Taming a stray cat.
August 25, 2004 6:27 PM   Subscribe

Taming a stray cat. We have a young stray cat that has been coming around our house a lot lately. I think it is living in our garage and I'd like to make an honest house cat out of it. [more inside]

I assume the cat is an offspring of my neighbor's semi-wild cats. We've been leaving food out for the cat for the past few weeks on our back porch which it always eats. It will come into the kitchen and sniff around and raid the dog food, but it always bolts when we come near it. I'd like to see if I can lure it inside before Winter because I'm afraid it will die if it tries to stay the Winter in the garage. What is the best way to attract and keep a youngish stray cat without totally freaking it out and scarring it for life? Has anyone done this successfully, what did you do?
posted by jessamyn to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I was once in a similar situation with a totally feral stray eating out of my porch. It took me months before she'd let me touch her, then one night I woke up and she was sprawled across my legs for the warmth. We both jumper about three feet.

I can think of a couple things:

1. LOTS of patience.

2. She'll be fine in the garage over the winter.

3. Spend time in her company peacefully ignoring her. As if she just happens to be there, and once in a while you notice her and say, "Oh, hello," but basically you're just going about your business uninterested. She'll love this and eventually come to trust you the way she trusts the furniture.
posted by Shane at 6:51 PM on August 25, 2004

jumper shd be jumped
posted by Shane at 6:52 PM on August 25, 2004

My co-worker has always succeeded in convincing fearful stray cats to trust her through the generous use of cat treats.
posted by MegoSteve at 7:40 PM on August 25, 2004

I've done this having total succes and no success. But I think the no success cat was crazy (must have been!) The success stories were all based on lots of food, accompanied by a lot of mellow chatter by me to get them used to me and the sounds I make.
I did trap them when they were still quite wild and had them fixed/shotted up. The non-crazy ones seemed to forgive me and be back on the taming track within a week. The crazy one hated me before and hated me after, but at least I was responsible by him. And, I knew I wasn't going to have to deal with more wild kittens when I was just getting the first ones manageable. The mama cat actually seemed appreciative, but maybe I'm projecting. Anyway, I wouldn't feel guilty about doing this-- it shouldn't derail the process as long as the cat's of sound mind, and it may actually help.
posted by dness2 at 9:11 PM on August 25, 2004

bowl of antifreeze should take care of it

sorry, just cannot relate to cats

The guy across the street has an amazing proclivity for this. His secret is one of those toys you stuff with catnip on a string. He sets it outside for a few days while the cat learns that this is a goooood thing and eventally moves it inside (progressive steps). They move in and they all seem to get along in their drug induced haze.
posted by jmgorman at 10:30 PM on August 25, 2004

First of all, the old cliche about being adopted by a stray is true: The cat will either select you and join the household, or it won't. Some animals aren't interested in being domesticated, and others take to it naturally.

It sounds like this one is still pretty nervous about you. Even fully domestic cats can be fraidycats, and eventually some of the grow out of it. Take some steps to get it a little more interested in you:

Feed noisily, so that the cat comes to associate the sounds of your presence with chowtime.

Hang around during meals in progressively closer range. Eventually try to get to the point where you lay out the food and remain standing right there with the cat eating.

From there, it's a pretty short step for the cat to start reminding you of mealtime and approaching. Congratulations, you've started domestication. Notice the theme to these activities; they all center around mealtime. The way to a cat's heart is through the food bowl.
posted by majick at 11:46 PM on August 25, 2004

Yep, food and mellow talking and be sure to get him checked out by a vet before you try any close handling. There might be a feral cat rescue group in your area you could ask for advice.

My childhood cat was originally feral...and he wound up travelling with us up and down the east coast and even to Turkey and Argentina.

He was a great cat.
posted by JoanArkham at 4:36 AM on August 26, 2004

jmgorman, not being able to relate to cats and suggesting killing them (however jokingly) are two very different things.

Socializing feral cats can be tricky. The advice given about spending non-threatening time with the cat is important. Let the cat come to YOU. If you make overtures before the cat is ready, it will see you as threatening. As long as you keep providing food (and perhaps a pile of old towels or something similarly comfy in the garage to sleep on?) the cat will keep coming back, and perhaps show some affection towards you. At any rate, I would give it a few months.
posted by agregoli at 7:23 AM on August 26, 2004

jmgorman, not being able to relate to cats and suggesting killing them (however jokingly) are two very different things.

Just like fantasy and reality.
posted by biffa at 7:35 AM on August 26, 2004

My parents and I adopted some strays, several of whom spent their winters in our garage in Northeast PA. You're a little north of that, but if you put a box with some bedding in it, I bet they'd be fine. Even if you get them to come in the house, you may find it difficult to keep them there 24/7 -- they are used to being outside and might complain about it. I second what dness2 said about getting them to the vet for shots and getting fixed at the earliest opportunity. Our 3 strays forgave us for it uniformly, and except for the mom cat eventually became tame enough for us to keep in the house, give baths, etc.

I do think younger cats will be easier to work with than older ones, because they've seen less in their little lives to make them suspicious of you. The mom cat who adopted us never quite got as friendly as her two kids, no matter how sweet we were to her.
posted by onlyconnect at 7:41 AM on August 26, 2004

Also, put a box with kitty litter in your garage, on the opposite end of the box with the bedding in it. It lets them know the place is theirs, keeps them from having to go outside as much, and starts training them for being an actual housecat.
posted by onlyconnect at 7:46 AM on August 26, 2004

Doesn't a lot depend upon how much the cat was socialized to humans as a kitten during a crucial period? That's my understanding. That could be the biggest dividing line between being able to get a stray to become a (happy) housecat or not.

I say this as someone who adopted a kitten from a shelter fourteen years ago and found that she is extremely skittish—it's been fourteen years of getting to know her on her terms, not mine. :)
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:27 AM on August 26, 2004

Always a chance that snow will persuade the cat the human houses are GREAT places to live! Even if they demand the door be opened to inspect the conditions outside.

Also, letting the cat in and out, on demand, is a great way to teach the cat to trust. I aways teach newbies with cats to pick the cat up and put it down almost the moment the cat requests. In-and-out is the same principle.
posted by Goofyy at 11:47 PM on August 26, 2004

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