The first thing you need to establish is whether a cat is indeed feral or if they are a stray. With this said, as long as feral kittens are caught when they are still very young and you have the time and the patience to socialise them, the more chance you will have of owning a loving little cat. The same can be said of older feral cats with the difference being it may well take a long time to win their trust although for some of them, it is just too much to ask.
Very often what we think is a feral cat and one that adapts quickly to being kept in a loving home, wasn't actually born in the wild but was either lost or even abandoned by people which means they soon settle back into a home environment if they are shown lots of love and affection.
It goes without saying that feral cats need a lot of time to come around to the idea of living in a home environment, but with this said, all the hard work is definitely worth it. The key to successfully gaining their trust is to let them come to you in their own time and that nothing should be rushed. The majority of our feral feline friends will eventually come around even if it is not 100% and they can still make very loving and affectionate pets but the younger they are when you start the better.
As previously mentioned, feral kittens are much easier to tame and the best time to catch them is when they are anything from 6 to 12 weeks old. The problem is that you may not know their exact age and in general, feral cats tend to be a little bit smaller than our feline friends when they are raised in the home.
Once feral kittens are caught and this has to be done very carefully using special cat traps, their first port of call would be a visit to the vet to be checked over for any nasty diseases or injuries. This is very important, because the last thing you want to do is bring a sick kitten into your home if you share it with any other animals.
The first days are going to be the hardest both for you and the feral kitten. You need to let them deal with things at their own pace, all the while encouraging them to interact with you by offering them tasty things to eat and making sure they are drinking plenty of water. If you can set it up so the kitten gets to watch you from afar whilst still feeling at a safe distance from you, it's the best way for them to get to know their environment familiarising themselves with all the noises and smells they may never have known before. It also gives them the opportunity to get used to you and other people or animals in the home.
Playing with a kitten is great fun and this applies to feral kittens as well, although to begin with, they may just be too frightened to react or interact with you. They may even find it a little threatening at first, but their instinct to chase and play will usually take over and any fears they may have should soon disappear.
One of the best toys to introduce them to, is a small stick with some feathers attached and dangling on the end of it. However, it's not a good idea to move the stick around too energetically, but rather to sit quietly and let the stick do all the work as you gently flick it back and forwards – it's a sure way of catching their attention.
When you feel the time is right to pet your kitten, you need to make sure you only try to do this on areas of their bodies which they will not find too threatening which is on the back of their heads and down their necks. Offering your little friend a lot of their favourite treats works wonders when you are trying to make first physical"" contact with them. With feral kittens, this process may take a bit of time but the same cannot be said of older, adult feral cats. They will need much, much longer to come around to be touched or petted.
Knowing whether a cat you may have found or that has turned up on your doorstep is a feral or stray cat, will help you decide on how to go about catching them and then dealing with them so the minimum amount of stress is involved. You'll soon know if they are a stray because the chances are they will want to interact with you because they have been socialised. A feral cat would not be quite so eager to get close to you because they have never been properly socialised and therefore don't really know how interact with humans.
Socialising all pets is crucial to how they behave around people and other animals. Kittens get to interact with people from a young age because they are picked up, handled, played with and spoken to which means they get used to all those things from an early age. A feral kitten would have had none of this kind of interaction so naturally, they will not be quite so trustful. When it comes to older feral cats, it is a very difficult time for them because everything is so unfamiliar which means it can all be quite frightening and stressful for them to have to cope with.
There are a few differences in a stray and feral cat which all has to do with whether they were socialised from a young age which are listed below:
A feral cat may eventually come around but it would take a lot of time and patience which is well worth the effort although some catswould still prefer to live outdoors but be fed by you on a regular basis.