Can you tame a feral cat?
It is generally not possible to tame a feral cat, but with time and commitment (and lots of food!), the cat may become more relaxed and friendly. But, are they to be encouraged? Learn how to tell the difference between a feral cat and a stray, the risks feral cats pose to humans and domesticated pets, and how you can help your community.
Feral cats are a major problem in Australia
It’s estimated that feral cats kill 75 million native animals every night across Australia, including birds, frogs, small mammals, and reptiles.
You can play a part in solving the problem by ensuring your own cats are desexed and not allowed to roam off your property, thereby not running the risk of them mating with a feral cat and growing the feral population. Several Australian states and many local councils have already made it mandatory for owners to have their cats desexed and keep their cats indoors, especially at night.
How is a feral cat different from a stray cat?
The biggest main difference between stray cats and feral cats lies in their level of socialisation to with human beings. A stray cat has been abandoned by or separated from its owners. These strays may now be living outside on their own; but because having had a home before, they have been socialised with human beings.
Like stray cats, feral cats also live outdoors on their own, but the key difference is that they have never been socialised, and are therefore likely to be the offspring of stray or feral cats. The lack of socialisation can make feral cats wild and unapproachable.
Feral and stray cats typically behave differently when humans are near:
- Will generally avoid humans
- Can appear frightened or hesitant around humans. Will take a protective stance: staying low to the ground and crouching
- Little to no eye contact, no purring or meowing around humans
- Might approach humans
- Might be friendly or curious around humans
- Likely to behave like a house cat: meowing and making eye contact around humans
Both strays and feral cats can be loners or part of a colony, and they will hunt or take food wherever they can – whether it’s from garbage cans or your pet’s outdoor feeding station.
Can a feral cat become a house pet?
You may have a chance of taming or domesticating a feral kitten that is only a few weeks old. However, generally it is not advisable to tame a feral cat, and it is usually not possible to tame an adult one. Feral cats are not used to human contact, and it’s likely they’ll never be as docile and friendly as a domesticated cat.
A feral cat will probably never wish to move into your home, but eventually they may become confident enough to sleep in a less-confined space like a garage, shed, outhouse or utility room with easy access. Cats can’t resist a bit of comfort, especially if it’s cold outside, so if you believe it’s a matter of saving its life in a hard winter, then put down some bedding in a protected spot.
On the plus side, feral cats can be skilled at catching mice and other vermin, and need minimum interaction from humans. However, if you choose to start feeding a feral cat, then effectively you are agreeing to take full responsibility for it – including keeping it free of intestinal worms and other parasites and giving assistance should it suffer an injury. Of course, that means you would have to be able to handle the cat. Consider this carefully.
At the same time be aware that a feral cat is never going to abandon its hunting instincts, so consider if you’d not rather protect the birdlife and indigenous wildlife from the feral cat.
Do feral cats pose health risks to you or your pets?
It is difficult for humans to catch diseases from feral cats since they don’t often come in physical contact. However, since feral cats can carry diseases, worms and fleas, it is possible for them to pass infections on to your domesticated pets.
Be warned that if you already have a cat or dog, the presence of a feral cat may cause issues. Your pet may be upset by a feral cat that visits regularly, and a feral cat may not tolerate them and act out aggressively. If this is the case, your pets and the feral cat may need to be kept apart. Ask your local council ranger for assistance in trapping, desexing and possible relocation of the feral cat.
How can you help feral cats?
The first step is to inform your local Cat Protection Society or feral cat rescue shelter. They will offer advice and will likely follow an official Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program.
Specialists from TNR will catch the cat using a baited cage. The specialists will then sedate the cat, check them for a microchip, examine them for diseases and treat them for worms and fleas. They will also spay or neuter so the animal can’t add to the local feral population. In Australia, a desexed cat is given an ear tattoo to quickly and easily identify those that have already been neutered. Finally, a feral cat may also have to be shaved if their hair is matted or badly infested with parasites. If the cat is very sick, they may have to be put down; if not, they will be returned to their outdoor colony.
So we’ve established that trying to tame a feral cat isn’t a good idea. If you’d like a cat to be part of your household, there are plenty of cats in shelters and rescues that need a warm, welcoming home. For advice on adopting a rescue cat, read our complete guide.