Can a Feral Cat Become a Friendly House Pet?

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Q. Can a cat born feral ever really become a friendly, happy pet?

A. Many can, especially if you catch them as young kittens and work steadily to socialize them. Adult cats can often be transformed into loving pets as well, but I suspect many of those weren’t born wild but rather were lost or abandoned after being raised as pets.

Feral cat experts say you'll need lots of patience to convert a wild thing into a purring pet — but it's worth it. You’ll need it while working with your cat or kitten in your home, and you’ll need it in realizing that every formerly feral animal comes around at his own speed and the process cannot be rushed. Most cats will, however, come around in time.

As I said before, kittens are the easiest to tame, if you can get them trapped between the ages of 6 and 12 weeks. These are general guidelines, of course, because you probably won't know birth dates, and the rough life of a street cat can mean a feral kitten is smaller than a home-raised one. Once trapped, make your vet the first stop. Parasites, vaccines, medical problems, injuries and other issues should be addressed before you spend time handling the cat or introducing him to family members or other pets. 

Don’t force yourself on these wild things. Let the cat set the pace of interaction, and encourage him with food and play. A feral cat is best kept confined in your home in such a way that allows him to observe you at a safe distance (especially from a high perch above the action) but still be close enough to see, hear and smell you constantly.

Feathers at the end of a “cat fishing pole” is a wonderful toy for this use. Don’t make eye contact, since cats can find this threatening, and sit as quietly as possible. Let the toy work for you. When you sense your cat may accept your touch, restrict your petting at first  to the areas cats find least threatening: the back of the head and neck. Use treats in much the same way, letting the cat work slowly up to taking food from your hand.

A well-socialized kitten caught and removed from a feral colony when young is likely to be eventually no different in behavior from any other cat, but with older cats, you won’t know how far you’ll get for weeks or even months. Some adult-caught cats will never completely warm up to being lap-sitting kitties, but others will do just fine.

Many feel it’s worth the effort to convert a feral cat to a pet, because the trust established once a former feral grants you his heart is very powerful indeed. It's good for you both.

More on Vetstreet.com:

* 4 Places to Pet a Cat, 1 to Leave Alone

* 10 Human Foods That are Dangerous to Cats and Dogs

* Top 10 Kitten Names

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