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Understanding and working with the Feral Cat

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

Someone asked me to start a discussion on taming ferals. I will start by saying I am by no means an expert at this. I do have a bit of experience in doing this but as with anything there are always things that I can learn. 

 

Over the years I have managed to tame and re home both adult and kitten ferals. One of the first things is knowing that there are many types of what people consider "feral"  Some are truly feral and some are just unfortunate house cats who have been thrown out or escaped and ended up living outside. 

 

Before I describe the different types I want to first say that if you are interested in taking in Any cat from outside there are some very important rules to follow. These are not only for your safety but the cats as well.

 

Very Very Important. Never ever handle a Feral without first having it seen by a vet. They can and sometimes do carry many different illnesses and rabies that can be passed on to your animals or yourself. Make sure they are tested and have had their rabies vaccine before trying to handle at all even if them seem nice.  Once you have trapped it put it in a garage or covered area out of the elements, cover it, call your vet or the local cat rescue in your area. Now a days with the Internet it is very easy to find a local rescue in your area. I am lucky I have a mobile vet who comes out and does a quick check up and gives them their shots. I just recently found her and she has made my life so much easier with this. 

 

You can and sometimes will be bitten and attacked. Please be careful. They are only doing what is natural to them. They are protecting themselves. Imagine your were in their position you would claw, bite and attack to save yourself if you had to wouldn't you? 

 

I have been all of the above, numerous times. Sometimes the strike was so fast I did not even notice it until I had blood running down my hands and arms. This is why having them vaccinated before trying to handle them is so important. You do not want to have to go for a rabies series they are long and painful. Better to be safe from the start than sorry later. Make sure you have antibiotic cream and wash your wounds well if you do manage to get bitten or scratched they can become infected very easily. I made the mistake once of getting bit and just washed it up and let it go. Within a couple of days I had a major infection in my hand and it was quite painful. I needed to see a doctor and get some powerful antibiotics. Please Please watch the wound if you get scratched or bitten. I know I sound like a broken record but safety first.

 

Patience is a virtue and if you want to do this type of work, you must have patience. Sometimes your patience is rewarded 10 fold. Sometimes you just have to step back and take a look at the situation and realize that sometimes they are just meant to be free and let them go into a safe environment. 

 

With that these are the way I describe different feral cats. I know it is not text book definitions. These are just the terms I use myself.

 

 

The Stray Cat- Many people assume because a cat is living outside that they are "feral" this is not true. These cats are unfortunate results of someone who has abandoned the cat or let it live outside on it's own. These guys are usually what people call a friendly feral. These guys at some point in their lives have had human contact and usually show no or minimal fear of humans. They are usually easily trapped and adapt to living in a house well. Most shelters will take them when they have space. If you believe you have a stray and cannot care for it and need to contact a shelter to take it. Please use the word Stray do not tell them you have a feral cat. Most shelters and rescues will not take a true feral cat, they just don't have the time or resources to tame and work with them when they are so many friendly cats in the shelter. Most times if they do accept a feral they will put it down. It is an awful truth but most times that is what happens. 

 

The Semi Feral- I use this term to describe a sociable feral. This is one who at some point most likely has had human contact in their lives or have minimal fear of humans. They may at some point been an owned cat and became wild over time or were born to a stray that is human friendly and has not learned to be completely fearful of humans. Very few of these are true full blown wild ferals. There are some but in my experience I have found somewhere along the lines there has been some human interaction in their lives.  You can approach them and most times they will not run. They may side step you a bit but seem to have a curiosity about you that gets the best of them. They will usually eat around you and in some instances may allow you to touch them slowly but you can not pick up or handle this type in my experience. 

 

I find I have a lot of success working with these guys. They are pretty easy to read as you get to know them. But remember they are still wild and can be very dangerous.

 

The Full Fledge Wild Feral- These are the toughies. These are the ones that will come to eat but only once you have moved faaaar away.They are the shadows you see around. These are the ones you do not want to approach as if they let you get close it is most likely they will attack you. Not because they are mean but they are defending themselves. Never ever try to corner or handle one of these without a plan and a trap. You will get hurt and most likely pretty badly. Ask me how I know :)  They are usually born wild to other feral parents. They learn their distrust of humans from their mother or other colony mates. 

 

These are by far the toughest to tame but also the most rewarding if you do. That moment when you see that wild wide eyed cat actually relax and make that first move towards you in trust is one of the most rewarding feelings ever!  This gang is also the ones I find I need let go the most. More often than not after their spay or neuter they need to be released. Once in awhile you will find that diamond in the rough. The one that always watches you from afar and you can just tell they want to be friends but they are scared. With a lot of time, and I mean a lot of time and patience they can be tamed and make wonderful house cats. Again knowing how to read them is very important. Also the understanding that not all will be happy being house cats. Some are just born to be wild. You have to be able to know when to let them be free and happy. 

 

An important thing to note when taming a feral cat is. You must be ready to take on the responsibility to care for any cat you tame. Some will only bond with the person taming them, therefore while yes they have graduated to house kitty status Yay them! They are not re homing material.  I currently have 2 that are happy, loving, comfortable in the house never ask to go outside kitties, but I am the only person they will allow close to them. No matter how much work we have put into socializing with other people they have picked me as their human and want no part of anyone else. They will sit with me, allow me to pick them up but if anyone else approaches they run and hide. I have one who has been in the house for over 8 years and I am still the only person he will allow to pet him or pick up. So please be ready to give that kitty a forever home if you are going to tame it. 

 

Well this is getting pretty long. In another thread in this post I will go over how I trap, use containment rooms and work on socializing. If anyone has anything to add please do. The more we can educate people the better the cats will be taken care of. 

post #2 of 11
I've lived with nothing but feral born cats for the last 20 years. I was surprised to hear you use the word "tame", because I don't believe that you can ever tame a feral cat, you can only attempt to socialize them to humans. What I've found over the years is that the earlier you work on socialization, the more likely you will have an adjusted cat. I have cats in my household that I started working with at 10 days old (orphaned), and as old as 2 years old. One of my boys (age 2 at socialization) crawled into my lap for the first time the other night and he turns 10 years old in April. They all came from a feral colony but none are what I'd call feral. If you walk into my house, you wouldn't even suspect that they were born to a feral mom. I have house cats. Some of them are really outgoing and friendly, and others are shy. They all have their unique personalities, no different than any other cat household.

I've said this before on this site and will repeat it again. I really don't like the term "feral". As explained in the previous post, the term is very loosely applied to any cat that doesn't live in someone's home. It puts a stigma on the cat where shelters and rescue groups won't help the cat when the term is used and causes your everyday person to pause before trying to help the cat. There are far few feral cats than what people think and the true ferals are few and far between. I won't even use the term semi-feral anymore for the same reason.

When I started working with a feral colony over 20 years ago, I had no idea what a feral cat was so therefore had no stigma against them. They were just cats in a bad situation that needed help and I believe I was successful with them because I did what they needed of me, not what I expected of them. I accepted them for who they were and they in term accepted me for what I gave to them. The bottom line with cats - it's always what's in it for them.

I've found that the easiest way to socialize a cat is through other cats. Allow the cat to make friends with a fully socialized cat who is bonded to you, and that cat will also bond to you. It's never failed me.
post #3 of 11
This article was passed on to me by hissy. Unfortunately, she lost touch with the author, but I think it's wonderful, and poses the real question:
Quote:
I have read the difference between a wild animal and a tame animal is that wild animals have to be handled and tamed with each generation. If kittens are not exposed to humans and handled by the time they are about 4 months, they are generally afraid of humans and cannot be directly handled. (It is difficult to socialize them after this, although patient and skilled rescuers have done so.) My question; are cats really tame domestic animals or just wild animals that we tame anew each generation by our handling? This is a part of their mystique and fascination.

Here's a link to the full article: http://www.straypetadvocacy.org/feral_vs_tame.html

In answer to the question, I think it's rather apparent that the "domestic cat" is actually a wild animal we tame anew with each generation. There are probably multi-generational house cats that would never do well on their own when abandoned - these are the rail thin, sick stray cats that NEED to be rescued. I'm also a stickler when it comes to semantics, and I cringe any time I see someone talking about "taming" a cat born in the wild.

I never really thought about the issue of the label "feral" being a stigma until you first mentioned it, Amy. When I first became involved with cats, I certainly didn't feel any particular thing one way or another that the cats that were in our yard were "feral." All five of those kittens now live inside as pets (four of them with us laughing02.gif ), and like any socialized "feral" kitten, no one would enter our home and say "Hey, are those feral cats?" laughing02.gif No - they're rescued cats. wink.gif

...But having done advocacy work since 2004, I'm going to have to agree with you, Amy - and it's getting worse with the great PR by conservation organizations, trying to scare us about the evils of this "non-native, invasive species." eek.gif I much prefer the term "Community Cats," because that encompasses our lost and tossed house cats as well as those born of cats without much in the way of human interaction. It also promotes the notion that we are ALL responsible for them, not that they are some kind of dangerous, exotic animal.

I've written several articles on socializing feral cats. One was published by Catnip Chronicles. Sadly, the owner/editor, Kent Butler recently lost his battle with emphysema. bawling.gifrbheart.gif The site is going to come down on March 1st. I'll probably put the article up on my website after that. But in the meantime, this is the link: http://www.catnipchronicles.com/may2012/laurie.htm

I also have a more detailed one up on the website: http://www.straypetadvocacy.org/socializing_a_feral_cat.html

rub.gif
post #4 of 11
Thread Starter 

I generally use the term "Tamed" and "Feral" as they are pretty universally reconized terms for a lot the rescues and vets I work with. I suppose a better term than "tamed" or "socialized" would be domesticated?

 

And I do believe there is a difference between a stray and a wild/feral cat and that there are different degrees of feral and that is where the term semi comes into describe them. They are not true domesticated strays but I wouldn't clump them into the completely wild non domesticatable ( made a new word) cat either.

post #5 of 11
Well, I'm pretty sure "socialized" is rather widely recognized. dontknow.gif I also think it's more descriptive than domesticated. dontknow.gif I know "tame" is very widely used. I'm just anal, have an issue with semantics, and don't believe that feral cats are technically "tame." I think they retain all of their instincts, survival skills, and many retain that measure of ... fear, that they learn to control. dontknow.gif

It's like the expression "lion tamer." Is that lion actually tame? It's a widely used term, but is it accurate? No, because anyone would be a fool to treat that lion as if it were actually tame. laughing02.gif

ETA: And as to the expression "feral," we can work to change what's widely accepted. biggrin.gif I'm seeing "Community Cat" used more and more in the press. smile.gif
post #6 of 11
This is 40 year study of foxes that might give few thoughts about how genetics work in large scale and why there are easy and difficult ones:
http://155.97.32.9/~bbenham/2510%20Spring%2009/Behavior%20Genetics/Farm-Fox%20Experiment.pdf


And for biting, I'm sure cat can turn inside of the skin, that is how I learned biting effects in a hard way, attempting to apply revolution to neck of wild one was not indeed the best course of action, even she was such a 'tame' that I could sit next to her, touching got her to panic. I had good grip from her, no slipping, but still she could rotate nearly to her back while I certainly managed to hold her skin not moving.

But speed is indeed something one can't realistically prepare to, several bites in blink of an eye, nothing really one can do, I have heard some cats hunting snakes, that is how fast they can be. My tested reaction time is around 200ms, while fly is around 10 times faster, not sure how much time is for cats, but it is lot faster than human but perhaps not quite as quick as fly and as cat is like one big muscle, from reaction to full movement it takes lot less time than what human has, so there is no way to 'win', so handling works indeed only when cat co-operates at least on some level.

1.5 years later we are ok again to be near each other, but touching is still a problem and probably will be for rest of her life (she is around 7 years now, 4-5 years lived without human contact in woods), she was full feral, other one of her sons is mostly tame while other is more of feral, despite he does uses my legs as his bed, he is very easily spooked by a movement, even both have gotten same treatment, genes have quite bit to do with that I think.

With these wilder than tame animals, I like to think that they can't be made to do or accept things often tames are put trough, one has to respect cat as individual being and give them their own space, one can give some guidance, one can even make cat do what one likes if one is doing it by guiding and utilizing cat's needs and desires, but no matter how far socialized they will defend themselves and are not afraid to hurt one if one is attempting to force anything, let it be touching, medicine, behavior etc.

But luckily they are relatively easy to guide, cat does things that cat likes, from two usually chooses one more liked option, so just arrange so that there is one liked option and all rest of the options cat can see are lot worse and cat does exactly what is wanted, without forcing, without any frustration etc. Of course one need to first learn what cat likes and it can vary from cat to cat, but that makes them interesting smile.gif

Oh yes, I still have scars after 1.5 years from biting, not much more than hair from major blood vessels at my wrist area, also near same distance from internal parts that make hand to move, sorry don't know name for those long 'strings', but even without infection they are dangerous, often one gets then infection too and it is trip to hospital, can be fatal if not treated well. That is why those precautions are needed, even if one thinks it is small cute animal, only that these are predators with thousands of years perfecting and their strength is far more one can imagine, easily matching to hand power of untrained modern human, might be something hard to believe, but it is how it is.

So be safe and really respect what Meowmmy_Aprile has written as that is all very true and not single bit over cautious, remember that these are beast, furious beast if afraid and when they feel like trapped and chased, they don't care if hurt then, they don't care if they die, but they will give all out that they have got to remove what they think is threat to them, so always avoid of such and give some safe escape place and space + respect to them and nobody gets hurt, also socialization starts on right foot.
post #7 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by JTbo View Post

With these wilder than tame animals, I like to think that they can't be made to do or accept things often tames are put trough, one has to respect cat as individual being and give them their own space, one can give some guidance, one can even make cat do what one likes if one is doing it by guiding and utilizing cat's needs and desires, but no matter how far socialized they will defend themselves and are not afraid to hurt one if one is attempting to force anything, let it be touching, medicine, behavior etc.

But luckily they are relatively easy to guide, cat does things that cat likes, from two usually chooses one more liked option, so just arrange so that there is one liked option and all rest of the options cat can see are lot worse and cat does exactly what is wanted, without forcing, without any frustration etc. Of course one need to first learn what cat likes and it can vary from cat to cat, but that makes them interesting smile.gif

LOVE this! So well put!
.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JTbo View Post

So be safe and really respect what Meowmmy_Aprile has written as that is all very true and not single bit over cautious, remember that these are beast, furious beast if afraid and when they feel like trapped and chased, they don't care if hurt then, they don't care if they die, but they will give all out that they have got to remove what they think is threat to them, so always avoid of such and give some safe escape place and space + respect to them and nobody gets hurt, also socialization starts on right foot.

Yes. agree.gif
post #8 of 11

What a wonderful thread!   Very useful to me at this time.    What about the ethics of socializing an adult full fledge wild feral?   What do you guys think of the pros and cons of taking a cat out of the wild and turning them into a housecat?   Do we humans have the right - even when it's not necessary for their survival?

 

eta - gotta put socialize instead of tame, didn't know I was offending people!

post #9 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bastfriend View Post

What a wonderful thread!   Very useful to me at this time.    What about the ethics of socializing an adult full fledge wild feral?   What do you guys think of the pros and cons of taking a cat out of the wild and turning them into a housecat?   Do we humans have the right - even when it's not necessary for their survival?

eta - gotta put socialize instead of tame, didn't know I was offending people!

Now this is my opinion only and certainly not everyone shares same views, but this is how I see this subject.

We humans are ones to blame there being feral cats in first place.

Feral cat is not a natural species, it is product of human actions and thus really is not part of natural fauna and is always a invading species. Certainly not the only one and we must remember that our human actions have affected quite a bit to number of other animals, from insects to elephants, increasing and decreasing their numbers.

Cats should always have human responsible from them, that feeds and cares about them, at farms and other places where there are overpopulation of their prey species, I can understand need for having them around helping in overpopulation control.

However in such use cats should not be allowed to breed freely, to prevent born of ferals.

Where there are no overpopulation of mice and such I don't really see how cats would fit in other than pets that are under human control full time.

There should not be really feral cats and no, I don't mean they should be removed, humans in general should do more to stop their to breed and that way take control of issue, also more actions should be taken to prevent abandoning pets so no more ferals come, also some limitations to whom can have cats that give birth might be needed.

Because of all this, I think that it is more of our duty as human beings to take ferals from outside and give them good life indoors. Some are certainly not possible to get into homes, but even for those there could be solutions if there would be more tax money available.

TNR is great thing, even that could make big change to lives of most ferals and in 10-15 years it would make situation much better, if enough money would be for that and if enough measures would be taken to make a stop for new ferals to be created by ignorant persons.


In this country, those true ferals caught will be put away, they say it is most human way with low resources, I would see that we should make use of empty large halls from factories that moved to china, to be feral sanctuary's, form large area of bushes, sand etc. gigantic cage and those impossible to socialize could live there, I think that is what we owe to these creatures from allowing anyone to breed them and have them as pets then dumping them and creating the issue.
Tax money is used here so much more stupid things.


So because of these backgrounds I see more moral issue of not getting feral to be socialized, sadly resources limits a lot, but at least for me that is only limitation.
post #10 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bastfriend View Post

What a wonderful thread!   Very useful to me at this time.    What about the ethics of socializing an adult full fledge wild feral?   What do you guys think of the pros and cons of taking a cat out of the wild and turning them into a housecat?   Do we humans have the right - even when it's not necessary for their survival?

eta - gotta put socialize instead of tame, didn't know I was offending people!

Not offending people. smile.gif For me, it's an issue of... accuracy. dontknow.gif

JTBO, I agree on a lot of your points, though I really prefer the practice of TNR and leaving the older/truly feral cats in place as opposed to sanctuaries. Sanctuaries are a good ideal, but let's take what happened at Caboodle Ranch as an example. Craig took in friendly cats and feral cats, but let's say it was only feral cats. There will always be some group, like PETA, that comes in and says "these cats are being abused. They're not getting proper medical care." If there are a large number of feral cats in a large area.... how do you know someone does or doesn't have an abscess that needs to be treated? Perhaps a cat will die, and it's body not be discovered? There's no way to avoid this kind of thing with unsocialized cats. Further, what happens when funding dries up? Even if a township votes the tax dollars for it now... when they're facing bankruptcy in three years because the economy took a nose dive...what happens to all those animals then? dontknow.gif

No, I believe we need to remove what cats can be removed, socialized and rehomed. But I think it's best for the cats to be kept in small colonies under the care of their local caretakers.

There are places cats shouldn't be - wildlife refuges, as an example, where there are threatened and endangered species. I've helped efforts to relocate TNR cat colonies from such areas. It isn't ideal, and it isn't easy. But the cats didn't choose to be there, and I do believe it is up to us to humanely manage their fate.

As to your question, Bastfriend... it really depends on the cat, IMO. Our Chumley was "3 or 4" when we brought him inside full time. He'd been hit by a car (had a broken bone healed that had never been set), he was FIV+, he had an abscess that needed to be treated, he had explosive diarrhea, he was starving, he was itching so much at himself he pulled out the hair on his forelegs and he mowed his abdomen clean... the boy was a health mess. He was so aggressive to other cats outside, we were VERY hesitant to bring him inside - and we had NO idea how - or if we even could - introduce him to our other cats. But we figured one thing at a time. And he never tried to get out. Not once. He was scared, yes. But he was clearly relieved to be safe, warm, and fed. We never had to wonder if we'd done the right thing bringing him inside only.

There are older feral cats though, that freak out - destroy the room, try to find any way out, all the time.... some, with time, will settle down. Others don't. And still others simply hunker down and become basically really depressed. In most of these instances, I think the issue, as JTBO puts it, is up to the resources, and I will add, the judgment of the rescuer. Some of these cats should be released. Some just needed more time.... but how much is "too long" or "enough" time? There's no set answer, and those doing the rescuing just have to use their best judgment. A multi-generational feral cat that is brought inside - without any health issues - after 3, 4 or more years, may really never adjust. Many older feral cats that have had little human interaction do well inside if they're really sick when rescued. Some, like hissy's Cyclone, only come by when they need medical attention, and they let you know they're ready to leave when they destroy the room after they feel a bit better. (Yeah, imagine where that name "Cyclone" comes from! laughing02.gif Actually, he literally dug and ate through the wall to get out). So... whether it's ethical to attempt to socialize a "full fledged" adult feral or not completely depends on the cat and the situation, IMO. It can be a wonderful thing - or something that doesn't work out. I personally would never want to bring a 3 year or older feral inside full time unless they indicated in some way they were ready, (like being friendly to me outside, or trying to get inside) or unless they were ill.
post #11 of 11
I have a feral mama cat and her 4 kittens indoors. The kittens were 10 weeks old when I finally trapped everyone in June 2010. I didn't make any effort to socialize them, as I intended to release them and I wanted them to stay wild so nobody could hurt them. But it took 3-4 months to get the low-cost spay/neuter appointment, and then it was almost winter, and by the time spring came I thought they had gotten too accustomed to being indoors, and they seemed contented staying inside. . .you know how it is laughing02.gif.

Anyway, of their own volition, the 3 female kittens are sort of socialized--I can pet them but not pick them up or anything. The mama cat is still fully feral and I have never touched her. She'll now let me walk very close without running, as long as I don't look like I'm going to touch her. . .but it's taken 3 years for her to get to that point. Her son is, oddly, the wildest of all; his comfort zone is still 6-8 feet or so. Why he's still so wild when he was mostly raised indoors, I don't know dontknow.gif.

Should I have kept them in, or released them as planned? I can't answer that. But they seem happy enough. The wild boy (Nacho) is best friends with Tugger, who was a bottle baby and is as socialized to humans as a cat can be. But the tameness hasn't rubbed off on him tongue.gif.
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