feral cats in the alley

In most cases, taming a feral cat just isn’t possible, especially if you’re dealing with older feral cats. However, in some cases, you can learn how to tame a feral cat that’s under one year of age. But even at this age, taming a feral cat can be a very challenging process and one that will take commitment and consistency. Over time, a feral cat may become more friendly and relaxed, but you may never be able to handle the cat the same way you do your indoor cat.

In this guide, I’ll go over some great tips and tricks you can try to win over your local feral cats, and keep them happy, comfortable and safe.

How to Tame a Feral Cat

Many people will use the term stray cat and feral cat interchangeably, but as you’ll soon learn, stray cats are very different from feral cats. A stray cat was someone’s pet at one point. The cat may have run away or been abandoned. These cats often have a sweet disposition and can easily learn to trust you if you’re kind to them and feed them. You may even be able to pick them up a stray cat over time and bring them indoors.

Ferals are totally different from strays.

Their Lives in the Wild

A feral cat lives outdoors and probably always has. A feral cat is a wild cat that can potentially attack you if you catch them off guard and try to pick them up. Again, never attempt to handle or hold a feral cat. Feral cats will scratch and attack, doing whatever they can to get out of your grasp.

Feral cats have never had an owner. Many kittens that are born outdoors, from a mother that’s an indoor/outdoor cat, a stray, or a feral cat, end up as feral and roam the streets in search of shelter and food. You may find that you have feral cats on your property if you feed your cats or the local stray cats by leaving some food outdoors. Feral cats are not very trusting of humans and often leave once they catch sight of a human or a human wanders too closely.

Is Taming Feral Cats Possible?

After reading this, you may be wondering “how can I possibly tame a feral cat?” In most cases, you can’t. Feral cats do not trust humans. Most feral cats are chased out of yards by humans or treated poorly by both humans and domesticated cats. However, it’s possible to make friends earn their trust to an extent.

This often means the feral cat will remain by their food dish, close to your home, even if you’re standing nearby. However, it’s very rare that a feral cat will relax enough to allow you to pet them with your hand or hold them. In fact, trying to do so can be very risky as feral cats are not very shy about scratching a human if they get too brazen about touching them.

Introducing Human Contact

It is possible to tame a feral cat that’s a kitten or juvenile, although this process can take several weeks or months and can vary depending on each individual feral cat, how they have been treated by humans in the past, and their personality. We all know that cats are very independent animals and some may be very ambivalent when it comes to human touch and interaction. Most feral cats take this behavior to a whole new level and may ignore you entirely, once they have determined that you’re not a threat. But this behavior does not mean feral cats like you or want you to pet them.

Can You Bring a Feral Indoors?

feral cat holding rodent prey in mouth

Please don’t bring a feral into your home. While your house cat may be perfectly content sitting in their window perch or laying on the sofa for an afternoon nap, if you’re somehow able to bring a feral cat inside your home, their only goal will be to find an exit and use it by any means possible. A feral cat is not used to human contact and will never be as friendly or as docile as a domesticated cat.

A feral cat doesn’t want to live in your home cooped up inside. Instead, feral cats prefer the freedom of the outdoors.

So, what can you do to help a feral kitty?

Create a Safe Hiding Place

If you’re determined to win over a feral cat, at least on some level, and do your part,  then the best thing you can do for them is put out food and water and create a feral cat shelter. They can use their little home when they’re tired, they’re hiding from another animal, or they’re trying to get away from inclement weather. Make sure their home has a back door and that the back door is not placed directly across from the front entry. The rear door will allow them to leave if an unwanted visitor approaches.

Weather Protection

If you’re concerned about your feral cat staying outdoors during the winter and you live in a climate that experiences freezing temperatures, plenty of rain, and snow, then purchase the best heated cat bed you can find. Just make sure you buy one that’s designed for outdoor use. The best ones work to keep a feral cat nice and toasty, even in harsh weather conditions. The bed can be placed in a garage, on your porch, a shed, or you can create a little home for them using a storage container that’s lined with Styrofoam, to protect them from the elements.

Offer Treats and a Healthy Diet

If you’re determined to win over a younger feral cat, such as a kitten or a juvenile, and you have the patience, one of the best ways to go about this is to offer plenty of healthy treats. Most feral cats are very skittish around people, so while they may not take the treats out of your hand, they will eventually move close enough to gobble them up before running off. Once you have earned a feral cat’s trust, they may become comfortable enough to take treats out of your hand or eat while you’re around. Again, this is usually only possible with very young feral cats, such as those that are a few months old or younger. An adult feral cat has always lived outdoors and will have no desire to be treated like a domesticated cat. This type of cat will never be your pet. However, even an older feral cat will appreciate food and treats.

Feed a Feral Cat Right

Just because a feral cat is an outside cat doesn’t mean they won’t benefit from the same type of diet you feed your indoor cats. Buy a high-quality pet food that contains important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are designed to help a feral cat thrive. If you’re not sure what type of cat food to feed them, contact your vet for recommendations.

Desensitizing a Feral Cat to Life Around Humans

Keep in mind, feral cats do not trust humans and do not make good house pets. They have a much rougher life than that of a house cat and are used to hunting and scavenging for food, so even just leaving a bowl of food out for feral cats will be a game changer for them. Of course, if they have not had much, if any contact with humans, then they will do their best to hide from you if they see you or hear you. By spending more time around these cats, they can learn to tolerate humans, but they won’t come around eager to see you like pet cats will.

Making Feral Cats Feel Safe

While you may not have any luck with making a feral cat your pet or bringing them into your home, a feral animal will learn that you’re not a threat to them. Once a feral cat is comfortable enough to eat with you around, you can try to desensitize them to human interaction. When your feral friend is around, speak to the kitty gently, as you avoid making eye contact. With feral cats, making eye contact can feel uncomfortable and even intimidating. So, while you’re trying to encourage a friendship with feral cats, avoid eye contact to help ease the tension.

When your feral cats are around, make sure you move deliberately and slowly when performing tasks to show the feral cat that you’re not a threat. This can be as simple as refilling their cat bowl or water dish, sitting close by a feral cat without trying to touch them, or sitting in silence and just watching as feral cats enjoy their meal.

You can also try sprinkling a little catnip around the room or area as a nice treat that can have a calming effect on a feral animal.

Taking in Feral Kittens

feral kittens

If you normally feed stray cats and feral cats, you may find a litter of kittens on your property. A mother cat will take care of their kittens and stay close by where she gave birth. You can help these felines by leaving out adult or kitten food and a water bowl. Be sure to avoid human interaction.

Providing cat food will prevent the animal from having to leave her kittens behind in search of food. Unfortunately, feral cats can abandon their litter if they feel unsafe.

Taming a Feral Cat Ages 12 Weeks and Under

A kitty may also not come back to their litter if they have been attacked in the area, are being tracked by a predator, or they may have died due to an attack by a dog or from being hit by a car. In these situations, you may end up having to care for the litter on your own. If they’re young enough and still relying on mom for food, then it will be possible to handle them. If you’ve been caring for them from afar and noticed the feral cat mother has not been back for two to three days, bring them inside. Place the kittens in a dark, quiet room, and contact your vet or a friend who has experience bottle feeding kittens. Place the kittens in a room or area in the home where your resident house pet cannot go. This will help the kittens to stay relaxed.

Supplies and Care Needs

You will want to take the animals to the vet for a health check, and then head to the pet store to purchase some basic supplies such as cat formula, bottles, pet brush, cat flea comb, and a warm pet bed the litter of feral cats can sleep in together. For very young kittens under eight weeks of age, you can use a pet carrier to prevent kittens from wandering off or falling out of their pet bed when they move. Just secure the cat carrier door and place it in a dark, quiet room.

Kittens born outdoors may be dealing with flea infestations. Even if the kittens are not big enough to venture out of their bed, they may have gotten fleas when nursing on the mother cat.

A kitten is prone to flea anemia, so you will need to search for fleas and comb out their fur over a period of several days to remove fleas and their eggs.

A feral cat this young will not fear humans and should be easy to handle. As I mentioned earlier, it will be significantly easier to tame a feral cat at this age.

Pay Attention to Body Language

You can’t tame a feral cat, but you can learn to coexist with them and help take care of them. However, in the beginning, you must learn how to stay safe and always remember, these cats are not like your pets or the neighborhood cats. Cat fights may break out in the yard or they may attack you if they think you’re going to hurt them. You’ll need to practice some patience during this time and keep your distance.

Below, you’ll find some common signs that signal a cat is ready for a fight.

  • A feral cat’s body language can tell you when he or she is ready to pounce, fight, or bolt. Community cats, even some kittens, are very skittish and have a hard time around humans. Be very careful when you’re around new feral cats and avoid eye contact when you’re leaving out food or a water bowl. Over time, a cat will learn that you’re not a threat, but until then, keep an eye on their body language and look for the following:
  • The cat has flattened ears
  • The cat’s tail is swishing side to side
  • The cat is growling
  • A cat has a tense posture
  • The cat has a puffed up coat

If you notice any of these signs, leave the porch, room, or outdoor environment and head somewhere else, far away from the cat’s territory. Feral cats that are scared of humans can lash out and cause serious damage if they feel threatened.

Trap, Neuter, Return

group of feral cats

According to sites such as Alley Cat Allies, there are several benefits to trapping and fixing feral cats.

Trap, neuter, return is the process of trapping a feral cat, having them neutered, and then released back on the streets. This may seem puzzling to some people, but the process offers many benefits to both these animals and the community. A feral cat can never be placed in a home, since these cats are wild. Capturing a feral animal and taking it to a shelter or calling animal control means it’s only a matter of time before the cat is euthanized, since no one will come to claim him. Programs that promote trap, neuter, return, work with shelters and animal control to have the community cats fixed and returned to the wild. This helps to keep the rodent population under control, while reducing the stray and feral cat population.

Locating Local TNR Programs for Feral Cats

The Humane Society has no kill shelters located all over the county. Most of these shelters offer training programs to small local cat shelters on how to care for and treat feral cats. If you can’t find a TNR program in your neighborhood for your cat, look online for more information.

Unfortunately, these programs are getting harder and harder to find, so it can be up to the homeowner to trap a feral cat on their property and have one of  them neutered or spayed. If you have feral cats you want to have fixed, speak with your vet to see if they are willing to fix feral cats, since some vets are not. These cats can be very dangerous, so a vet must try to aestheticize one before they can examine and neuter or spay them.

The majority of these programs will not spay a female cat because this requires surgery, an extensive healing time, and stitches or staples that need to be removed. It’s much easier, more affordable, and safer to neuter males.

Other benefits that come with neutering feral cats includes:

  • Improves the lives of feral cats
  • Reduces fighting between unneutered male cats in the neighborhood
  • Keeps the stray cat and feral cat population down
  • Can reduce a cat’s chances of developing cancer
  • Will prevent the feral cat from wandering into other neighborhoods

Final Thoughts

While learning how to tame a feral cat won’t be easy, it is possible if you’re dealing with a kitten or a cat that’s around three to four months old. This process usually takes several months up to one year before a feral cat feels comfortable being around you. While, in most cases, you will not be able to hold a feral cat or bring them into your home, you can earn their trust and keep a feral cat happy and comfortable on your property by providing food and shelter. Over time, feral cats may learn to trust you and will even look forward to your presence, but many are simply too wild to be tamed and cannot be domesticated like the family cat. Practice patience and find a way to make friends with your local ferals.