5 Ways to Help a Semi-Feral Cat Adjust to a Domestic Home

5 Ways to Help a Semi-Feral Cat Adjust to a Domestic Home
5 Ways to Help a Semi-Feral Cat Adjust to a Domestic Home
There’s a lot of time (and patience) that goes into helping a semi-feral kitty adjust to a new home—but it’s all worth it! Here’s how to succeed where others have failed.


Helping a semi-feral cat adjust to her environs can be time consuming and challenging—because of this they are more likely to be sent back to their adoption agency and have a harder time finding good forever homes—but this doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort; to the contrary. While it can seem like a battle (one that sometimes threatens to verge on stalemate or out and out loss) there are a few key things you can do to make your new cat’s transition to a happy domestic life easier. And trust me, from personal experience, your time and love will definitely pay off, as once semi-feral cats who have adjusted into their new lives are some of the most loving, affectionate, and appreciative cats you could ever hope for. These five easy steps will help make your feral cat’s adjustment as quick and problem-free as possible.

1. Have a Dedicated Cat Room

When you bring your new cat home, have a safe room ready with all of your new cat’s amenities ready and waiting for her. It should have scratching posts, a few toys, food, water and a litter box (ensure the food and litter are on opposite sides of the room). This room should be quiet and, for the time being, not for human use. This space should also have some small and safe hiding places, like a cat house or a blanket draped over a chair, but no places that are completely inaccessible to you, like under a bed, to prevent serious hiding as that allows the cat to completely remove herself from her new environment. You should spend time in this room every day to help the cat acclimate to your presence. While in the room read out loud, or call someone, and just talk. This lets the cat learn the sound of your voice and become comfortable with it.

2. Put Food to Use

Food is the initial key to your new cat’s trust and eventual affection. Cats domesticate themselves for a steady food source. For the first little while, it is crucial that you stick to a regular feeding schedule so that your cat learns that you are, without fail, the bringer of delicious food. Once the cat is comfortable enough to eat (it shouldn’t take too long), begin sitting in the room while she eats. Do not interfere with her or the food during this time; this assures the cat that they are safe with you. If the cat is difficult to convince, you may have to start withholding food unless you are in the room. Food is also a great way to get your cat to do new and scary things. Keep special food (“chicken in gravy” baby food is pretty much a guaranteed hit) to encourage new steps to becoming more comfortable with you. The offering of delicious food will help your feral cat come to you and become more and more used to her new domestic life.

3. Avoid Eye Contact

If you find your cat staring at you, do not engage. Eye contact is an aggressive act to feral cats. If you accidentally find yourself in a staring contest, the best thing to do is to calmly blink, keeping your eyes closed for a few seconds and turn your head away. This shows your cat that you do not mean to threaten them, and are taking a submissive role, which helps them feel safe and confident in the new space.

4. Don’t Force Physical Contact

Your cat will come to you when she feels safe to. This can be encouraged with food once the cat is more comfortable. Put a bit of the special baby food on your finger and have them lick it off. This initiates contact and allows the cat to have positive associations with you. To begin petting, extend a closed fist while you look away, and let the cat come to you and initiate any contact she feels comfortable with.

5. Have Patience

Finally, the most important thing when adopting a feral cat is patience. These things take time, and cats are notoriously guarded. You need to let them have their space and learn that they are safe in their new home. This can take much longer than you would like, but your patience will be rewarded with such love and affection as will prove all the effort worthwhile.

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Comments (9)

This excellent article provides much needed advice and special tidbits of useful information, as I process the adding of a semi-feral cat into my family.
Mon, 04/14/2014 - 17:37
I used tuna fish to get our semi-feral kitten to come closer. Sat outside, talked to him, and fed him tuna. Progressed to hand feeding then was able to pick him up. He adjusted really well to being inside after we had gotten him used to us outside. Now he is the sweetest, funniest cat I have had.
Thu, 05/15/2014 - 17:45
Excellent information!!! It's amazing what we can accomplish utilizing food : )

Another helpful idea is to leave an article of clothing (after it's been worn and without being washed) for kitty to become familiar with your smell. Your home will be filled with many scents… food, other pets, members of your family, and the like.

To avoid anxiety of the door being opened and someone entering, it's very comforting to kitty if each time before even turning the doorknob, you announce yourself.

I've been able to encourage touch through toys and brushing… contrary to what some believe, feral babies do love affection and being brushed; they are like any other kitty, only, they simply need to be introduced to human interaction appropriately after they've gained trust. Keep in mind, some kitties never want their fur brushed, regardless : )

To encourage petting, I've used a toy to rub them, and was able to replace the toy with my hand and same with the brush.

Thank you, Taryn, for providing this info… and to anyone who gives a feral baby a chance!!!

Mon, 05/26/2014 - 21:40
Raw chicken liver - that will win over any feral cat.
Thu, 07/10/2014 - 13:21
There is a seme feral cat who I call "Big Boy" that I feed, he is very friendly, loves to have his head petted and lets me pull ticks off him.
There have been two times he has tried to come in and I have wanted to bring him in but the problem is my spoiled little baby girl diva "Sapphi Ann" would not go for that, in fact there have been several times that "Sapphi Ann" has become upset with me because I have petted "Big Boy".
But I will continue feeding "Big Boy" and when I can pet him and de-tick him. But "Sapphi Ann" is my baby and though she to some is just a cat to me she is my life and my family.
Thu, 07/10/2014 - 15:51
As I read this, my once feral cat Slowpoke is curled up in bed with me. It takes time, but it is well worth the effort.
Thu, 07/10/2014 - 19:21
Good article. You can also use a small back scratcher, especially the ones that can be extended to different lengths, to start petting the cat. The cat does not see this as threatening and loves being petted with it. You can shorten the length of the back scratcher as you progress, till finally you are petting and brushing the cat by hand.
Sat, 08/09/2014 - 15:43
Canned tuna in water has always worked for me. Even worked on my 100 percent "wild kitty". We ended up bonding and spent 17 years together.
Fri, 12/12/2014 - 04:12
Avoid eye contact? NO..... everybody looks for eye contact -- just don't STARE at a feral cat. They are looking to see what you are and what you might do. LOOK at them and SLOWLY CLOSE YOUR EYES when you blink. Tip your head down slightly. It's a sign that "I am not a threat because I will close my eyes for you" which is something a "threat" would never do. I've done it...it WORKS. I have watched them semi close their eyes back at me instead of that wide eyed stare, and calm down. You have to earn their trust, and then its wonderful :)
Sun, 01/18/2015 - 16:31

Cat of the Week!

Meet: Milo