Do socialised feral cats retain some of their wild character throughout their life?

We hear a lot about socialising feral cats; turning them into domestic cats. I did it myself. I can write about this with the advantage of personal experience. It’s quite an important topic because there are many stray and feral cats that can and should be brought into the home as pets.

My story began when I fostered a seven-week-old feral kitten for a local rescue center. The kitten had been raised in the wild by his mother for the first weeks of his life and was therefore completely feral. He hissed and was instinctively fearful and aggressive at 7 weeks old. He had been given the name ‘Gabriel’ by the rescue organisation after the angel which I retained.

Gabriel has retained a tiny bit of his feral character after being socialised at 7 weeks of age. He is now around 8 years of age.
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When we got home, he hid under the sideboard for about five days 😢. I teased him out with king prawns. He still loves them as his favourite food.

Through plenty of play and tender loving care, he was socialised within a few weeks. What I mean is he was socialised to the extent that he largely behaved like a domestic cat after that time.

Never lose it

But the question in the title is asking whether a socialised feral cat – even when they are socialised as kittens – retain some of their wild character and the answer in my experiences yes.

Instincts

It can be subtle but for the first seven years of my cat’s life he did demonstrate some feral cat character. He had a tendency to bite my hand even when it was innocently near his head. His attack instinct was triggered if the hand was moving slowly somewhere near him. I don’t think a true domestic cat would have this sharp and highly attuned instinct.

Redirected aggression

He bit my leg once in an act, I believe, of redirected aggression. He had come in from the outside and had perhaps seen another cat or a fox and couldn’t attack the animal and therefore directed his aggression towards my leg, which caused a bad infection which took quite a long time to clear up with antibiotics.

My socialised feral kitten bit my leg in an act of redirected aggression when he was about 2 years of age and it became infected.
My socialised feral kitten bit my leg in an act of redirected aggression when he was about 2 years of age and it became infected. Image: MikeB

RELATED: Latest picture of my cat Gabs by Michael Broad

Age

So, what about today? He is about eight years old now. This makes him a middle-aged man in human terms and his character has changed. He is more ‘sensible’ if that’s the right word. He is more integrated into the human lifestyle. He knows my routines and I know his. This helps him to behave like a true domestic cat as he is less anxious. Life is more predictable for him. This is important for all cats.

The biggest influence in developing a more affable character is his age in my opinion. It has quietened him down. But there is still a glimmer of feral cat inside him. I can see it. I can predict when he is thinking like a feral cat. I am able to avoid any bites.

Sharper

He still very alert, sharp-minded, very attuned to what’s going on around him. He is very territorial even though he was neutered in the usual way early on in his life. I’ve never lived with a cat that is so attuned to defending his territory. He is not a big domestic cat but he always wins fights with other cats.

He has a natural instinct to attack. I guess all domestic cats do but it depends on the degree with which this natural instinct is expressed. The him, his defensive or attacking instincts are sharper than a typical domestic cat. This is the feral cat inside of him; underneath the veneer of the domestic cat which was acquired through socialisation.

What’s learned in first 7 weeks sticks

I do not think that you can totally remove what a feral kitten learns in the first seven weeks of their life from their feral mother. It will come through but it will gradually subside to a very low level where it is hardly noticed. But you end up with a cat of a different character, in my personal experience, to the character of a pure domestic cat.

Each cat is different

Of course, these are my personal viewpoints, and I’m writing about one cat. Cats have their own individual character. It’s probably fair to say that some socialised feral kittens will totally lose their feral character but I would doubt it.

Cats Protection

Cats Protection comment on this. They say that “some kittens born to a feral mother can be socialised if taken into care early enough and can make pet cats although this is sometimes challenging”. I think that comment is slightly negative because it indicates a difficult relationship which in my case isn’t true. Mine is a very loving relationship with my cat. It’s just that there is a seed of feral instinct inside of him which will never go.

Adoption

I am very persistent and had committed to caring for my cat for his entire life. There was no possibility of me deviating from that goal. But sometimes Gabriel challenged me and made me think about returning him to the shelter. I stuck it out and have been rewarded with an intelligent, sharp, loyal and loving cat.

RELATED: Gabriel Snoozing: The Socialisation of a Semi-feral Cat

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