Socializing Feral Cats
by Debra Rachlen
Feral cat near the San Mateo Bridge, San Francisco. This picture was added by Michael & is not the cat in question. - Photo by Peter Kaminski
I took in a feral black and white 2 yr old. My friend fed her and her family for the first two years. She came up on her deck one night and gave birth to 3 kittens that died. A friend trapped her and had her fixed and I have had her for just about a year now. She is actually a sweet cat. The only problem I have is she runs and hides when anyone comes in my apt. She will not come out. She is afraid of others but not me. Is there anything I can do to change this?
Hi Debra, I'll put in my two pennies worth but others may have better and different views on this subject. Actually my cat is similar. She was a stray (so not feral) and was and still is frightened of other people. She has, though, become very friendly with my girlfriend. This tell us that it is about socialisation (getting used to people and other animals and being comfortable around them).
Feral cats are not accustomed to being around people and are unsocialised but can through necessity allow themselves to become socialised. The trouble is this "training" didn't happen when they were young so the process is harder. Indeed they possibly will never be quite as domesticated as a fully socialised domestic cat because I don't think it becomes quite so profoundly ingrained when learned at an older age.
The point I am gradually getting to is that your cat can and will learn to become less fearful if a gentle introduction to someone else is gradually made over time. Time, patience and gentleness would seem to be the guiding rules. Which means any other person who would like to get to know her has to interact with her quite a lot and initially with gentleness and patience.
Food is a great introduction facilitator. What I mean is if someone else wants to get closer to your cat he or she could feed her and then gently touch her and progress from there. This may happen with you and your friend feeding her together. Everything is gradual and in small increments. The long term nature of the process is against modern lifestyles of instant results but when it comes to psychology and socializing feral cats it is the only route.
As to infrequent visitors, she will probably run from those for the rest of her life.
It is not all bad though. A defensive cat is a safer cat. And this provides peace of mind for the person.