Many people feel that feral cats cannot be kept indoors as pets. This is not true. In fact, feral cats are happy being kept as indoor only pets if you don’t attempt to treat them exactly like tame cats.
What are Feral Cats?
Feral cats are cats that haven’t been properly socialized. What this means behaviorally is that feral cats are not tame toward humans. Very often, feral cats result from the offspring of cats that were once owned and then abandoned. As a result, the kittens are not properly socialized to humans and become feral.
There is a critical period during kitten development in which kittens must be exposed to human caretakers, otherwise they will be feral or at least semi-feral. This critical developmental period is generally from birth to 8 weeks old. If the first human exposure occurs past the age of 8 weeks this usually results in a feral or semi-feral cat. Sometimes older feral kittens can be tamed toward one or two human caretakers.
What to do if You Find a Feral Cat or Kitten
Many well meaning cat lovers will find feral kittens and take them to their local animal shelter. Unfortunately, feral kittens aren’t very adoptable and most of the time animal shelters will destroy the feral kittens to make room for tame kittens that are more likely to be adopted.
Fortunately, there are some shelters that will spay or neuter the kittens and then return the kittens to their natural environment. This at least gives the feral cat a chance to live without the ability of producing more feral cats. This program is called Trap-Neuter-Return, and it is being implemented in many areas to control the outdoor cat population without having to kill the cats. It generally works like this: The kittens are caught in a humane trap, such as Havahart live animal traps. The animal is unharmed. Then the cat is taken to the vet or the shelter that participates in Trap-Neuter-Return and the animal is spayed or neutered and is usually given some vaccines. When the cat has recovered from the spay or neuter surgery the cat is returned outdoors in the same location where it was found. Trap-Neuter-Return is a much more humane way of dealing with feral cats and kittens than euthanasia.
Feral Kittens Can Also Make Very Rewarding Pets
Some people who find feral kittens take them into their homes as pets. This can be a very rewarding experience as you gain the trust of these special cats. It is also the best option for the well-being of the feral cat or kitten. Taking them into your home as a pet is even better than Trap-Neuter-Return programs. Taking them in as pets generally works best if you catch them when they are relatively young. The younger the better, although some people have taken older feral cats into their homes as pets and they have been fine.
It is also best to take in two feral kittens or cats from the same litter if possible. If this isn’t possible it is best to have at least one other cat in the household because feral kittens and cats really enjoy the company of other cats.
Feral cats need to be kept as indoor only cats. Cats sometimes behave differently once they get outside. Because feral kittens and cats don’t trust humans very much they may be fearful of approaching your house once they are outside and they may get lost. In general, they are very fearful of any humans other than the human caretakers that they have grown to trust.
I have four feral cats that have lived with me for about 2 years now and they have been very happy indoors. Three were caught when they were 10 weeks old and the fourth cat was caught when she was 12 weeks old.
For the first few weeks after I brought them in the house, all of the kittens used to hiss when I walked by them. Eventually they came to trust me and stopped hissing when they saw me. In fact, now they greet me at the door after work. When I wake up in the morning they come up on the bed to greet me the very first thing. They love playing with toys and with each other. They are still semi-feral, but there is nothing more rewarding than seeing how happy they are and knowing that they are indoors where it is warm and safe.
However, they aren’t exactly like other cats. For the most part you can’t pick them up. One of the kittens lets me pick her up and kiss her on top of her little head, but the other kittens don’t allow it (Actually, they are no longer kittens, but they still seem like babies to me). However, they do like to play toys with me, and except for one of them, they do like to be petted and to have their fur brushed.
Feral cats and kittens would not make good pets for children. Basically feral cats that live indoors with humans like to do their own thing most of the time. They don’t want to be held and will usually only let you pet them on a limited basis. Because of this they are likely to scratch a child that attempts to have more contact with them than the cat wants. The key to making a feral cat happy is to only have as much contact with the cat as it wants.
Also, you need to give the shy ones extra space when they are using the litter or eating. Sometimes it is best to keep their litter and food bowls in low human traffic areas so that they can feel safe while eating or using the litter box.
Vet trips can be difficult because they don’t always allow you to pick them up to put them into the pet carrier. However, there are ways to do it. Sometimes you can throw their favorite toy into the carrier and they will run in to get it and then all you have to do is shut the cat carrier door.
Feral cats are well worth the extra work and they are the best pets ever! Also, because they only want limited contact with humans you generally don’t have to worry about them walking on your keyboard while you are typing or laying across you newspaper or book while you are reading.
In my opinion there is nothing more rewarding then gaining the trust of these cats, especially if you don’t mind taking their special needs into consideration. The reward comes in knowing that you are providing a loving, warm, happy home with plenty of food, water, toys, and veterinary care for these special cats.
For more information about feral cats and cat and kitten information please visit About Cats Online.com