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My partner and I took a previously feral cat into our home a week and a half ago. She was born outdoors and was found in a cardboard box on a landfill near the city we live along with her four kittens. She stayed at another woman's house for four weeks (without her kittens), and during that time she started to like cuddles, playing and human company.

She has her spot behind the washing machine in our bathroom. She has become less jumpy during these days and she sleeps and relaxes with us in the room or next to her. We are able to hand feed her, but not touch and pet her. Our approach is slow movements and good food, lots of talking (to her) and that she controls the pace of the socialising. She's not aggressive at all, just scared.

However, do you have any concrete tips on how to make her feel trusting and "at home"? Our job is to make her as much of a "normal" cat as possible so she can be adopted to another home forever. We've never done this before.

  • And what happened to the kittens? Just wandering. – Sonevol Aug 7 '17 at 12:42
  • I'm not sure, actually. She came to us in a hurry, and we didn't get the time to ask a lot of questions. If they survived they're in a cat nursing/adoption center just outside the city. The adoption center wouldn't have separated them if they were too young or needed her, so fingers crossed that they are being adopted by caring homes as we speak. – Helene Konstantine Dunlop Aug 7 '17 at 15:43
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Feral cats can be tough. I applaud you for bringing one into your home. I've had a few experiences myself with one and it can be a challenge. However, I think you've got the right approach. In my opinion the most important key here is patience. Letting her set the pace will go a long way in her trusting you. That being said, there are a few things that you can do.

First, finding out what motivates them can help quite a bit with any kind of training or rehab. Food motivated cats are always the easiest, largely because it's easier to provide an immediate reward. If she is food motivated, giving her a single treat at a time to reinforce positive behaviors (choosing to sit near you rather than further away, any kind of positive physical contact, etc.) can help promote more discovery for her in that area.

We tend to forget that animals are very scent based creatures as we don't have as strong a sense of smell (myself in particular). One of the way cats bond is through scent sharing. They often do this by marking things with the side of their head (where an oil gland is) but giving the cat access to your scents helps promote bonding. You can do this by leaving some of your worn clothing in places or beds they sleep in. If you feel comfortable with it, give them access to your bedroom as well. It's the most scent heavy room in the house and generally cats who want to bond are drawn to it.

Playtime can be a big way to win a cat over as well. Try a wand toy, or one that has a handle with a toy attached to a string. Drag the toy along the ground back and forth around the cat. If you can get them playing then you can expend a lot of that nervous energy and it can really help establish trust. They may even seek you out for playtime.

It's great that they're feeding from your hand, but that may be the wrong time to try petting them. Some ferals can be defensive at feeding time (I know I just said to reinforce with food but, bear with me). Trying to touch them while they're eating may cause their defenses to go up. In my opinion (and it is an opinion) the best time to try petting them is when they're satisfied. That is, shortly after they're completely done eating a meal or 10 minutes or so after heavy playtime (too soon after playtime and they may see your hands as tasty chewtoys).

Start small, let them sniff your hand before touching them, keep the petting sessions short. Some cats can get overstimulated and bite if they're not used to being petted (this happens with my feral). If you're able to do this small amounts (and reinforce with treats) I think you'll see them seek out comfort and affection after a time. They may never be a truly cuddly cat but I do think that most ferals (particularly young ones) can come far enough to want human interaction and affection if they get it in the right circumstances.

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  • Time is exactly it. I tamed a (probably feral) cat, and all it took was sitting on the ground for hours on end. – Wayne Werner Aug 7 '17 at 19:19
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    I'll endorse the wand toy. In 2005 we found a kitten that had been living wild; not quite feral (he knew what a litterbox was for) but not tame either. I played with him regularly and he soon bonded to me. – Anton Sherwood Aug 7 '17 at 21:10
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    \This is also the case with the feral kitten at our place. Even If I extend my hand with food, it hisses and scratches my hand but eats well from hand if I wear oven gloves. It's been around 5 months of feeding her but still she doesn't like to be touched or petted. It's been the test of my patience. Help me out. – Mueez Siraj Nov 19 '17 at 5:18
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I can come up with the following points:

  • Avoid using machines that are too noisy. Cats get easily scared by noise.
  • Give her a nice name and always speak sweetly to her by addressing her by her name. Slowly she will start responding to her name.
  • Try giving most tasty food to cats. Foods is one of the most trust building measures.
  • Never let dogs around. Cats and dogs are born enemies. It will lead the cat to flee.
  • Buy a cat sofa or bed and keep it near washing machine to lure her.
  • If you live iin a cold place then heat some object in microwave, put on the cat bed and cover it with thick blanket. This will attract the cat towards the bed even more.
  • Sit in front of the cat and eat meat or fish to lure her to eat along with you.
  • Don't let anyone other than you family near her as new people will also scare her.
  • When the cat lets you pet her try rubbing her chin. It is the sweet spot for many animals including cats. They love when someone pet their chins. They will raise their heads, close eyes and relax.
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    Great answer- the warming up an object for the bed is a good idea. The only thing I'm not convinced of is bringing in another cat - cat's don't always take well to each other - she will probably be less stressed on her own. – Yvette Aug 7 '17 at 14:18
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    Having rescued many cats throughout my lifetime, I spot a few things here. Washing machines are scary to cats along with anything big and noisy. Second, other cats can trigger issues with territorial confidence. The best thing is to be patient, interact with the cat, speak softly, eat with the cat, play with the cat, be very gentle and slow moving, always be supportive when the cat explores, move food and litter away from cats comfort zone very slowly, spend lots of time with the cat. Your answer is very good. Just a few adjustments. Cheers!! – closetnoc Aug 7 '17 at 17:47
  • BTW- Ferals can take months before they begin to explore too much. It takes time and much patience. The reward is that ferals make grateful loving souls and will be the little fuzzy love of your life. – closetnoc Aug 7 '17 at 17:50
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    Any citations that dogs and cats are sworn enemies? My cat gets along great with our dogs. – Anoplexian Aug 7 '17 at 20:16
  • @Anoplexian In my area there are no feral cats because the stray dogs love their taste. The same reason why I keep my cat literally locked in prison, as half an hour outside and I will find her dead. – Sonevol Aug 7 '17 at 20:57
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Extend one hand out like you're feeding her, but don't have food. She may come over to investigate and rub against your hand. The important thing is to have your arm stretched out so the cat doesn't feel like you can grab her.

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  • Keep the hand lower than their head so it's not threatening, and don't move it around; let them rub your hand with the part of their head/body they want scratched or petted. Once they learn you can be trusted to do that without hurting them, then you can try scratching or petting directly. – StephenS Jan 9 at 2:27

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