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I read through the questions and answers here but didn't find any suitable advice so I'm looking for some answers for the following situation:

I got two stray cats that grew up in the wild from a fellow vet. They've lived in the wild for 7 months until she (the vet) was able to catch them with a weasel-trap, castrated them and handed them to me to take care of them. Now they have been living in my house since 8 month.

The first months were really difficult:

  • They were really easily scared by fast movement and noise
  • Frequently seeking shelter in a hide-out I made for them
  • Didn't like to get touched at all
  • Avoided getting too close to me
  • Were quite rough when feeding them
  • I couldn't pick them up etc.

In the last 3-4 months they started to enjoy me grooming and petting them, they started looking for me to get attention, started purring and are alltogether quite relaxed compared to the time before.

Recently they started to sit in front and look outside my terrace-door (glas) a lot. I guess they miss the nature and their past freedom compared to the enclosed living-space of my house. I really want to let them out soon (I already installed a cat door) but I'm also afraid that they will run off for good.

Any ideas besides fencing a certain area of the garden? Harnessing them isn't an option either - I tried it once and they freaked out (couldn't even get them into the harness). Should I wait longer or try additional methods of taming them to increase the chances of them returning?

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A few words about domesticating first: domestication is done to a species of animals over many generation to make them more useful for humans. Wild boars were domesticated into pigs, wolves into dogs.

What you mean is taming.

Taming is the conditioned behavioral modification of a wild-born animal when its natural avoidance of humans is reduced and it accepts the presence of humans.

You've been doing that successfully with them over the past months.

The questions now are:

Would your cats run away?

Your cats learned that they get regular meals from you, that there are comfortable places in your house and sometimes there are cuddles. Your cats have also learned to hunt prey to feed themselves and where to find hideaways in the wild. But hunting prey can be difficult and dangerous, so most cats have a tendency to return to their food bowl.

Due to their feral upbringing, there can never be a guarantee that they'll come back to you. They might stay away for a day or more and then return. But in general cats are pragmatic animals - if you treat them right and offer them food, they'll return.

Do your cats really need to go outside?

They like to watch the outdoors through windows and they would probably like to go outside, but such a life always comes with real risks of injuries or a premature death. Cats can be run over by cars, get into fights, get poisoned by hateful neighbors or walk through a (garage, shed or barn) door that shuts behind them, where they might die of hunger or thirst.

On the other hand, releasing cats that grew up feral into the wild does have a notable impact on the population of small animals like rodents, birds, lizards and bats in the vicinity. If you live in or near a nature conservation area, you shouldn't let them out.

Your cats might be just as content to watch things through the window as we humans are to watch things through a TV.

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  • Thank you for your thorough answer and for easing my mind a bit with your statements: "most cats have a tendency to return to their food bowl." & "But in general cats are pragmatic animals" You mentioned: "What you mean is taming." - Mishap on my side, sry - English isn't my native language. Your last three paragraphs really sunk in with me - I'll definitly consider those points!
    – iLuvLogix
    Jul 8, 2022 at 9:22
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We have gone through multiple iterations of protected outdoor access with our cats so far, from a simple protective net on a single window to a cat-proof fence in our back yard that encloses a 60m² area (about 645 ft²).

What we have found is that the critical amount of space for the cats to be really satisfied with an enclosure is not actually that big if they are neutered and the enclosure is interesting enough.

The first enclosure we've built was 35m² (about 376 ft²), had a wire mesh roof at a height of about 150cm (about 4.9 ft), and some smallish plants on the lawn inside.

This was already very exciting for them, but when we enlarged this to 60m², removed the roof and went for 220cm height (about 7.2 ft) cat-proof fence, things really changed dramatically.

They are very active playing with each other in the enclosure, and since we live close to a field they are even quite successful hunting mice and birds in this small area.

We do not really groom this area, meaning there is high grass, we've planted some small bushes, dropped some random logs of wood here and there, and even made a little tunnel by digging in a small length of large diameter plumbing tube.

They have access to this enclosure from the ground floor as well as from a set of small wall-mounted steps leading to a window on the first floor.

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  • Thank you for your insights - I've previously ruled out the fencing of the whole garden since we have a lot of birds, but I could see how a small enclosure with access via a cat-door might work and give them a sort of 'partial freedom'.
    – iLuvLogix
    Jul 8, 2022 at 9:27
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It is never easy to let a cat outside for the first time,but the fact that your cats was born in the wild and know the dangers that exists means it is less likely that they will run away from you.

There is a few things you can do when you let the cats outside for the first time,leave the door open so the cats can run inside if they get scared,let the cats outside at a quiet time of day(in the middle of the day when people are at work or in the weekend).

You should be outside with the cats the first few times you let them out,this is to show them that it is a safe area and it gives you the possibility to call them back if they stray too far.

There is no need for the cats to stay outside for long but let them explore the area for some time before you bring them inside.

You have given the cats a lot of time to adapt to you and your home and letting the cats out will not get easier by waiting for weeks or months,cats have their own free will and there is a tiny possibility for failiure in that the cats might run away,but it is a lot more likely that the cats will stay with you.

Given time a feral cat will often become the most loving cat you can ever get :)

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