Taming “unowned” cats

Unowned Cat Socialization

A totally wild, “unowned” cat will be the one that stays as far from you as possible. It usually will not eat while you are present, but will hide or stay at a safe distance until you are gone.

If the cat is not part of a colony, try to feed the cat near where you first see it. The cat will usually scamper away, but may be curious enough to watch you from a distance.

After you have fed the cat, move far enough away so that it feels safe to investigate, and observe what it does.

If the cat eats the food, be at the feeding location the next day as close to the previous time as possible.

Continue to arrive with food every day at the same time and location to establish a routine. Cats are amazing time keepers, and once a routine is set, the unowned wild cat will be waiting for you every day.

Once the cat starts staying in your presence, display non-aggressive body language.

  1. Speak and move slowly
  2. Do not make eye contact

If the unowned cat is a member of your colony, it will observe your interactions with other colony cats.

  1. Encourage the friendlier semi-tame to come near you
  2. Speak and move softly
  3. Do not make eye contact

After you have established a beginning bond of trust and you feel it is in the best interest of the cat to be socialized, trap the cat in a humane trap. (See our Humane Trapping instructions . 

When you bring the cat home, move it into a small, secure space and transfer the cat into a cage.

  1. Cover the cage with a blanket
  2. Place the cage in a quiet area
  3. Do not place litter pans, food or water in the cage until the cat is calm

For the first few days, only approach the cage to replace litter, food, and water.

  1. If the cat remains calm, begin talking softly to it as you tend its needs
  2. If the cat continues to remain calm, begin sitting with it every day for an hour in the morning and again in the evening. (This is a good time to read that book you never seem to find the time for. And, if you read it out loud, the cat will get accustomed to hearing your voice.)

Allow the cat to decide when you take the next step. If it is bouncing off the cage walls, slow down, back up a step.

When the cat can remain relatively calm in your presence, it may be ready for the next step. Attempting to touch the cat for the first time will take some preparation.

  1. Wear a pair of heavy gloves
  2. Watch the cats body language – If the cat lunges at you when you open the door, the cat is NOT ready for this step!

If the cat remains calm, move your gloved hand very slowly toward it. Continue to monitor the cats body language closely.

Ears down accompanied by a low growl means back off!

If the cat remains non-aggressive, stroke it gently.

If you have been successful in touching your cat, you are well on your way toward meeting your socialization goal. Continue to visit and pet the cat as often as possible. If you bring a tasty treat to offer during your visits, you will make faster progress.

If you were not able to approach your cat, try again the next day with a new technique added.

Move your gloved hand slowly toward the cat offering a spoonful of baby food or tuna.

If the cat is still too frightened to allow this closeness, try the next technique.

  1. Wrap a wood stick with some soft cloth that has your body odor on it (flannel pajamas are great)
  2. Move the stick slowly through the bars of the cage and rub it against the cat.

If the cat can not tolerate even this, it may be too soon to attempt touching.

Remember, you are working with a frightened animal that can not read your intentions. Work slowly and allow the cat to direct your rate of progress!

Reverted Feral Cat Socialization

A reverted domestic is the easiest cat to socialize (provided it has relatively positive experiences with humans and has not been abandoned to the streets for too many years.)

Once again, the same techniques that you use in socializing a feral/semi-feral cat can initially be used to help a reverted-feral return to a domesticated state.

  1. Display non-aggressive body language
  2. Move and speak slowly
  3. Offer tasty treats
  4. Allow the cat to direct your rate of progress
  5. Be willing to change your socialization goals

Additional Socialization Tips

A radio played low on an easy listening station will help the cat become familiar with human voices – both male and female.

A television with the sound turned low will accustom the cat to the sights and sounds of this box that is usually found in any home a cat could be placed in.

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All donations go to providing needed care for Sonoma County’s unowned cats. There are multiple ways to give. Learn more