Ideas for taming a cage-confined feral cat?
November 19, 2007 8:35 PM   Subscribe

My friend has taken in a feral cat who got hit by a car. Have any good ideas for helping to tame the thing?

My friend saw the cat sitting in the road a couple weeks ago. As she drove up to it, the cat made no efforts to get out of the way. My friend took it into the vet, and found out the cat had two broken legs and a cracked pelvis. The cat is probably about a year and a half old. My friend agreed to pay for the very very very very expensive surgeries necessary to set the bones.

The cat is at my friend's home now in a big dog crate to minimize the amount of walking she does (to give her bones the best shot at healing.) The cat will be confined to the cage for about 2 more months, doctor's orders. The cat spends most of the time just quietly staring at people, until there is some unavoidable human contact. When my friend feeds the cat, it hisses and spits at her. When my friend has to clean the litter box in the cage, the cat hisses and spits, and sometimes swats at her or bites her.

What things can be done for a feral cat who is confined to a cage to make it less violent (over time) towards human contact?
posted by 23skidoo to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
That is incredibly kind of your friend to tend to the kitty and adopt him/her. Get your friend some leather gloves and give the cat a quiet place to rest, plenty to eat, soothing words, and lots of time.

It's understandably traumatized and in pain. He or she will most likely (I say that because there could be a chance that it was hit in the head, too, and could be mentally "off" temporarily or permanently) come around. Steady food supply, a good place to sleep, territory of its own, and patience conquer feral cats, in my experience.
posted by bonobo at 8:46 PM on November 19, 2007

If it is truly a feral adult cat, there is really nothing to do to tame it. Any human contact is stressful for a feral. Cats in general do not like hands reaching toward their face. If the cat allowed itself to be taken to the vet, it may be an abandoned stray cat who at one time had some human contact. A towel over the cage can help de-stress the cat.

There is an organization called Alley Cat Allies that might have some useful advice on its website. Also, the Humane Society might have some lower cost vet care options for an abandoned cat as well as some possible referral sources for people in the area who have feral colonies who might be willing to take in one more once it is healed. The Humane Society will not take the cat if it is "wild", and ignore the suggestion to bring it to Animal Control because that is an automatic death sentence for a feral. The best thing your friend can do for that cat is to get it neutered/spayed and let it back outside when it is healed and feed it. It really sounds like an abandoned cat, though, so there might be some hope that it will come around and allow itself to be petted. A true feral will do itself damage when confined. Keep in mind the extensive trauma and the unfamilar surroundings and how freaked out that would make an animal used to fending for itself out on the street. Tell your friend "thanks!" for taking care of that cat.
posted by 45moore45 at 8:50 PM on November 19, 2007

And another thought...

I've not tried these products but have read many recommendations for them: Comfort Zone & Feliway.
posted by bonobo at 8:51 PM on November 19, 2007

Here's the Alley Cat Allies link that 45moore45 somehow couldn't find for you. There's very little to be done if the cat is truly feral, which it certainly sounds like it is.
posted by jjg at 8:53 PM on November 19, 2007

Ferals can absolutely be tamed - I have a very sweet 10 yr old who is inextricably bonded to me and who was VERY feral, living with a feral colony in a creekbed, for most of its youth. I'm about halfway (i.e., 1 yr in) in socializing a 1.25 yr old feral who I got when he was 4 months old.

It takes a lot of time and a lot of patience.

Eventually, they trust you because you don't hurt them, you bring them food, and you take care of them when they want attention.

It will be harder with this cat as it's scared in the box, and probably still in pain. I think once the cat is healed up, though, it will slowly trust your friend more and more. It is totally possible, it just takes a lot of time.

Good luck to your friend! My Moe is still not friendly with other people, but very, very sweet with me and sleeps with me under the covers every night. And he doesn't bite or scratch other people any more - he'll let himself be petted if he can't
posted by luriete at 10:42 PM on November 19, 2007

Drugs. Seriously. The cat is in a lot of pain. Get some cat painkillers, of the sort you can give the cat in meat or water, from the vet, along with advice on the dosage. No sticking tablets down his neck for some considerable time yet, if ever.

Also, keep most of the cage covered most of the time, so the cat feels hidden and safe. Keep it in a quiet spot in the house, and keep your laundry hamper near it to get the cat used to the smell of you. Always feed the cat in the cage, near the back of it. Get two litter trays so you can swap them quickly while the cat is eating and clean the dirty one at your leisure.

When the vet says it's safe to let the cat out a bit, start opening the cage (but keeping the room shut) about an hour before feeding time. Again, always feed the cat in the cage. If he doesn't go straight in for his food, take the food away, and come back in an hour. The idea is to condition him to food at a particular time in the cage; if this occurs for a few weeks straight and then is delayed, he will probably be hungry, and go for the food as soon as it's put in for him.

When it's safe to let him out for longer periods, leave the cage open but keep him confined to the room. After he's used to that, let him have access to the rest of the house. I would strongly advise keeping him indoors for at least a year, ideally for the rest of his life. A 'run' or netting-enclosed porch would be nice, if you can set it up.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:58 PM on November 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

There are lots of great suggestions here. It will take time. I adopted two kitties from a rescue organization. They were not feral, but even so it took a few months for the more skittish one to really come around to me (and she's still uptight about other people). If your friend provides a consistent food source, does not try to pet or touch the cat, and continues to quietly exist around the cat, the cat will stop thinking your friend is out to break its neck.

The cage may turn into a blessing, though! My kitty's skittishness was especially annoying because it meant she was constantly finding places to hide where she wouldn't come out to eat or drink.
posted by schroedinger at 5:33 AM on November 20, 2007

The woman who runs has some experience taming ferals, I believe. Your friend might try contacting her (or reading some of the articles/forum posts on the site).

One thing your friend could do is spend some quiet time near the cat, but not interacting with it. Get a book, sit down within the cat's line of sight (but not looking at the cat), and read. Reading out loud would be even better, so that the cat gets accustomed to her voice. Then get up and leave. Don't make this a part of the feeding/cage cleaning routine, because then the cat will see this as a signal to start getting anxious. Good luck to your friend.
posted by CiaoMela at 7:00 AM on November 20, 2007

My two cats are ex-ferals. The white one in particular was a howling spitting ball of fear and anger. She's now the most affectionate cat I've ever had (although she still won't let me pick her up).

Let the cat heal, minimal contact while she's confined other than soothing soft words and your friend's nearby-but-not-too-close presence. Give the cat a box to hide inside the crate, not an open-topped bed but a sealed box with a hole cut into one side which will serve as a retreat during those stressful feeding/cleaning times.

A constant stream of nonsense chatter was what brought my guys around. One of them still (after nearly a year and a half) is startled to see me but calms when she hears my voice.
posted by jamaro at 9:09 AM on November 20, 2007

We (my family) raised many sick and injured ferals to be snuggly kitties. It seemed like the ferals always grew up to be the cats that never wanted to go outside again. It will take lots of sustained, quiet, minimum contact. Just hanging out is good. Giving medicine and little treats by hand helps. If your friend can spend time in a small room were the cat can slowly work up to interaction (we kept one feral kitty in our bathroom for several weeks until he was healthy, and spent a lot of time just sitting on the bathroom floor just reading or talking to him) that would help too.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:12 PM on November 20, 2007

Ferals are absolutely tameable. A person justs need to go slow and give a cat a space in which it can feel secure. Tell your friend that she is a very kind person to help this scared, hurt kitty!
posted by Locative at 7:38 AM on November 21, 2007

Nthing the Ferals are absolutely tameable crew. I've tamed a feral cat before, but it did take a very long time. The cats I have now are the great grandkats of that original feral, but you'd never know it. It can be done, if the cat knows your heart is pure. They can feel it... patience and perserverence for the win!

I used to wear oven mitts around her before she, Sushi (my feral), learned she could trust me.

Multiple blessings to your friend for her benevolence.
posted by goml at 12:30 PM on November 21, 2007

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