We're getting a cat! The cat will hate us! Yay!
October 31, 2020 1:39 PM   Subscribe

We're adopting a feral rescue cat. It will live in a shed in our garden with a cat flap in it. We will never approach it (people have died*), just feed it and provide shelter. We've never had a cat! What do we need to know? *an exaggeration, but according to the rescue place folks, not by much

I am FLIPPING DELIGHTED to be adopting this fellow, linked for Cat Tax. I am super allergic, so have always assumed I'd never have one, till we moved to this house with a pre-existing Cat Shed. But having never had a cat before, I have questions! I want tips!

Just to be clear, I'm in no way expecting him to come to love us in a romantic cat whisperer thing, I know he will probably never enjoy our company, and the most we can hope for is to see him now and again around the garden. And the rescue place folks have given us plenty of advice on worming, flea treatment etc.

But! Have you adopted a feral cat? Do you have tips? What are THE BEST cat treats money can buy? What do cats like to sleep on if they're not into trad cat beds?

It sounds like he's had a rough time and we want to give him the nicest possible rest of his life. All advice welcomed and appreciated!
posted by greenish to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
So cute! We had a small feral cat army for a while (it takes time to get everyone fixed!). One concern I would have would be whether your new cat will be traumatized enough by the move to take off and not come back. I know for indoor/outdoor cats the suggestion is to keep them shut in for a while in a new place before giving them outdoor access, but I suspect a feral cat would find that extremely traumatic. Maybe make sure there is a ton of high-value food in different locations around the garden when you release him?

Most of our cat army never let us approach close enough to pet them, but they would come running for food and happily sleep in the sun around the yard even while we were outside. They enjoyed sleeping on our lawn chairs and on top of the dirt in plant pots.
posted by LadyOscar at 2:42 PM on October 31, 2020

My cat likes to sleep on fleece.
My father in law has barn cats - one thing he did for them was to build a box with a plexiglass side so it would feel warm from sun, especially in the winter. The entrance was a hole in the floor.
posted by kerf at 2:55 PM on October 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

When my rescue group transitioned ferals they would keep the feral in a (large) crate or enclosure at the new place for at least two weeks before letting them roam. Otherwise they might just take off to anywhere. Block the cat door and keep the kitty in the shed for two+ weeks so it associates it with home and establishes it as its own territory. Make sure the litter box is big as hell (like ideally made out of a big topless Rubbermaid tub with a U-shaped cutout in the side) because ferals will use boxes but may not have the best aim. Provide catnip toys, ferals still like toys. When you start letting it out, do not put it outside, just unblock the cat door and allow it to discover the outside on its own. Make sure it has places to hide and maybe get it a nice heated bed or enclosure. If there's no place to plug in a bed, build a straw-filled shelter, there are lots of instructions online for different cat shelters.

I would also feed it on a schedule (like twice a day), giving it 30-60 minutes to eat before picking it up rather than letting it free feed. This will help it associate you with food and build positive vibes. Also in the future when it is free to roam you do not want other animals sneaking through the cat door and eating its food (possums and racoons will totally do this).
posted by Anonymous at 3:02 PM on October 31, 2020

That is one fine figure of a beast! He reminds me of my dear departed Chuck, who retired to my porch after a long career as head Tom of the local feral colony.

Regular on-time feedings will probably make him feel very secure and happy. Taste in treats really does vary from cat to cat. You might consider planting him some recreational catnip in the yard, although you’ll have to replant regularly. Living in New York (accidentally typed “Mew York,” thank you Dr. Freud) we found a heated water dish very handy; breaking the ice every day in cold weather was a real nuisance. (That’s also how I acquired Bob the Not So Bright Kitten, who liked to sit around in the warm water in the dead of winter.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:40 PM on October 31, 2020 [4 favorites]

Our cats always had a particular love for sleeping on heaped-up crocheted blankets. Something about them has just the right amount of squish for really doing some deep kneading and getting comfortable. Your little fellow is so handsome!
posted by corey flood at 4:13 PM on October 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm seconding schroedinger's advice: "When my rescue group transitioned ferals they would keep the feral in a (large) crate or enclosure at the new place for at least two weeks before letting them roam." If you give him access to the outdoors too soon, he'll run away, and you'll never see him again.

If for no other reason than for your own entertainment, you may want to invest in a wireless camera, like this one. You'll be able to see your kitty in his shed. My wife and I maintain a feral cat colony outside our house, and we put one of these cameras in the feeding station. It was great fun. Also caught some raccoons and opossums helping themselves to the cat food.
posted by alex1965 at 4:25 PM on October 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Greatest thing our (indoor) cats have is a heated bed. A quick search came up with these. I cannot attest to any of them because ours are indoors.

Patience is everything. We took in a feral kitten a number of years back and it took years for him to trust use (and never would let us pick him up without a fight) and he was tiny when he joined our household
posted by rtimmel at 5:20 PM on October 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

I adopted a semi-feral cat for indoor pet purposes. Lots of great advice here. The cat will be very agitated for the first couple of weeks, so do try to keep them confined. I eventually made food time a getting-to-know-you event and progressed from being nearby, to talking to petting as meal time activities. A lot of the (cold climate) organized feral folks I know use straw for bedding, since laundering cloth things used by a semi-wild animal is going to be fraught.

Fwiw, my semi-feral cat eventually (some things took many years- a decade in he's still taming) learned to be a very happy house cat, who likes being pet, and can occasionally even be picked up and hugged.
posted by wotsac at 5:52 PM on October 31, 2020

After he's settled in a littly, find an activity you can do while being near him and focusing on something else. Maybe talk on the phone or read or do computer stuff. Do this a lot. He may eventually see that you're not a threat.

This way, you don't have to look directly at him as a predator would.

Work up to tossing treats to him. Good luck!
posted by amtho at 6:18 PM on October 31, 2020 [3 favorites]

Ferals can be fascinating. I know the tendency is to divide them into strays and native-borns, but I'm increasingly reading that scientific thought is that cats were not domesticated by humans but, instead, chose to domesticate themselves. Anyway, I'm hardly an expert, but I had a six-month-long relationship with a beautiful female feral who followed me home one night, first walking lockstep with me, and then all but sticking her foot in the door so I couldn't avoid letting her in.

She was totally an alpha cat, and had lived long enough in the Brooklyn wild she had no interest or knowledge of toys, litter boxes and other domesticated things. More than anything I think she'd visit me when she wanted tender treatment. Not only would she let me pet her (and wash down her hair with a cloth), but she would curl up with her head on my knee and fall asleep that way. When she'd finally leave, you could always see she was torn: She'd step outside, inside, outside, inside. If it was night-time, though, her tail would start to tap, and she would be on edge, but also excited because, of course, that's prime hunting time, which means also adventure, peril, skill, defeat — and victory.

After a while, it was clear to me she would always primarily live on the streets and life inside, no matter how comfortable, would be a horrible disservice to her. Outside, she dominated the entire block, and many of the neighbors knew her. They would tell tales of people picking up their dogs and walking the other way when she passed. Twice, I caught her tormenting other cats, making loud lupine noises while she stared them into a frightened stupor. She was a marvelous hunter, and credited (again by neighbors) for our lack of vermin on this street. She could also run faster than any animal I have ever seen in real life.

The last time I saw her, I didn't recognize her at first. She looked almost cartoonish, with ears were plastered tight to her head, tail dragging along the street, and slow steps. I followed behind for a block, wondering where she'd go. She paused, finally, in front of an eight foot fence near where many of the feral cats dwell, and without preparation or pause, she suddenly leapt up in the air in a single magical motion and disappeared entirely. It was like watching a mythical creature suddenly take flight.
posted by Violet Blue at 6:41 PM on October 31, 2020 [25 favorites]

The (semi-)ferals in our neighborhood colony love-love-love tuna. They'll happily eat other food when they're hungry, and some of them have their own personal favorites, but every single one of them will happily come out for canned tuna. Some of them that refuse to accept any handling otherwise will readily tolerate petting while they're getting tuna. I'd definitely suggest giving that a try!
posted by biogeo at 8:43 PM on October 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

Talk a lot at him when you do have contact, in a soft voice like you were trying to put a baby to sleep. And get lots of treats so he associates you with better food than he can scavenge - good quality jerky or non-spiced sausage and ham should be welcome in small quantities. Don't make any sudden movements and make sure you spend some time near the shed so he can hear you moving around and just existing, to get used to your sounds. And it's winter so make sure the shed has a heat source, that should curtail any thoughts of escaping permanently. A radiator-like oil heater is good because it doesn't cause whisker-annoying air movement, and put a piece of rug or something next to it to provide lounging space. Feral cats can be absurdly rewarding when they look at you in that mute amazement that someone can be actually nice to them.

(Source: I got so good at it this summer at the dacha that the feral queen dumped her entire litter of half-grown kittens on me. Three of them are now cuddlebugs, still working on the fourth though he'll nibble on your fingers in the night.)
posted by I claim sanctuary at 1:22 AM on November 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

it might be helpful if the cat is ear tipped - that way everyone can see that it's been spayed/neutered. you will need to find a way to get a rabies vaccine (but some vets will do this when the cat is in a trap). if the cat is truly feral, then it might make a difference in the future for him to be at least a little bit socialsed
posted by megan_magnolia at 5:18 AM on November 1, 2020

megan_magnolia, rabies isn't an issue as, looking at the website, this is the UK, which is rabies-free.

I think a spy-cam is a great idea, if only to make sure he's not been injured in a fight or anything like that, but also it'll be a whole lot of fun to see what he does in his secret life.

Although he's feral, it's important to have a method of catching him easily in case he has to go to the vet. I'd recommend some heavy-duty gardening gloves kept in a place you can find them easily.
posted by essexjan at 8:07 AM on November 1, 2020

Actually, I would go full-bore and get welder's gloves that go up to your elbows. And invest in a live animal trap like this one. When it's time to catch the cat, generously line the bottom with newspaper (cats don't like walking on the plain wire) and stop feeding so it is more attracted to the food inside the trap. Cover the trap with a sheet with a hole cut out for the handle. It will help keep the kitty calm.
posted by Anonymous at 2:17 PM on November 1, 2020

Response by poster: Thank you guys SO MUCH for all this advice. I really appreciate it and I feel much more prepared.

The rescue home concur with your advice about keeping him in for a while, in fact they've requested that we keep him in his (large, comfortable) crate for four weeks. After that I'm going to, as suggested here, put bits of nice food (tuna is a good suggestion! and apparently he likes sardines!) around the garden, to try and tempt him to stay.

Lots of other great advice. I'm going to go look into battery powered heat pads! Thanks, wish us luck with this little bloke!
posted by greenish at 3:57 AM on November 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

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