Bringing Adult Feral Cat into Household

CatChannel cat behavior expert Marilyn Krieger offers some advice on converting a feral cat to an inside cat.

By Marilyn Krieger | Posted: March 26, 2010, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: It would be great to read an article about how to incorporate an adult feral cat into a household.  I often see articles about adopting feral kittens, but I have never seen an article about adoption of an adult feral.  Do they ever adapt to an indoor lifestyle?

A: Successfully converting a feral cat into an indoor cat is dependent on many factors. The age of the cat, previous history, his relationship with people, the household he will move in with and his temperament are some factors that influence the length of time and extent he can transition into an affectionate household member. Some wild cats have been household cats previously and are easier to convert back into the household. Others, though feral, are accepting of humans, especially their handouts. Young kittens are relatively easy to convince that domestication is preferable to the wild. After they are about 12 weeks old, the process becomes more challenging and usually takes longer. Then there are the feral cats who want nothing to do with anything human. Sometimes these cats, with patience and lots of time, can be convinced that living under the bed or in the rafters 24/7 isn't as rewarding as sitting on a sofa or perching on a cat tree.

The first step when converting a feral outsider into a friendly home dweller is to take him to your vet for a checkup and to be fixed. Make sure you tell your vet that you are bringing a feral cat in for him to examine. The vet visit will be traumatic for everyone; you, your vet and the cat. Your vet may recommend a sedative to make the experience easier for all involved. Having your cat fixed can make the transition a little easier. Additionally, cats who are fixed are generally calmer.

Prepare a room beforehand for your newcomer. It should be a quiet room where no other animals are allowed. Have both high perches for the cat as well as sheltered places that he can hide in. Safe places are easily provided by placing boxes so that they face toward the walls. Paper bags with no handles and commercially available igloos and tunnels for cats also are good examples of safe sanctuaries for the feral outsider. The room should also have at least two uncovered cat boxes, comfortable beds, plenty of fresh water, food and interactive toys.

If you find your feral cat initially doesn't understand what the litterbox is for, encourage him to use it by putting clean garden soil in the box. The boxes need to be cleaned at least on a daily basis and should be situated in a location where the cat feels he could escape and not be cornered.

The three most important tools I have found for convincing a feral cat to become an insider is food, patience and good observation skills. Since security and safety are prime directives for cats, help your feral feel safe by not cornering him or approaching him. He needs to feel secure enough to want to come to meet you. It is important that you set up the situation so that he will think it's his idea when he does finally feel safe enough to venture forth to meet you. Every time you go into the feral's room arm yourself with delicious treats and toss tiny little pieces close to him. Talk quietly to him so that he starts associating your voice with you and the delicious food. Bring a good book into room and sit on the floor or in a comfortable chair and spend time with him, occasionally tossing a treat in his direction. It's important to remember that we humans are tall, big and scary to a small feral cat. Whenever possible, either sit on the floor, or in a low chair so that you don't look quite so menacing to him.

Take your time and don't force the cat to interact with you. Success is partially dependent on you allowing the cat to choose when he feels safe enough to relate to you. The hardest part of the process will be your accepting the cat at whatever stage of socialization he is in at the moment. Your appreciation and acceptance of the cat will be manifested by your being relaxed and that will help him feel safe. 

It can be done. About 20 years ago, I trapped a 2-year-old whole feral male. He spent the first four months of the relationship hiding under the bed, venturing out only for food, water and to use the cat box. Within about one year he transitioned into an affectionate, lap-sitting cat who for the remaining 12 years of his life preferred the comforts of home to the outdoors.  


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Reader Comments

Catsnip Etc    Goshen, IN

3/23/2015 11:48:22 AM

We are a group that T-N-Rs free roaming cats and have found many have adapted to living inside as pets. It depends on how feral the cat has been raised. They may become the most loving because they know you have saved them from the harshness of the struggle of survival in the outside world. I have three of my own.

Madilyn    Warren, MI

6/9/2014 9:13:02 AM

This article gives me hope! A feral cat, 10 months old, has adopted me and my porch (and window sills). She sits on me, wants to be petted, and it more loving than my indoor cats. I hesitated to take her inside. Now I am going to take her to the vet and try her in the house. I just wonder if her parents (two ferals in the neighborhood) will attack me for taking their baby? Any suggestions?

Lucy    International

4/16/2014 1:22:21 PM

I recently adopted a feral cat that was on my boyfriends patio up on a tree. He is so scared he spends the whole day under the bed and only comes out during the nights to get some water and food and use the cat box. My apartment is very small and I cannot destined a room solely for him. Whenever I try to approach him he scratches and bites me. I cannot help but to think if I am traumatizing the poor thing and if I should release him back into the wild...I don't even know if I should fix him before doing so, because what right do I have to change his life completely just to fit my life style? I feel so sorry for him, I don't know what to do anymore.

emily    State college, PA

3/10/2012 6:33:28 PM

I also love this article. There is a great cat hiding in many feral cats and not just kittens. I moved into an apt in a small city 5 years ago. There was a blue eyed siamese male with a bent in half tail that we saw from time to time out our window. He was very scruffy and thin. One day he was limping and his paw was hurt. We began feeding him because he was unable to hunt and was slowly starving. our fire escape became his feeding pad and we would slowly go up a stair every time we fed him until we could sit beside him as he ate. Over the years he set up shop on our pourch and we had a big fluffy bed for him, food water and anti biotics when he would get into fights. We slowly built a bond and that eventually led to me being able to carry him and comb and clean his ears. We moved after 4 years and we couldnt leave him behind. Cut to now and after neuter and vet check Oscar the Grouch is the best cat I've ever known and he is so wonderful. I get upset that my boyfriend and i are really the only ones who know how incredable oscars story is but this gives me a chance to share it. Give feral a chance. They may become your forever friend

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