The simple answer is yes, some feral cats can be tamed and live a life of comfort and safety as a pet. Let’s delve deeper into that question and see what we find out.
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Both of my experiences happened when I was living in Jerusalem, and involved very tiny kittens. I found Natasha through a newspaper ad, and she was loving and calm from day one.
While walking home from work, I noticed something moving from the corner of my eye. When I looked closer, I found a very pathetic looking kitten sitting in a pile of garbage. One side of her face was swollen and she was so little she fit in the palm of my hand, and I have small hands!! There was no way I could leave her so I picked her up and took her home. I gave her something to eat, then took her straight to the vet.
She was covered in fleas and had worms, but with the help of a wonderful vet she recovered, and thrived. We shared our lives together for 17 years until she died.
One scared little kitty
Even though Calypso was feral, you would think given how young she was she would adapt quickly to life in a home with people. Wrong!!
From the beginning she was perfectly comfortable with me. She would curl up in my lap and rest for hours, and every night of her life she slept on top of my head.
She was extremely skittish, all it took was one sound and she was under the bed. I had gotten married a few years after I rescued her, and even though my husband was a constant presence, she ran from him just like she did from everyone and everything.
I believe it was her vet that recommended a product called Feliway, and within just 2 or 3 days of plugging it in she was a different cat. When I say the change in her was miraculous that is not an exaggeration. She was so much calmer, she even let my husband pet her!!
Is it best to leave feral cats where they are?
The best thing you can do for feral cats is to trap them, have them fixed, return them to where they were trapped, then provide them with food and water. Shelter in the cold winter months will help, as will keeping an eye on their overall health and intervene when necessary.
The worst thing you can do is trap them and bring them to your local shelter, because they are almost always killed on arrival. If there are some very young kittens they may try and find them homes, but with the number of tame house cats already in their care, they don’t have the resources to deal with ferals.
If you do want to find homes for kittens, then you’ll want to keep reading.
I know how depressing and heart wrenching it is to see feral cats and kittens on the streets, many of them suffering. Wanting to save them can easily lead to a hoarding situation. That may sound dramatic but it’s true, so be careful.
Only take in kittens you know you can find good homes for, otherwise become a caretaker as I mentioned and ensure they have what they need outside.
Who can be tamed?
The older the kitten the more difficult he or she will be to tame.
Cats tend to give birth out of the way, so for the first few weeks of life the kittens will not be exposed to humans. By the time you find them they are already wary, hissing and spitting at those they come in contact with.
Of course that isn’t always the case. Sometimes you’ll find humans dump day old kittens in public areas. Should you ever come across this sad sight, please be sure to take them to a vet immediately.
Can an adult or older cat become a house pet?
Possibly, but don’t get your hopes up. Perhaps if a cat you’ve been feeding is new to the streets, having gotten lost with no ID or been abandoned by his owners, feeding him regularly may make him friendly enough for you to rescue.
If you’ve gotten particularly friendly with a neighbourhood cat and you want to do more to help, this is something a few people I know have done. If they live in a house with a garden, they may leave the back door open a bit when they’re home so the cat can come and go as he pleases. Installing a cat flap is also a good idea, just lock it if you’re not home. You don’t want to find the whole neighbourhood has popped by for a visit.
The cat will not be a “house cat” per se, but be happy hanging out with you for some attention, a warm place and steady access to food. If by some miracle a cat has gotten to a ripe old age, he may be happy to find a loving home for the rest of his days.
I don’t recommend you do with if you have children in the house.
How long does it take to tame a feral kitten?
In Calypso’s case it took years for her to be okay with other people, and even then it was really just my husband and a couple of regular visitors. In Natasha’s case it was no time at all. Every kitten’s temperament is different, even those from the same litter. Know going in you will need a lot of patience, and the following steps.
I’m going to be saying “he” and “kitten” even though there may be more than one and they’re girls.
One other quick note. I’ve broken this down into quite a few steps, but depending on the kitten you may be able to move a little faster, combining steps, or you’ll have to take a step back and slow things down. Better it takes longer then rushing it and sabotaging the progress you’ve made.
Here are the steps to getting a feral kitten to trust you
Step one – getting prepared
You’ve decided to rescue the kitten you found. Having everything set up and ready in advance makes things a lot less stressful.
You’ll need a carrier big enough to accommodate the kitten and a litter box, food and water dishes will be attached to the inside of the door. If the kitten is too young to eat on his own, you’ll have to bottle feed. A pet supply store should have the bottles/syringes and formula you’ll need or call your vet.
If your carrier isn’t big enough and you don’t want to spend money for a bigger one, a bathroom or spare room will be fine.
Set up a litter box in one corner, food and water bowls in another, and a couple of toys. Be careful of any pieces that can break off and become a choking hazard.
To ensure the kitten is safe…
- Check there are no holes he can crawl through
- Block off access to the back of bookcases
- Keep the area free of clutter so he can’t get stuck or hurt himself
- A big room can be too overwhelming, so block off a small area for him
- Make sure there is nothing he can climb on that may topple over
- Keep the toilet seat down
- Remove any plants
In the evening rather than harsh overhead lights, a nightlight may be more calming
The kitten will need a safe place to hide so leave a crate open with a nice comfy blanket inside or turn a cardboard box on its side with the opening facing the wall
I’m assuming you’ve trapped him and are now bringing him into your home. If you’ll be taking him to the vet you can keep him in the trap, or in the safety of your home transfer him from the carrier to the trap.
If he’s small enough to pick up, do it that way otherwise cover the trap with a blanket, open the carrier door and have it facing the front of the trap as close as possible. You want to slowly open the trap and walk/run from there to the carrier.
If you’re going to the vet please make sure no other staff members will be coming in and out during your appointment. Heaven forbid someone opens a door and he escapes.
You’re back from the vet and you have the kitten set up in his room. Remember that kitten is scared, and the way he will try to protect himself is by hissing and spitting. This creature may be small but the scratches and bites will hurt.
Over the next couple of days, longer if necessary, give him time to adjust. Pop in and hang out with him. Sit on the floor, read a book, watch the latest series on Netflix and speak softly to him.
For now it’s about him getting used to you, no petting or cuddling yet!
During your visits you can casually place one hand on the floor, letting him approach you and sniff. Even if he’s touching your hand don’t move it, let him explore.
He’s been getting used to you and seems comfortable, so now it’s time to start playing with him. It can be as simple as wrapping a string around a small stuffed toy, then moving it across the floor. There isn’t a kitten around that can resist that! Don’t leave it lying around when you’re not there, he could get tangled in it.
You’re probably able to pet him at this stage. If he’s calm you could try picking him up in a small blanket, putting him on your lap and petting his head. Do it for just a few seconds then leave him be if he appears uncomfortable. It’s best to pet him from behind, reaching towards his face can be scary.
Now that he’s comfortable with you petting him, how about a nice grooming session with a soft bristled brush. Not only will it feel good and keep his coat in good condition, it’s a great way to bond.
A tasty treat after every positive experience is a nice reward.
When the kitten has stopped hissing, biting and scratching and is responding well to you, start introducing him to other people. You need him to socialise with a variety of humans so he will adjust better in a new home. Encourage them to pick him up, play with him and have fun.
The better socialized he is, the better the chance of finding a forever home.
Note – if you have more than one kitten and some are not progressing at the same rate, put them in different rooms and keep repeating these steps. You don’t want anyone’s progress hindered by others that aren’t quite as trusting.
Finding a home
Hurray, you’ve done such a great job of taming him he’s ready for a home of his home.
This may be the tough part…letting go.
Once the kitten is at least 8 weeks he can be adopted, but if he needs more time getting “new home” ready that’s okay too.
When meeting prospective adopters, you’ll want to make sure they know how to care for a kitten. You can even print out a kitten care sheet you write yourself or find one online.
A child free home means a quieter life for him. The noise and commotion is not something the kitten needs to deal with.
Many rescues do home checks before they will adopt out an animal, so that’s something you may or may not want to do or be able to do.
Recommend they keep the cat inside, and if they’re going to be gone all day every day, they should consider adopting two.
This next point is super important and it’s about spay/neuter. The reason you’re even in this situation is because of the people who never bothered to fix their cats. You need to emphasize the importance of having the kitten fixed as soon as the vet will do it, and ideally you will want proof. Some shelters take a deposit, refunded once proof of sterilization has been given.
How are you feeling right now? I know it was a lot to take in. Take your time, re-read it and give yourself time to decide what’s best. Why not do a search for TNR (trap-neuter-return) groups/projects in your area. Contact them, learn more about their work and see if there are ways you can offer to help.
I’d love to hear from you once you’ve decided how you’re going to help. People will be encouraged by your story, so please share in the comments section below.
Please help support my spay/neuter campaign by donating and sharing. You can find all the details on my GoFundMe page.