It's an unfortunate fact that many cats are on their own: they have no home, no owner, and no real contact with people. A life of this kind can make even a once-domesticated cat become feral or wild. If you're thinking about taming a feral cat, there are many factors to consider. No two feral cats are exactly alike – there are different degrees of wildness in feral cats. There are fully feral cats that were born in the wild and have never been around people. Then there are semi-feral cats that might be skittish or anxious around people but will tolerate some human contact. And finally there are pet cats that have become feral for some reason (e.g. they were lost by their owner). Before you take in a feral cat, determine where the cat falls in this spectrum and consider how much time and effort you can put into the process of helping the cat join (or rejoin) the human world.
What to Expect
Pet cats that have become feral are the easiest to tame. They've been pets before and they often have relatively little trouble becoming comfortable around people once again. Semi-feral cats have had some human contact, and this can be a great help when they're adjusting to an indoor setting. It can take time to tame a semi-feral cat, but it shouldn't be an impossible task. Fully feral cats are the most difficult, and unless a feral cat has had some exposure to humans in early life, they may not be suitable for domestication. Trying to tame a fully feral cat can be frustrating and disappointing, not to mention painful (you might get bitten and scratched for your efforts).
Age is a Factor
The cat's age is a big consideration when determining how difficult it will be to tame the feral feline. An older cat that has been feral for a long period of time will have far more trouble with domestication than a feral kitten, especially if the kitten is younger than 12 weeks. If you see feral kittens with their mother, do not separate them. But if you can catch them in a trap together, bring them all indoors.
Other Ways to Help
Many animal lovers will trap, neuter/spay, and then release cats to help control the feral cat population. In other words, they'll lure a feral cat into a humane trap, take the cat to a vet to be neutered or spayed (they can also get vaccinations at the same time), and finally release the cat back to their colony. Never try to take an angry feral cat out of the cage yourself. Instead put a blanket over the cage to calm the cat down. And never leave a cat outside in a trap where it could be attacked by other animals or suffer in bad weather.
It's always best to contact a cat rescue or the SPCA for advice if you're attempting to bring a feral cat indoors or trying trap-neuter-release for the first time. Be sure you have time and money to put into this process. Feral cats will need to see a vet and the bills can be considerable depending on how much time they have spent in the wild. And taming a feral cat will take consistent effort, so decide if you have the time to spend with the cat each day.
By Jay Matthews
About the Author
Jay Matthews has been writing professionally for over a decade. He's been an animal lover for even longer. When he's not creating articles or copywriting, he's slowly chipping away at a science fiction novel. He lives with his family and their cat Koko in Los Angeles.