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How to Socialize Feral Cats: 5 Tips to Help Desensitize Them

Cats that have never been socialized or domesticated are referred to as feral cats. Feral cats can be difficult to approach and trust humans since they’ve never had any contact with them. But with the right techniques, you can help them become comfortable around people, and maybe even bring them into your home one day. Here are 15 tips & tricks for socializing feral cats.

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Before We Begin: Socialization vs. Domestication

Feral cats are often tough to domesticate, and even if you do manage to socialize one, you may never be able to bring one into your home. However, if you can socialize one, you may be able to eventually catch it and bring it into your home, potentially to domesticate it depending on how feral the cat is. Kittens born to feral cats will often be easier to socialize and domesticate than adult feral cats.

Socializing a feral cat may eventually lead to catching the cat. But socialization is different from domestication. A cat must become familiar with and, at the very least, tolerate humans before it can be domesticated. Socialization is important in order for the feral cat to learn to trust you. After the cat trusts you, it opens up the potential for you to bring the cat into your home to keep as a pet.

feral cat with right ear tip clipped
Image Credit: Krishna777, Shutterstock

1. Set Up a Safe Environment for the Cat

Although feral cats have learned to survive and fend for themselves out in the wild, they still need shelter, food, and water. Setting up a safe environment for a feral cat to use can help the cat indirectly become familiar with at least the scent of a human so that the cat doesn’t feel as threatened. If possible, provide an area for hiding and sleeping along with some soft bedding so that the cat has a place to stay warm. Place food and water bowls in the space to attract the cat. Doing this at the same time every day may help the cat to return to the spot if he knows there will be food waiting.

2. Let the Cat Get Used to You

Once you have set up a safe environment for your feral cat, it’s time to let them get used to your presence. Don’t try to interact with the cat right away; instead, simply sit quietly near them for 15–20 minutes per day. This will allow the cat to become accustomed to your presence without feeling threatened or overwhelmed. As they become more comfortable, you can start talking softly and potentially offering treats depending on how close the cat will let you get.

stray cat_Dimitris Vetsikas, Pixabay
Image Credit: Dimitris Vetsikas, Pixabay

3. Humming and Stroking

When the cat is comfortable enough with you sitting nearby, slowly move closer while humming a gentle tune. This will help the feral cat associate your presence with something positive and calming. When they don’t appear distressed, you can start lightly stroking their fur – be sure to avoid their head and tail as this may make them feel uncomfortable. Once the cat lets you pet them, it is a good indicator that he is comfortable and sociable around you. Note that some cats may never get past this step, but at least you can provide as much care as possible to the cat.

4. Catch the Cat

Once the cat is comfortable around you, you can try to catch the feral cat. It’s important to know that feral cats can be aggressive and may scratch or bite, so use caution when handling, which is why this is easier done if the cat is socialized first. You may be able to contact animal control services or animal rescue agencies for assistance in catching the cat. If not, consider wearing at least long sleeves, glasses/sunglasses, thick pants, and sturdy shoes.

a gray stray cat is walking along the sidewalk
Image Credit: Gansstock, Shutterstock

5. Introduce the Cat Into Your Home

If you were able to successfully socialize and catch the feral cat without professional help, you may be able to bring it into your home at this time. Note that if you have other cats, this may not be such a good idea because the feral cat may become aggressive. But if you don’t have any other pets, you may be able to care for this cat if it has formed a bond with you.

However, feral cats that have been socialized may be able to get along with other cats, so you’ll have to watch them carefully and introduce them properly. But remember that socialization is not the same as domestication, and you may not be able to fully domesticate a feral cat.

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Other Tips & Tricks to Help Desensitize Them

The following tips offer specific approaches and solutions that can help you socialize feral cats. While each situation is different, this best practice guide is ideal for helping you desensitize the cat to humans so that you can eventually capture them without much trouble.

  1. Start Off Slowly – Begin by offering food from a distance and then gradually move closer over time.
  2. Provide a Safe Space – Give cats their own space to explore without feeling threatened.
  3. Provide Multiple Feeding Locations – Place food bowls in multiple locations around the home so the cats feel comfortable accessing them without feeling intimidated or crowded out by other animals in the space.
  4. Speak Softly & Move Slowly – Talk to the cat in a calm, quiet voice and keep your movements slow and gentle.
  5. Offer Rewards – Use treats or toys as rewards when they display good behavior.
  6. Avoid Eye Contact – Staring directly into a feral cat’s eyes can be seen as confrontational and intimidating; try looking away instead.
  7. Don’t Crowd Them – Feral cats often feel boxed in and overwhelmed if approached too quickly or too closely, give them plenty of room to retreat if needed.
  8. Get Familiar Scents – Leaving materials such as clothes or blankets out that have your scent on them can help feral cats become more familiar with your scent.
  9. Set Up Structured Interactions – Supervised interactions can help build trust over time if done in small doses and at a safe distance.
  10. Give Them Time – Don’t expect the cats to fully trust you in one day, give them time and patience to get used to their new surroundings and people.
  11. Start with Touching – Gently stroke the back of their neck or head before attempting anything more invasive like picking them up.
  12. Seek Professional Advice – If you are having difficulty socializing the cat, seek professional advice from an experienced animal behaviorist or veterinarian for assistance with trapping the cat.
  13. Get Veterinary Care – If you do manage to catch the cat, take it to the vet for a checkup and medical treatments as needed to ensure they are healthy and happy in their new home.

What Else Do I Need to Know? 10 Tips for Caring for a Feral Cat

Feral cats are resilient and resourceful animals that can find a way to survive in almost any environment. However, it is important to remember that these cats have likely been living on their own for some time and may be accustomed to taking care of themselves. This means they will require extra attention, love, and care when transitioning into your home.

feral calico cat
Image Credit: Twinschoice, Shutterstock
  • Prepare for flea infestations – Feral cats often carry fleas or ticks so it’s important to provide appropriate treatments against these pests.
  • Provide regular vaccinations – As with all cats, feral cats should be vaccinated regularly against common diseases such as feline distemper and rabies.
  • Neuter/spay them – Have the cats neutered or spayed to help prevent the spread of unwanted kittens in your area.
  • Establish a feeding schedule – Feed the cats at regular intervals throughout the day so they learn when to expect their next meal.
  • Provide regular grooming Brushing and combing your cat’s fur on a regular basis can help reduce shedding, matting, and debris buildup from outside sources.
  • Litter train them – Many feral cats don’t know how to use the litter box, but this can be taught with patience and consistency.
  • Find an appropriate shelter – Feral cats need access to an appropriate shelter such as a bed, covered house, or even a large cardboard box that is well insulated and waterproof if needed.
  • Offer a warm bed – Cats like to have a warm and comfortable spot to snuggle up in at night, provide them with a bed or blanket for this purpose.
  • Provide regular socialization – Spend time interacting with your cats so they become comfortable around people and learn there is no need to be scared anymore.
  • Monitor their health closely – Pay close attention to their behavior and any changes that may arise as you get to know them better over time.

By taking the necessary steps outlined above, you can help ensure the feral cat in your care transitions into their new home comfortably and safely.

Common Medical Problems in Feral Cats

Feral cats can sometimes have underlying medical issues that may not be immediately visible or known. Therefore, it is important to monitor them closely and seek professional advice from a veterinarian if you notice any changes in their behavior or physical condition. Common health problems include:

two feral cats
Image Credit: JancickaL, Pixabay
  • Parasites: Fleas, ticks, mites, and worms may all be present in feral cats and require appropriate treatments for removal.
  • Upper Respiratory Infection: This is caused by viruses such as the feline herpes virus (FHV) and requires antibiotics for treatment.
  • FIV/FeLV: These two retroviruses are common among feral cats and can cause various symptoms such as weight loss, eye discharge, anemia, and loss of appetite.
  • Injuries & Trauma: Feral cats are often exposed to injury or trauma due to their outdoor environment, so any signs of wounds should be checked by a veterinarian immediately.
  • Dental Disease: Poor dental health can lead to chronic pain and infection in feral cats, so regular check-ups with a vet are recommended.
  • Fight Wounds: Feral cats are often involved in fights with other animals and may have wounds or scars as a result.
  • Pregnancy: Cats reproduce quickly, and you might not even realize the cat you’re rescuing is pregnant. Cat gestation is about 63 to 65 days, so plan for the extra mouths to feed and have a plan to rehome the kittens.

3 cat divider Socializing Feral Cats: Final Thoughts

Taking in a feral cat into your home comes with many responsibilities and challenges, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. With patience and consistency, feral cats can learn to trust people again and become loving companions once given time to adjust. Remember that good communication with your local vet is essential in order to ensure they receive the best care possible. By taking the necessary steps to ensure their health, safety, and comfort, they may soon become a content part of your family!

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Featured Image Credit: museumsmaus, Pixabay