December 9, 2020
Bringing a feral cat indoors!
We’ve all seen the feral or semi-feral cats that live in Chicago. With the winter months creeping up on us you might be wondering if it’s okay to bring in a semi-feral cat into your house. We have some tips and tricks for a successful transition from a wild outside cat into a comfortable lap-cat!
#1 Prep Your Space
This is going to be a huge adjustment for a feral cat. Especially if you are trying to rescue an older cat. There are some important steps that you can take to try and create a feral cat-friendly environment. First, dedicate a space entirely for the cat – we recommend a separate room. Make sure that there is plenty of food available, (but keep the food in a separate area from the litter box.)
Give them something to perch on, and toys to keep them stimulated. Also, give them a place they can retreat to, not an area like under the bed where you might not be able to reach them but a place they can feel safe in. Remember that you may have to encourage them to use the litter box with treats. Treats are going to be your best tool to help gain a feral-cats trust. After all, cats originally got domesticated looking for a reliable source of food!
#2 The Vet
This is a tricky one. You are going to have to try and get your feral cat to see a vet. This might be a pretty traumatic experience for both you and the cat, but when you don’t know the history of the cat there can be a host of health problems that range from minor to major. There is no easy solution, but as soon as you are able to get the cat into a carrier safely, it’s time for a vet trip! Make sure you warn your vet beforehand that your cat may not take this visit well.
Depending on the age, temperament, and history, your feral or semi-feral cat may or may not be okay with physical touch or even with you being around them. You’ll want to try and respect your cat’s boundaries. What are they doing physically? Are they hissing? Are their ears pushed back against their head?
Never try to force physical contact with your cat. Take the time to slowly build up their trust by just spending time in the same room as them, talking calmly, and letting them get used to your presence. After they are comfortable with you around them, try putting some food on your finger to get them to come to you. Move slowly and pay attention to what your feral cat’s body language is telling you during these interactions.
Eye-contact can be taken as a sign of aggression so it’s best to avoid staring right at your cat. Try turning your head away and looking down, your cat may interpret this as an act of submission which can help de-escalate a tense situation.
Do you have other pets? Little kids? Introduce them slowly. The cat should have a spot to be away from kids that might not be able to respect their boundaries, their curious dog siblings, or other cats that might want to play before your new cat is ready for that level of contact. Another good way to start the introduction process is to set up a gate and let the animal siblings meet each other through the gate.
#5 Patience, Patience, Patience
This can be a long and sometimes frustrating process. Remember that there is a lot of evidence that indoor cats live longer and happier lives than outdoor cats. Patience and treats are going to be your best friends. However, if the cat is too feral and the relationship is too draining for you or the cat you may need to look into humane resources like trap-neuter-release. Talk to your local animal shelter for more information about those kinds of programs!
Zoe Sjogerman is the North-East manager for Rover-Time and has been part of the RT team for four years. When she isn’t walking dogs she is the executive director of Avalanche Theatre and an avid book reader. She lives on the north-side of Chicago with her husband. Although she doesn’t have a pet of her own, she loves getting to walk pups all over the Chicagoland area.