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home : columns : columns May 26, 2018

3/6/2018 1:50:00 PM
Taking in a stray or semi-feral cat
Elaine Gilbertís cat Linus is ear-tipped. She trapped him as a kitten from a feral by Jodi Schneider McNamee
+ click to enlarge
Elaine Gilbertís cat Linus is ear-tipped. She trapped him as a kitten from a feral colony.

photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee

By Jodi Schneider McNamee

That stray cat showing up in your neighborhood or on your doorstep may be a feral cat.

There's no way you're going to lure that cat inside or touch her, and the best you think you can do is feed her, and - hopefully - implement Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR).

Some free-roaming cats are semi-feral or stray cats. Some of these cats may seem feral at first, but given time, you might get close to them and even tempt them inside. With time, they might make a wonderful house cat, companion, or pet for you or for someone else.

A semi-feral cat lives predominantly in a feral state but has had some contact and experience with humans: Essentially an original domesticated cat that has reverted to the wild and is no longer with its original pet parent.

Feral cats are totally feral, no human contact, or only negative human contact.

If a cat approaches you at all - even if she runs when you try to pet her - she's likely a semi-feral or stray. Feral cats rarely approach humans.

So, it seems that a semi-feral cat might be adopting you by showing up every day on your doorstep. And you feel compelled to take her in. How do you go about convincing the kitty you have her best interests at heart? Earning the trust of a semi-feral cat can be a difficult but rewarding process.

You must first learn to engage with her in a way that is non-threatening. Food is the most effective way to get a semi-feral cat to interact with you. The cat is most likely hungry and will respond positively to being fed. This will give you a chance to get closer to the cat and get her used to your presence.

If you succeed in getting the kitty inside, don't let her have any contact with your other pets (if any) until you've had her vaccinated and checked by a veterinarian for any contagious diseases, such as feline leukemia.

Setting up a sanctuary or a quiet room is extremely important. Even if there are no other pets in your home, you should still use a sanctuary space until she has had time to adjust to being indoors. Many semi-ferals are quite nervous about being indoors for the first time. Noises that you take for granted, for example, the toilet flushing, or the sound of doors opening and closing, can be cause for alarm until the cat has had time to learn that these noises are a natural part of the household and will not harm her.

In her "safe" room have all your cat's resources ready and waiting for her. It should have scratching posts, a few toys, food, water, and a litter box. This space should also have some small hiding places, like a cat house, or a blanket draped over a chair. The room should be a quiet room and only you should spend time in this space every day to help the cat acclimate to your presence.

Cats are surprisingly routine-driven. And in order to really start earning her trust, you want to show her that you are a reliable source of sustenance. Their internal clocks are amazingly accurate, so feeding times are going to be the first and most important tool used for socializing her. Once she is comfortable enough to eat (it shouldn't take too long), begin sitting in the room while she eats.

Your cat will come to you when she feels safe. You can also try putting a bit of meat-flavored baby food on your finger and she may lick it off, this initiates contact and allows the kitty to have a positive association with you.

The most important thing when adopting a semi-feral cat is patience. It takes time, and cats are known to be guarded. You need to let her have space and learn that she is safe in her new home. This may take longer than you would like, but your patience will be rewarded with love and affection and will prove an effort worthwhile!

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