Feral Cats – Is It Right For You?

Whether you’re a feral cat rescuer, a shelter worker, or just a cat owner in your community, knowing how to spot the differences between tame and stray cats can help clue in on what, if anything, intervention will be in your cat’s best interest. Since feral cats are typically born with little to no natural skills, the first thing you’ll need to know is what separates them from their more adoptable (and often more playful and well behaved) counterparts. Cats of different breeds may have different temperaments, as well as differing personalities and habits. The following tips can help you to better distinguish between your feline friends and stray threats:

Do you see your kittens or cats scratching furniture or window ledges more frequently? If so, this is more than likely an indication that the cat is trying to use the outdoor space for shelter and protection from the elements. Remember, feral cats aren’t always native to the area they live in, so a cat that comes from a stable, hygienic environment (a cat or kitten born inside the United States and raised by a family of domestic cat caregivers) is very unlikely to be homeless if it were to discover its outdoor home stripped bare of furniture and needed to use the only available patch of grass in the immediate vicinity. A more common origin story for these cats is a trip outdoors via a breeding partner. Note: shelters and rescue groups don’t breed animals for their own purposes, so it’s unlikely that a feral cat seeking a mate would have a partner in its life outside the shelter.

Is your outdoor living area unsupervised? Socialization training for feral cats can be difficult for a cat with an already restricted diet due to the lack of human contact, so it’s crucial that you keep your outdoor living area as social as possible. Keep food, litter boxes, and the entire structure clean of poop and debris. Keep your dog on a leash when you’re around the feline, especially if it’s a large breed, as it may view the dog as a threat and attack. Also, keep toys and other items in high traffic areas out of reach of your pet, and always clean up any leftover food or other debris immediately.

Are there other dangers besides being on a dangerous scatters list? Strays are known to prey on smaller pets such as mice or birds, as well as on small animals such as rats or chipmunks. Being on a list means that you’ve at least contributed to the population of stray cats, and chances are there’s at least one cat in your neighborhood that isn’t too tame and can take care of itself. Just don’t call the police because they’ll probably end up capturing the animal anyway. Many cities have programs whereby they’ll trap and release the strays within a certain area after they are caught.

How should you train your feral cat to use a litter tray or box? Many animals will naturally know where to find their place to relieve themselves, but you may have to train it yourself. Get some small rocks and place them on top of the litter tray, gradually moving closer together until the feline has to work a bit to reach them. Then reward it for using the box or tray properly by giving it a pat in the head. Use the same technique when you want the cat to sit on command, slowly backing away as it sits down, then quickly moving back as it sits down.

If you’re thinking of adopting an outdoors cat, be sure to check into the pet’s environment before bringing it home. Remember that an outdoor cat is just that – wild and may possibly become a danger to you and your family. Be sure to do your research, and consider whether the outdoor cat would fit well with the people in your home. Feral cats are not for everyone. But if you have the room, they make great pets.

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