Behaviour Cat Care

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.

For more information on feral cats, click here and here. Want to help feral cats in your community? Click here and here to learn more! 

Did you follow all the steps and still have an anxious kitty? Try these amazing stress relief products for felines.  

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  • Charmaine Caffrey

    Hi, I’ve just received my first issue of Modern Cat, thankyou. Last October I took in a feral cat that I had been taming for several months previously. She came to trust me, she had kittens, I couldnt find them, after a few weeks of searching. She spent longer and longer on my front veranah and it was assumed that they perished. I decided to trap her one day and take her to the vet for spaying, vaccination etc. She is about one year old and is now my cat. She is beautiful and a lovely temperament as well. I believe she choose me for adoption and lives alongside my other cat (also a rescue) as an indoor house cat. Everyone is more than happy with this arrangement and we all get on really well! I really love this little girl, I’ve called her Smudge. My other girl is Shelley. They amuse each other as well as me! We are all as happy as peas in a pod. By the way we are from Sydney, Australia.

  • Sharon Ray-Cassedy

    we have a feral cat who once I posted the picture there was a lady who thinks that is hers. I was able to capture it yesterday and it is now in our upstairs bathroom. I have everything set up in the bathroom as it should be along with the calming diffuser plugged in. I have been coming in for short amount of time and I’ll read something or just talk to him. I feel badly to bring him in because I know he wants outside. We have an established Colony already out behind my house and they did not accept him. He’s been around for about 8 months now, with two failed attempts to catch him. It was amazing that we were able to catch him yesterday. Anyway the lady who stated it was hers is not sounding too enthusiastic about him now after I spoke with her yesterday. So now I’m faced as to what to do with him because I don’t believe he deserves to go back outside fighting everyday. He reminds me of the one Tom Cat that I had who was orange who lived to about 17 years of age. This guy is just about as big and has the same. I’ll try to keep you posted on his progress. We already have a few rescues already in the house so there’s no way we can keep him

  • Brigitte hall

    I caught feral cats and kept them and i tamed them in a couple of months the three cats are 4 years old and i had them spayed shots etc
    I would like to know what their life expectancy might be now
    They are inside cats and gained lots of weights
    Any suggestions?

  • Shelly

    I have two 3 month-old feral kittens that have had little to no human contact at all. When I go to see them they become frantic and start to Attack the container of food that I am scooping out for them. Is there anyway at all to calm them down around feedings?

  • Ruby Carter

    I adopted a cat about 10 months ago and still he runs away from me as I walk by him or just towards him. He wont come directly near us, He will come sit with me and my husband if we are relaxing on the couch and asleep on our bed. I wake up and he is right next to me, but when my alarm goes off he goes running out the room. When im getting ready for work he rubs against my legs so a major difference because he came around a lot more since we first brought him home. But why does he still run and he does not like to be picked up at all, he will fight me. He left the house a few times but came back, the day he came back after a week and a half he was very cuddly and followed me around the house. He was purring next to me and when he came back I picked him up and he didn’t fight me holding him. But as of today he still runs like he doesn’t like me near him, hell come to me when he wants too. he will follow me and stay in my room just not right by him. I just want to love him

  • Joanna Laska

    I have just adopted a stray cat approximately 2 weeks ago. He used to come back to the complex of flats after his previous owner left her, due to health issues. Kitty was left locked out and wondering on her own for years. Used to come to our garden and I fed her for a few months. She then was not around for about a week or more and when came back, meowed at me loudly! So I fed her again and she let me stroke her. She was very skinny. I managed to catch her and bring her home.
    I also have another cat of 2 years, Taylor who was not impressed by the presence of the new cat (named her Jaffa).
    So Jaffa stays in our bedroom and has litter tray, food and water, some toys. She loves cuddles and actually manages to cuddle up with me at night and purrs away. She does not know how to play with toys. All in all she is settling in fairly well, has a few moments of distress. She reads body language well and gets timid when someone approaches her suddenly. It will take some time but I think it will be worth it.
    Little Taylor was not very accepting of the new cat at first and growled hissed at her, now after 2 weeks I am slowly managing to feed them two treats a short distance away from one another. I also got feliway diffuser but do not think it works on my cats. I am trying to settle Jaffa in, and get the two kitties to get on well. Will see how it goes.

  • Carol Murray

    I had tamed a feral cat and turned her into a house cat. She had a nice house with lots of windows and cat trees. She had good food and lots of attention. She was in our house for 2 years. A few months ago, she bolted out of our patio door and ran in the woods. I was not able to coax her back and I have not seen her since. I thought she was happy being our house cat, but she must have had the urge to be wild again.

  • Debbie Carlow

    When pupils get large and tail starts swishing pull hand away! Ready to attack!!

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