Thursday 14 April 2022

Taming wild feral cats and kittens - long discussion on socialising

Taming wild feral cats and kittens takes time, patience and commitment but the rewards are potentially high. Cat breeders ensure that their kittens are socialized by gentle and nurturing contact with humans and other pets during the first 3-9 weeks of their lives. This is the time to ensure the kitten becomes truly domesticated. Domestic cats are wild cats at heart and the wild is never far away.

Image in public domain.

This tells us what to do in taming wild feral cats and kittens. Feral cats will require a different taming process than kittens (longer and more arduous).

Taming wild feral cats and kittens - Kittens

Feral kittens are easier to tame if carried out within the first 3-9 weeks of life. It seems that shelter volunteers prioritize the kittens that are more likely to be tamed. Kittens over 5 months of age are neutered and returned to the feral colony normally.

After recovering the feral kitten, he/she should be placed in a pen or perhaps an unused box room. A suitable cage might be a bit like a cat carry cage but bigger and without a top. The room should be one that feels secure to a frightened animal but where they ideally would see people but in a controlled and gentle manner. This is a very gradual and secure introduction to the human race (what a shock!). This said the entirety of a small flat is probably okay if there are no other occupants other than the person doing the 'taming' but they tend to hide where they can't be found!


Social contact with the kittens should be gentle and quiet using a quiet and friendly voice. Cats get used to a voice and recognize it as friendly and will warm to it. The tone of a voice is very important in my experience. When out of the room the sound of a radio talk show will speed up the process of familiarization to human activity and presence. I think it fair to say that underpinning the whole process is patience, friendliness and gentleness backed up with good food!

I have always found that it is not a good idea to put one's outstretched fingers towards a strange cat. This can look aggressive and dangerous to a cat and it hurts when your fingertips get nipped! Better to approach (from the front) with the back of the hand which they can smell and get accustomed to. The same would apply to a feral kitten. Alternatively approach from above and behind and stroke the head and upper back. I find cats are more likely to feel OK with stroking if you stay high up on the body (e.g., shoulders, back of head, rather than rump, legs, hind legs etc.).

It may also be a good idea to first start stroking when the cat is distracted i.e. when eating! And using one finger gently at first perhaps. The whole contact thing needs to be very restricted and gently initially building from there. I have seen rescuers use fake mini-hands on sticks. Same thing but safer. This one looks as if it is on a finger.

Taming wild feral cats and kittens
Taming wild feral cats and kittens using a fake mini-hand as a safe way of first touching to acclimatise the cat to the human touch. Image: Screenshot.

Caution is the byword. And if we get scratched, we shouldn't complain or shout or blame the kitten. It will have been our fault. It is so important to keep things friendly otherwise we just scare them some more and put back the entire process.

Food is useful in the bonding/socializing process. Food should be the kind that a feral cat would normally eat only a healthier version of it. So, it might include the kind of food we throw out as feral cats often raid dustbins and waste areas or restaurant kitchens etc. In other words, suburban feral cats live off cooked human food waste such as cooked chicken and fish. 

Morsels of this kind of food can be fed to the kitten together with a more balanced food (high quality, if affordable, commercial wet food). The cooked human food is being used as a means to bond with the cat. The kitten will begin to look upon us as a cat and mother.

The room should be safe, meaning no escape routes or small spaces and openings into which a frightened kitten might try and hide.

In time the kitten can be taken out of the pen (some people don't use a pen - just a secure room) and play and handling can commence. Handling cats properly is important whether they are feral or not. If a cat is mishandled, she will feel insecure and uncomfortable and try and jump down. 

Handling should provide good support to the cat. You can even pick up a kitten (not an adult) by the scruff of the neck (carefully) to mimic the actions of a mother cat moving her young to a safe place. Also, some cats do not like going on a human's lap. This applies to any cat feral or domesticated cat. A cat should not be forced to go on our laps is she doesn't like it. It may never happen for that particular cat.

Care obviously needs to be exercised when handling so as to not frighten the kitten and nothing should be forced. If the kitten doesn't want to be picked up, fine. Wait for the next day. It's got to be gradual and at the cat's pace. Returning the kitten to the safe haven of his/her pen will should calm things down if she becomes frightened and feel insecure.

Feral cat who has been socialised and come in from the harsh wildlife which has reduced the stress and which is apparent on his face
Feral cat who has been socialised and come in from the harsh wildlife which has reduced the stress and which is apparent on his face. Image: MikeB

Taming wild feral cats and kittens is not achievable sometimes. This is not a failure on our part. After all domestic cats are essentially tamed wild cats and some want to stay wild. At a certain point in time the kitten will behave like a domestic cat. If the kitten is to be re-homed and therefore have new human parents, the new parents would ideally be involved in the latter stages of the taming process to ease the transference otherwise the cat may become bonded to the cat tamer too much, making re-homing more difficult.

In the process of taming wild feral cats and kittens, changes in environment will upset the cat, however (this also applies to any cat). So, if we move home or the cat is re-homed it will take a long time to adjust. Cats like routine as it provides a sense of security. This applies to us too.

As to litter training, cats have a natural propensity to use litter as it replicates the kind of material (earth) on which they would normally do the business. And they are clean animals so doing it in the litter pleases the cat. Litter training is therefore relatively straightforward and if not, it may be due to stress or an illness (which may be stress related such as Cystitis). This part of taming wild feral cats and kittens should be the least of your problems.

It is presumed that all the necessary steps with respect to cleaning, removing fleas etc. etc. have been carried out. Feral cats will almost certainly have lots of fleas and possibly other parasites (as well as other health issues such as URIs). All these need to be dealt with by skilled people before taming wild feral cats and kittens begins.

A semi-domesticated feral cat
A semi-domesticated feral cat. Image: in public domain.

Feral Cats

When bearing in mind the numbers of feral cats destroyed in shelters every year (in the USA over 2 million (as at around 2012 but coming down. Yes, a massive number) it would seem that the human race has more or less given up on socialising feral cats. With the endless supply of cats from unneutered domestic cats, it seems that the only practical solution is to destroy feral cats. 

This is the state of affairs we find ourselves in through a lack of wide ranging, government led, proactive measures over a long period of time. The point is that in taming wild feral cats and kittens we are trying to turn the clock back for these animals and it may be too late or the wrong thing to do.

The prognosis for the outcome of taming wild feral cats is not that good. As mentioned, it is really too late for some feral cats. These cats are hard wired wild cats. It could be argued that it is cruel to try and tame them. To what purpose are we trying to tame them? To improve their lives is the answer. But taming a feral cat may in fact achieve the opposite as a domesticated environment may be too stressful for the cat. 

Let's think of all the wild animals in zoos. Most often these animals have significantly shortened lives in captivity. The trouble with feral cats is that they are betwixt and between domestication and true wild animals. They are not truly suited to the wild as we have domesticated them yet the wild in them allows them to behave as wild animals. We created this uncomfortable situation for feral cats.

It is, though, possible to find a place, an environment that is, in effect, between the wild and domesticity, namely on a farm. A farm cat can live near humans and serve humans by being a mouser. A farm cat can choose when to socialize with humans. It would seem to be an ideal compromise and is a throwback to the beginnings of domestication of the true wild cats some 10,000 years ago. This is where some tamed or semi tamed feral cats should live.

However, not all feral cats are untameable. There is a spectrum of types of feral cat from the fairly recently abandoned cat who has become a stray cat (and beginning to become wild and feral) to the hard-core feral cat who has been born in the wild and knows nothing different. Taming wild feral cats and kittens of the former type will obviously offer a much higher chance of success.

Shelter or Organised Environment

In should go without saying that the first port of call is a veterinarian to check out heath and neutering. Cleanliness and parasites are next. For the first three days it is generally recognized that a feral cat should be caged and the person doing the taming should allow the cat to become accustomed to him/her by her presence, voice and smell (leaving an article of clothing that has been worn). Interesting bits of food (cooked human food) will encourage the formation of the relationship. Although real cat food should be feed on a more permanent basis. Real cat food is flesh and other bits of an animal which commercial cat food does a rather poor job in replicating.

Some feral cats may recognize a litter tray, while those born feral won't and if they are purely city feral cats may not cover feces. This is not an issue though. It may be wise to initially place earth in the litter tray (potting compost) and then gradually introduce litter (clay litter) in a mix. A feral cat should use the litter but may use soft bedding so initially it may be best to avoid putting soft bedding in the cage. Clearly only we can assess how frightened and defensive the cat is. This may translate to aggression, which should not of course be punished. Precautions may need to be taken like wearing long thick gloves.

Once the feral cat is using a litter the cage can be opened and the long stage familiarization begins. This involves gradually getting to the stage where we can touch the cat. Taming wild feral cats and kittens is a slow gentle process so nothing should be forced. Our simple presence, food and friendly voice and our smell will do the trick in due course. Reaching out to touch should be done with caution and common sense - slowly, gently and low down with the back of the hand or fingers clasped.

Private Environment

It may be the case that we bump into a feral cat who has been raiding our food supplies or waste food. These cats may be not at the extreme end of wild but fully stray cats nonetheless. Initially they will probably run if they see us. But if there is a bit of domestication in them, they will respond, I have found, to the sound of a low, quiet and friendly voice. Placing food out will start to create a routine for the cat. This routine will naturally develop to a relationship over time. And the time frame should be relaxed and long. Eventually they will let us touch them but we should always approach very carefully initially, approaching slowly with the back of the hand and at a low level. We are giants and frightening, so we should lower ourselves to their level and become generally less threatening.

A cat will instinctively want to make survival easier and if there is food and warmth (in cold weather) he will return and become friendly. Eventually he will rub against you and purr. Then he is saying, Hi there, I'm back and where's my breakfast? This is after all how the wild cat became domesticated at the beginning.

Taming wild feral cats and kittens - Source:
  • Own experiences
  • Adopted from a Sarah Hartwell article


  1. Thankk you very much for this article on taming feral cats
    I am in the process of taming a semi feral and this gave me help and hope
    best wishes
    Caroline rowland
    manchester UK

  2. Hi, Caroline - thanks for the comment, it is appreciated.

  3. Hi,

    I'm doing the same thing - we have an all black pet cat - the opulent Charlie, and now her stray equivalent - the skinny Little Black Cat is visiting.

    She's been coming along for about two months now. She was and still is very afraid of people, but her hunger makes her advance. I started by leaving biscuits in a bowl in the back garden. Eventually I moved them closer and closer to the window. We're now at the stage where the biscuits are inside and she pops hers head in, then jumps along and eats them.

    At first I tried petting her, but she would shy away so now we're patiently letting her come in and do her thing. We acknowledge her, then get on with watching TV.

    Eventually we may get to pet her, and I'm becoming keen to get her to the vet.

    However, over the last two months, she has gained a little weight, and looks more sprightly which is hugely gratifying.

    Charlie accepts the new girl, and as long we don't make too much fuss she gets on with things. Funny though if we make a fuss of Charlie while the Little Black Cat is there, Charlie becomes a little aggressive - more bullish to be honest.

    It's a great project and it's very rewarding to know that there's a little cat who's life is maybe not so bad anymore.

  4. Hi, I think the key is patience. And eventually they come around and trust us. It is rewarding to help a vulnerable and frightened animal and allow them a bit of pleasure. Thanks for taking the time to make a comment.

  5. There was no explanation for the first pictures of the cats stretched out. Please tell me this is not an experimental lab!!!! Mary Ann

  6. Hi Mary Ann, Thanks for the comment and concern. These are feral cats after a spay or neutering operation en masse. I did leave a very short explanation at the base of the post but I am sorry it wasn't clear.


  7. My husband and I have made some huge steps in taming our feral cat Motor T. She is a sweet 8 year old who has now lived indoors for 6 months. She sleeps with us at night and she is working on getting along with our two 11 year old male cats. She recently dealt with a horrible upper repertory infection and an ear infection that she has probably had for years that has now left her deaf. However, her being so sick she had to rely on us for everything and now (three weeks later) since she is feeling better she spends more time following us around the house and sitting on the couch with us instead of staying under the bed. I am still upset that she is deaf but it seems it would have happened if she had treatment or not so she would not have survived very long in the wild after she lost her hearing. We are so happy that we took her home with us! Her favorite things are (surprise) sleeping in the car (when it is moving of course) and hiding her face when we carry her around.
    We spent almost two years earning her trust before we could take her in. Spend the time! It is worth it!

  8. I love your loving story; very heart warming and generous. And we agree the rewards are there when helping a cat like Motor T. I think the rewards are higher when we struggle through to success with a feral cat than if we "bought" a purebred cat. And the cat feels the reward to. The best kind of relationship.

  9. My "Kitty" (best name for a cat because they actually respond to it) has been somewhat tamed for the last two years - he loves my two Lhasa Apsos but whenever we have any company, he disappears for days and somehow knows when they leave and reappears at our door. Of course, we leave food for him outdoors but when we had our children and grandchildren up here in the cold Pocono mountains at Christmas time with lots of snow, we didn't see him for a week. My heart broke when I saw him running across my front lawn probably looking for a place to hide. Will he ever stay in when we have company???? Mary Ann

  10. Hi Mary Ann, I can sense how you feel seeing him out in the cold. I guess he is just not able to get on with anyone more than you. The only way to resolve that is by a gradual introduction to other people over time if that is possible. Nice story and good luck to Kitty.

  11. thankyou for you article it was very interestig ,i am at mo trying to tame a feral cat.She is pregnant so want to tame before she gives birth .I am going to home her on my stables .

  12. Good Luck to you both. One domesticated feral is probably one life saved.

  13. I have adopted two feral females that I brought inside when they were pregnant, and they are well-adjusted members of my cat family. At the moment I am socializing two abandoned feral kitties of about 5 weeks old. The mother became pregnant and abandoned them in my cat-doghouse and I had no choice but to take them in. They are very sociable already after one week, but I am having some problems with litter training one of them. It is not as easy as I have read. Regardless of what I do one of the kitties just jumps out of the litter tray when I put him in. I don't use clay litter but one that is based on corn and can be flushed away. I do need some help in knowing how to train the little guy as I want him to be adopted because they both have a place reserved for them at my local no-kill shelter in about one month.

  14. Hi I have just recently adopted 2 black beautiful cats and thought tonite was the end when the male for the first time went to bite me which he never has. A very wealthy couple from Heathrow paid for everything for me to take them home. Thanks to your site and articles on taming I think I may still stand a good chance of having them love me!! Your insite has given me hope. Thanks Be to God!

  15. He all
    This bonfire night we found a wild kitten on the top of the fire within seconds of being burnt.
    We brought it home and took it to the vets next morning who said it was too small to sex.
    Now one month later HE is big strong and loving.
    Al tamming in my experiance is love and patience and the rewards will follow.He is at this moment sat on my shoulder loving me while I type.

  16. Hi everyone on Dec 14 I had posted my "situation" with my 2 beautiful black Bombay cats. I now have been around them for a period of least maybe 8 months. They are coming around especially the female. The male is still a little leary unless it is jealousy. The female comes to me when I come in the room to feed, play, clean the box or just check on them. Yes they are in my house in a room because of the cold weather. I tried to con my other -half into making them house cats but she said no due to she and I are allergic to them. (I forgot that little fact) But anyway she is sooooo lovaaaaable and her purring is loud just like a racing engine. She nibbles on my fingers which in the article I read she is showing me love and effection. They are so use to me especially when it is treat time, boy they stand at attention right in front of my feet and look at me so cute and so loving. Its killing me when I have to put them back on the porch when it gets warmer which is Thursday. They really do not like it in the room anyway its too confined. Its going to kill me when I have to let them out just to see if holding them on the porch and in the house worked as far as knowing where to come home when they want to eat dinner. I am praying they RETURN!!! I love them so much. The male lets me hug him and give him love but you have to be quick so he will not hide under the chair or couch I have on the porch. The female loves the hell out of me BUT I cannot pick her up, don't know why its strange. Anyway they are my new babies along with my yorky, which is allergic to cat dander terribly. Love to All and love your info it helped alot!
    PS whomever is trying to get close to feral cats just be very patient and willing to understand their behavior, they are scared but are willing to try but it will take time lots of time. I have been working with them for 7-8 months.

  17. My feral is about 2 years old and still hides from everyone but myself and my husband. The vet told us that they believe everyone is out to kill them - maybe that's how Mommy raised them before she pushed them out. I worry about Kitty (original isn't it) on bitter cold nights - he will eventually come in so I have no idea where he is spending those hours. Love to read your emails.

  18. I have made friends with a ferrel cat I named "Dot"
    He is now displaying aggressive behavior when I don't give him the attention he desires. He grabs my ankles, reaches up with his paw and scratches me-he has even bitten me to try and prove his point. The reason I know this is an attention issue is that one day he jumped up on my lap while I was reading emails. With one of his paws-he grabbed my hand that was not touching him and let me know he wanted my undivided attention. I decided that he needed to know that his behavior was unacceptable- so I gently picked him up and put him down- he followed me to the door and I put him outside. I have dewormed him, but I haven't fixed him yet- I am still developing a relationship with him. I am not used to cat's- I've only had dogs. Does anyone have any ideas as to what he is doing and what I could do to reduce the cat scratches and bites?

  19. I have a male kitten we thought was around 4 weeks because he was so small,sleeping at my feet in his box. The vet yesterday said he is 8 weeks old and suffering from severe malnutrition, and an upper respiratory infection. And probably parasites. We are treating all that. My son found him on a back wooods road, two nights ago. Probably dropped off. A lot of people from the city will drop off unwanted cat and kittens in the country , near a farm. They found him about 3 kms from a farm. They saw another kitten but couldn't catch it, even though they went back twice.Our 9 yrs old Cavapoo has become his mother. We got her at the SPCA 4 years ago. Our orange tabby doesn't want much to do with him yet.. She is also 9 yrs old.
    I am having a big of trouble litter training him. He only seems to go when I take him outside. Out of desperation, thinking the poor little thing needs to go, I set him on the lawn and sure enough, he peed right away. I am trying the soil and grass in a shoe box today.
    And boy is he hungry! I think he is eating more than the recommended daily amounts.

  20. Hi B. Wise,

    I'm also taming a feral cat with attention/dominance aggression issues.

    He stands in my path and if I don't pet him and turn to walk away he has bitten me quite hard on the calf. Cats can actually be trained not to do this, like dogs can be. You just need to consistently show the cat that he's not the top cat: you are. You can do this by not responding to his mewing for attention and food: rather call him over when you are ready to pet or feed him.

    The aggression in my cat has been curbed with this training: no bites for a week now, after a week of biting every day.

    Good luck with Dot.

  21. Hi, I moved 2 years ago and there was a feral cat problem. I contacted Forgotten Cats they told me about a government grant that pays for up to 7 cats to be fixed, get thier shot and care they needed. I have gotten @ 15 cats fixed and released them. We also built shelters for them. I took in 2 feral kittens and tamed them they are happy and healthy. I also have 2 that live in my shelters outside and I can pet them and they love the attention they get. I big black cat has come around in the last couple of months but he started to walk funny. I worked with the forgotten Cats again to have him traped and fixed. The Vets checked him out and said that nothing is broken or dislocated. I am trying to tame him he is in a big cage and I dont want to release him because he is having trouble walking that is due the arthritus. I don't know if I am doing the right thing but letting him out in the cold and snow with back legs that don't work well is just something that I just don't want to do! If anyone can help or has suggestions I would be thankful!

  22. i have adopted two 12 week old semi feral cats, brought up on a farm they will come out to feed but are hiding behind my couch most of the time any tips? x

  23. we have been a foster family of cats and kittens for the last three years and volunteer with our Human Society every Sunday for TNR here in Tampa, FL. We recently have a kitten of a feral mother who dropped him off on my daughters deck three weeks ago. My daughter took the mother and kitten in, and we now have the kitten, about 8 weeks old, the mother went to a shelter. The kitten is adjusting fine but just today we noticed a blood blister on the outside of his eyeball. Any ideas what it is? All is normal, no temp, feces fine,eating well, fur fine and playing.we are putting hot compresses on it .


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