the cat is becoming less afraid of you. Only then try to stroke their head and back. If they back away, don’t worry; just repeat the hand treat regime for a few days more. A useful tip is not to look at your cat directly as they find this a threat. Instead either look away or half close your eyes.
Over time the cat will become used to you and realise that you are not a threat to them. At this stage let them wander around the rest of the house and become accustomed to the whole house. Make sure other people in the house approach the cat in the same way as yourself by offering treats. It can take some feral cats quite some time to accept the whole family.
If you have other cats around make sure your new feral cat has become use to their scent before he meets them, do this by rubbing their bedding around his living area, do the same for your existing cats. Feral cats usually respond well to domesticated cats and it can even help speed up the socialisation process, as they will learn from their behaviour.
Finally when you notice the cat grooming itself and happily using the litter tray, it is safe to let them explore the outside world. By this time they will have become use to you and your home and have probably made it part of their territory and so will return for that free dinner and comfy bed. Many feral cats have become very loving pets and have settled down to domestic life very well.
I was looking back at pictures of Neo shortly after I brought him home and I found these great shots of him in the sun. He loved to bask in the sun all the time.
Neo was born in a feral cat colony that had been taken care of by two little girls and their mom. You see, Neo's mom was the kitten of a feral cat in the community. Neo's mom was fed and cared for by the little girls and their mom and so she became comfortable around them. She and her sisters kind of moved in to their yard and the so the colony was established.
Neo's dad was also feral from a neighboring colony who had wondered into the community. He was nicknamed "Cowboy" and he rode into town and then disappeared for weeks on end. But he always returned much to the dismay of the people in the community. He would terrorize the neighborhood cats and you'd hear cat fights late at night when he was around. But oddly enough, he started to get quite comfortable with people, even moving in to the newly established colony that Neo's mom established.
Unfortunately, none of the cats were ever spayed or neutered so Neo's mom and her sisters all had kittens within a few months of each other. Neo's mom was still a kitten herself! So the colony grew by 14 kittens that spring, Neo was one of them.
On a positive note, Neo and his brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, mom and dad were given the best love a cat could get. The love of two pre-teen girls who spent all their waking moments with the cats. All of the kittens were handled right from birth and all the neighborhood kids and adults alike visited the kittens.
My sister has a cottage in that community so my two nieces and my sister would visit and play with the kittens. My sister has spotted Neo when he was just a few days old. If she didn't already have a cat, she would have adopted him. But she would bring him back to her cottage and spend the afternoon petting him, grooming him and playing with him.
So Neo is not a typical feral cat. Most ferals are afraid of people because either they are born far away from people or people consider them a nuisance and hurt them or scare them. This makes ferals very distrustful of people, but the cats in this colony, that summer had the best opportunity to learn to love people.
It's really no wonder that Neo is so cuddly and lovey dovey all the time. And it makes me feel strongly about feral cats in other communities. If given the right set of circumstances, all the ferals of the world could be loving pets too.