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. Semi-feral cats 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 (check out this adorable cat teepee) 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 semi-feral 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. You can keep special food for the cat (“chicken in gravy” baby food is pretty much a guaranteed hit) to encourage new steps in 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 and semi-feral cats. If you accidentally find yourself in a staring contest, the best thing to do is to calmly blink. Keep 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. Semi-feral cats take a lot of coaxing, and letting them approach you will build trust.

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.

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

Some other ways you can help feral, semi-feral and community cats

  • Learn the difference between feral cats and community cats, as not all cats on the street were originally born there!  You can find cats that were displaced and simply need a new home. The displaced cats can be re-homed without much extra coaxing for human communication. The same goes for kittens born to a feral cat, young cats have a much higher chance of being socialized successfully.
  • For older cats that are completely feral and unlikely to become a household kitty, one of the most humane ways to stabilize and reduce the feral community is through Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). Work with your local animal shelter and learn how to help. TNR means less cats will be feral, therefore current feral cats will have a reduced risk of disease and more food.
  • Care for your local feral cats by making a cat shelter!



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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!!

  • Tony

    I befriended a cat that was abandoned. She was a talker (meowed often). I named her Gabby. It turned out that she was pregnant. She had 3 feral kittens. I tried to adopt them out but they were too skiddish. So now I had 4 cats. One kitty was a male and the other two female. I moved and brought all 4 along. Where I moved to had a colony of cats. I had a little cat house on my porch. A kitten claimed that as home. He still lived outside. He was rounded up by animal police. They fixed him, cut the tip of his ear and released him about a week later. He came back to the porch. I started coaxing him in and he became an indoor/outdoor cat. He was caught again and they snipped his other ear. I didn’t see him for about a month, but he returned. Being that he had 2 strikes, I made him an indoor cat. I ended up moving again. Once again there was a colony of cats around. I befriended a litter of 4 cats although they remained outdoor. Two of the 4 were hit by cars. Two females remained. They each had litters about 5 days apart. One had 5 kittens (1 died at birth) and the other had 3. I was able to catch one from each litter and got them adopted out. I feed the others and eventually was able to catch two from each litter (all female). I got them fixed and they continued to live outside. Slowly, through food, I got them to trust me. I was able to start petting them, although that took months, but they still ran from strangers. While sitting on my porch, I watched someone with a pet cage dump a couple of cats. I immediately went to check on them. They were both kittens around 9-12 months old. One was siamese(the youngest) and the other solid white. These were not feral. I brought them in with my other 5. Took them awhile due to pecking order, but they fit in. In the interim, I was still friending those outdoor kitties. Well I was moving out of state. My house/porch were where those cats stayed. It wasn’t easy, but I rounded up the females (4). So to make a long story shorter, I now have 11 cats – 8 feral and 3 domesticated. All live indoors and for the most part get along great. So I started out with one rescue and now have 11. They are all very affectionate with me. I have six of them on my bed right now. The last 4 feral cats have become quite loving with me. I don’t recommend having this many cats, but they do give me great joy. Feral cats can be tamed, but it does take patience.

  • Jay Malone

    I’ve h ad two adopted rescue babies for 16 years now. About two years ago, a tuxedo type cat moved into my backyard. I put food out for him and others, no real colony though.

    My two “adoptees” would see their new buddy, but not seem too interested. Even though the weather stays mild, winters can get into the low 30’s. So I put a couple cat houses outside.

    Last week, I noticed my backyard resident had injured his back leg, and he seems to be blind in one eye (clouded up). I arranged a for a local TNR group to stop by, we caught him within 10 minutes of setting the trap.

    I decided to keep him indoors,I’m worried about him living outside in the cold with a bad leg and partially blind. The TNR group returned him, and I had asked them if they thought I could eventually get him to adapt to living indoors.

    It’s been a week, he’s living in a spare bedroom for now. Tonight he actually came out to eat while I was sitting in the room watching TV. He’s “slinking”, I just leave him alone and don’t move. One of my other boys “talks” to him through the closed bedroom door. The newest addition seems to talk back, but he also talks to me occasionally.

    I’m hoping this is a good sign. I really want to eventually give him full run of the house, hoping he will eventually get along with his new “brothers” and be a content indoor baby.

  • Pat L

    Hi! I have been gaining the trust of a feral kitty for the past 4 (almost) years. She now eats inside and stays-in overnight (when SHE wants to), however she still prefers to be outside.
    I need to move by the end of May and I want to take her with me. I’m stressing about it, but I see many good tips here. One thing I’m concerned about is that she has never used a litterbox. If she is going to be an inside cat, how do I go about getting her to use the litterbox? I was told to mix-in some dirt with the litter, since litter can feel strange to ferals. Then I thought about letting her go outside once she has adjusted to the new house, but it would kill me if something happened to her. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  • Aleisha

    We trapped and neutered a feral cat. Age 2-4 years old. The SPCA confirmed definitely wild, they could not handle her at all. I’m pleased to say that after 2 months of feeding and patience she comes in the house for food and will let me stroke her. I think this is amazing progress, we never thought possible. She usually turns up with a stray cat (not feral) and I wonder whether he has helped her to trust us. Anyway if anyone says you can’t tame a feral it’s not always true. It’s very satisfying and worth the time and effort.

    • Ashley Lee

      Hi Aleisha, I’m so glad to hear she’s doing well! Thank you so much for being patient and taking the time to care for her. It’s wonderful to hear stories like this. -AL

  • Sharon

    I adopted a feral cat who was rescued from the streets of Sydney with her kittens. The kittens found homes but Rani, as I called her didn’t. So as I didn’t have a cat at the time, I took her. I did not know all of the excellent tips you have given here, but she is now an indoor cat and has settled in to a comfy life with a warm bed and regular food. She has been with me for four years now and still will not let me get close enough to touch her. I have not pushed her, thinking she would come round in time. She does like to play with toys and be in the same room as me when I am reading or watching t.v. and she follows me around the house when it is time for food. I do worry that if she gets sick or needs the vet for any reason, (I haven’t been able to have her vaccinated), I won’t be able to help her.

  • jill williams

    My stray,Ferrell kitty does not let me touch,she’s Deaf & I think she’s pregnant,I’m doing baby steps she’ll come in now 4 food by the front door,then runs out when she’s done. She loves cat-nip.O don’t know what 2 do if she is pregnant & try 2 set up a BEDDING 4 her.I NEED HELP!!!

  • Penny

    My cat Aubrey was left with five other cats in an empty house for 6 months. Someone was putting food pouches through the letter flap which the cats had to fight for amongst themselves. He acted quite aggressively with me the first few months,jumping on the bed in the night and scratching my face.
    Eventually I started giving him carefully timed time-outs whenever he acted aggressively. He would be shut out of my room. Within weeks he calmed down,and now I couldnt have a nicer cat. He snuggles up and noses my eyelid instead of clawing it.

  • Sue

    Your article is great but we have a studio apt and took in Delilah, wont come out from under bed,only to eat,almost a year now.cant brush,check nails,will never put her back outside.any help,thanks

  • Chloe

    I am considering the possibility of bringing a feral into my house. He lives out in my apartment’s parking garage on the 4th floor. Poor little guy is running for his life to dodge all the cars all the time. It has been difficult but feeding and watering him daily for a few months have really allowed me to gain this cat’s trust. He seems around 2-3 years old. I feel so bad for him but I live in a studio apartment with no extra room I do not use. Does anyone have any recommendations for bringing him indoors? I will get him neutered first obviously. He is such a sweet little boy with he brightest green eyes I’ve ever seen. Such a trooper out there but I think it’s time he gets some TLC and air conditioning from the 110 degree heat…

  • Nancy Eade

    I adopted a feral cat with , at the time, a healing broken pelvic. He’s been with me for 10 years when all of a sudden he stopped eating. Help, he’s one of three now and isn’t very interested in eating.

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