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I have been feeding a friendly feral cat for the last 10 months. He began visiting us when he was well into his feline teens, so to speak (so he can forage food for himself). He is not exactly a lap kitty, but loves being stroked and can be lifted for upto 30 seconds at a stretch. In the daytime, I usually leave the window open for him to come and go as he pleases. He spends the day indoors napping after I give him his meal. Around 11 pm every evening, he wakes up and gets restless, which is when I have to let him outside. He spends the night outside and comes back in the morning to repeat the nap-eat-nap schedule.

The problem is that I am going to be moving houses in 15 days and I would really like to take him along. I am okay with keeping him indoors and litter-training him -- however is this the humane thing to do for a cat who has lived outdoors for pretty much all his life?

Edit: He's not a stray -- I'm fairly sure he was born in the neighbourhood. Also, it took quite a while for him to warm up to me and allow me to pet him.

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First, my wife and I have experience with 11 feral cats over the past 10 years. I don't intend this as bragging but I know a great deal about feral cats, some of it learned the very hard way.

Now, there are three types of cats you encounter outside:

  1. Cats whose owners let them roam - that is very dangerous in urban and suburban areas in the US. Brits - I know that your environment is very different that ours and I accept that it is much safer to allow your cats to go outdoors as they please - just trying to forestall any arguments.

  2. Cats who are the classic "stray" cat. These are cats who once lived with humans but lost the home. Maybe they go lost, they ran away from bad people, or they were dumped but stupid humans that think cats can survive outdoors on their own - maybe lions and such can but, not domestic cats who have lived with humans and might not know what to do with a mouse if they caught one.

  3. Feral cats - these are cats born and raised with no human contact. They regard us as another possible threat and they will run away as fast as possible. Should get one cornered, plan on being bitten and scratched when he or she fight, in their minds, for their life. My wife and I have learned that the hard way.

You are not dealing with a feral cat. There is absolutely no way that a feral cat would come close enough to be touched, let alone go into your house.

You have to use a trap to catch a feral cat, there simply is no other way to do it.

So, what should you do:

  1. Take the cat into your home and begin trying to limit his outdoor times. It will be difficult but we have found most cats can be converted to indoor cats provided enough of the right type of attention is given to them and they showered with love. Do not over shower them, however, cats often get more attention than they want at a particular time.

  2. Take the cat with you when you move. You have no choice in the matter. The cat has become dependent upon you in many ways and it simply is not right nor acceptable for you to move and leave him behind.

  3. Don't worry about him learning to use a litter box. Every feral we have trapped and taken to socialize knew instantly what a litter box was and its intended use. Even feral kittens who were born outside and have lived outside their entire lives will instinctively know the use of a litter box - it's actually sort of spooky that the adapt instantly to a litter box.

I'm going to end now and hope I can submit this answer. I hope I've addressed most of your questions. If not, either edit your question or post a new question.

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    My sister had a cat who basically moved in with another family and only came back to her home to sleep. My sister assumed he had gone missing but then got a call from the family asking if they could have him, as they'd found his chip! As she was going to rehome her cats anway she said yes. So it's worth checking if the cat is chipped. – Aravona Oct 9 '15 at 11:25
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    Aravona, thank you for pointing that out. I should have included it in my answer. Thank you for covering for me. – SimonT Nov 12 '15 at 23:05
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Yes! It is absolutely humane! This kitty is very fortunate that he has lived this long. The average lifespan of an outdoor cat is only 4 years. After moving him, the first thing you must do is get him neutered. This will help his urge to go "catting around" at night. It will be difficult, and likely noisy (do to the howling when wanting outside), but being inside is so much safer for him. (Inside cats live an average of 16 years.) He can be just as happy inside. The idea will be to make your new house very interesting for him - very tall cat trees, with lots of levels; lots of different materials for him to scratch; live catnip plants might be fun for him, too (bring a little of the outside indoors); and lots of shelving for him to climb high on the walls and perch. Resist his pleading to go outside for "just a little bit." This is an all or nothing kind of effort. For the first couple weeks, you may even have to keep the windows covered so he can't see out. This is only temporary, until he has some time to adjust. Thank you so much for caring for and about this cat! Best wishes to you both!

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  • great answer. I totally agree with kitty. I actually have 2 cats. I had them since they were 5 weeks old and since then they have been living indoor. OF course they are neutred. They have cat trees everywhere and they can roam the apartment as they please. As for the litterbox i had no problem at allllllllllllll. Just be careful for the SOFA lol – Hani Gotc Apr 26 '19 at 15:02
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You can do that, it is ok, if there is really no way that the cat can go outside after moving. The cat can be happy inside, too, but will be happier if he can go outside. I am not a fan of inside cats! Yes, they may live longer, because they won't be drived over. But the quality of life is better, if they have the chance to wander around. It is in their nautre. Yes, todays breeds are calmer than wild cats, but they are still cats. It is the same with us, humans. We are happy if we don't have to go outside when it is raining or cold, if we can sleep long in a comfortable environment and get food without needing to hunt it, but we are not so happy, if we are not free to go outside whenever we want to. There is a reason, why prisons are punishment, even if prisoners are allowed to work, are allowed to watch TV, don't have to go outside when it rains, and have training rooms.

It is better to take the cat with you when you move, because he is used to you and will be fed and get veterinarian care. If you leave him behind, he has to stray again, what is worse. But the best way would be (if possible, you should keep him inside if you move to a city), to take him with you, let him stay inside for some weeks to accept the new house/appartment as home and then allow him to go outside at night.

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Never let your cat wonder around outside, it’s too dangerous. My husband built our retirement home on a lake. There were woods all around us. Many feral cats would get into our covered garbage cans. We eventually started feeding this one tuxedo kitty, he was adorable yet very timid and scared. We TNR’d him. He was scared after that and we didn’t see him for a few days then all of a sudden he appeared by our pool and palapa down by the lake again. Well, turned out the property and home was too much for us to care for so we sold it within 1 & 1/2 years. WHAT TO DO WITH TOM, OUR FERAL KITTY!! We had 45 days before we had to vacate our sold home so we brought him in that night and put him in our large laundry room, with food, water and a litter box. We put a box with a blanket for him to sleep in. He has turned out to be our best friend keeping us laughing all the time. BTW, we also had a Persian show cat in which Tom sleeps by every night. We have relocated to another state and do not regret bring our little friend with us. We love him so much

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If a cat is feral, let it be feral. I have one that visits me for food. She's called "Wild Thing" She hisses and stuff, but she never learned to say "miaow", because her mother never taught her that so she talks in hisses. She lives under my compost bin - or sometimes in my shed. We get on okay, and I kind of love her. She now answers to Pshh,pshh at dinner time. Let feral cats be free. They avoid humans, but if they trust you then just help them with food. Don't try to "own" them. They like their life as it is - they will always be wild - but they can be friends. Feral cats hunt and survive - it's one of the first things they learn. I do worry about my feral friend if I go away though.

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  • The cat in this question does not avoid humans; it goes into the house and likes attention. This is too generalized for the situation described. – Allison C Apr 26 '19 at 13:23

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