Taming Feral Cats and Wild Kittens

All too often somebody does not look after their cat correctly and it turns feral, or a cat gives birth to kittens who are wild. Here are some methods for returning these animals to domestic bliss.

Feral Vs. Wild?

A feral cat is one who was once owned and has turned wild. They are often scared and have become antisocial to people as a result of fending for themselves. They may be strays or cats who were abandoned. Wild refers to any cat born wild and continuing to live wild.

You can re-tame a feral cat, you can tame a wild kitten, but you cannot tame a wild cat. If they have been born wild and remained truly wild (no human contact) past a point of four or five months it is generally considered impossible to fully tame them.

Catch it!

Do not delay. The longer you leave the cat or kitten loose the harder it will be to tame it. You can often rent or borrow cat traps from your vet, animal shelter, or pound. Or you can lure the cat into your home and trap it in a small room. See also below on how to make your own trap for a kitten. Canned food or sardines are the most attractive bait.

Keep it and Tame it!

Once caught you must contain the animal in a small space, where it can have food, water, and a litter box. For a feral adult cat, a small bathroom will work well. However for wild kitten you need something even smaller, like a large dog crate or even a rabbit cage, use a smaller litter box too. The idea being that you must force the animal to become used to you. A lot of people say you should do this slowly by allowing the animal to learn to trust you. While this may worth with a new scared cat, or possibly even with the feral cat, it is not the best approach to taming a wild kitten.

As mentioned, you must provide them with food, water, and a litter box. However, the food should be dry food. The secret is that cats love canned food, so this is their lure to become more tame. You want to offer canned food ONLY when you are there. One teaspoon per feeding is plenty, because you will do this several times a day.

For Feral cats, go into the room with the canned food and sit on the floor near the food, allowing the cat to approach. If he or she does not approach on their own you must be patient. Try to catch the cat and show it the food. Talk in a soft voice, and allow the cat to become used to human presence once again. Even leave a radio on in the room to accustom the cat to noises. Do not leave canned food in the room when you are not there. Try to touch the cat as often as you can, pulling it out from its hiding spots several times a day and patting it or offering it treats. The whole process may take as little as one week or as much as three months.

For wild kittens it can be a real challenge. Wild kittens put on big displays of being fierce. They will be very claw aggressive, and will try to bite, or flee. You must be firm and not let go. Do not be intimidated or nervous. For the first few days, take the kitten out of the cage and hold it for about five minutes at a time. Offering it a tiny amount of canned food when you return it to the cage. You should stay by the cage for a while when it is eating.

Depending on the age of the kitten the taming procedure may go very fast or take several weeks. The kitten will hate being in the kennel so being out of it is a reward. Extend the amount of time you hold the kitten, eventually it will feel comfortable enough to close its eyes and sleep. Still, its’ wild nature is strong so do not release it. It will take a while before you can loosen your grasp on the little feline. Keep the door of the room shut so if it does get away from you, you can catch it. Eventually you can offer it the canned food while you are holding it. As the kitten gains your confidence you can leave it out for the day, but plan on returning it to the kennel at night. Thus, the kitten is rewarded by you every morning when it is released.

What Next?

Feral cats and wild kittens will need veterinarian attention. Once you have tamed them you should take them to a vet for vaccinations, worming, spaying or neutering, and a general check up. It is not uncommon for wild kittens to have ear mites. You might want to talk to the vet about identification options.

Trapping Kittens

These two methods work well for catching kittens if you cannot find a cat trap. Use a cat carrier or small dog kennel. Set it up where the kitten frequently goes, leave it there for a while so the kitten is familiar with it. You can even put some canned food inside to get the kitten used to entering it. Have the door turned away from you, but in a way you can see when the kitten is fully inside. Or have a mirror set up so you can see if the kitten is inside. Have a long strong string attached to the door and run it back to where you can be hidden from the kittens view. Practice pulling the door shut and holding it shut. You will have to pull the string tight to shut the door and keep it shut until you can get near enough to lock the kennel door.

There is another method of catching wild kittens which works if they are very young and very hungry, but are in a place you cannot quite reach, like under a shed. Place some canned food just outside of their shelter so they can smell it, you have to be right there, patient, and very still. Have a cat carrier handy and open. I recommend using leather gloves and hover your hand right above the food. Sit and wait until a kitten approaches the food. Then quickly grab it and shut it in the carrier. You might be able to catch only two kittens at a time before the others become too frightened to come out. But you can try another time for them.

Wild kittens will hiss and claw, they think they are very tough. It is quite funny actually, but do not let them get the best of you. Hold tight. I have used both methods successfully to catch wild kittens.

Important note regarding Feral Cats

Every feral cat once had an owner. If the cat is new to your area you need to file a found report with your local SPCA or animal shelter (whoever deals with strays) in case an owner is looking for it. Cat ownership should be taken seriously – if you cannot care for a cat, do not turn it loose, you should take it to a shelter, rehome it, or euthanize it humanely. In most countries abandoning an animal is a crime. If your pet goes missing for some reason or another, you should look for it and immediately file a Lost Report with your local shelter.

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User Comments
  1. seelaw

    On June 3, 2008 at 5:41 pm

    wild cats will claw , but love them

  2. debbie

    On April 1, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    How DARE you say to take it to a shelter or EUTHANIZE it!!! What the HELL is wrong with you??? Every person has a social responsibility to at least TNR the cat. Shelters will euthanize the cat most every time, so it’s not worth taking into a shelter in the first place! It’s certain death if you do. With the advent of the internet there are so many ways to reach out and find help. Go online and find groups about feral cats on yahoo groups for help. Go to craigslist and post an ad under pets that you need help. There is no need to euthanize or take any cat to a shelter—shelters are NOT cat friendly.

  3. debbie

    On April 1, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    B. nelson is probably a man who hates cats. Jerk!

  4. Brenda Nelson

    On April 1, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    to debbie…

    actually I am a woman.. a woman who worked in (and loved it) an animal shelter for 5 years..
    I believe Trap Neuter Tame – works many times better in SOME areas where Trap Neuter Release does not work and contributes to the problem of people setting out poison or using the stray cats as target practice..

    shelters DO CARE FOR CATS! it is NOT their fault more people allow their cats to breed than there are homes for..

    myself I own 3 kitties I caught wild, neutered, and tamed and now they are house pets.
    read about them here

    some shelters DO adopt out neutered feral cats to good farm homes…

  5. hazel

    On June 10, 2009 at 10:06 am

    to B Nelson

    about a week ago i found a little kitten in my garden. feisty little one, but i eventually caught her and took her to the vet. thank goodness she’s healthy and all, but just very scared and skinny. she is finally used to me, she eats well and loves to snuggle… now my question is: she’s not keen to play just yet, she’s also bit scared of my husband and his son, but she’s terrified of my 4 and 1/2 yr old cat, Lila. i started their introduction today and little one went into hiding, but Lila got a bit too aggressive.. i don’t know Lila like that. she’s lived with other cats before and she took on a very motherly role with them.. what would cause her to be so aggressive towards this little one.. should i be worried or should i just take things more slow..

  6. Brenda Nelson

    On June 10, 2009 at 11:22 am

    it takes time to introduce cats, and sometimes a cat will accept one cat, and not another. as the kitten is afraid of the adult cat it probably acts in a way to draw Lilas attention, keep the new one in a room for a while, allowing Lila to accept it by sniffing paws under the door and such. Good luck.

  7. hazel

    On June 15, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    things are going much better with the little one. she’s exploring the house little by little. lila is still making sure that the little one knows who’s the boss, but little one just gives her a stare down. brave little one!! i’m still deciding on a name for her. either neko or nyx.. thank you for the advise.

  8. trina

    On September 7, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    we have a stray cat that has given birth twice since april. we have tried to catch her to have her spayed, but no luck. today, her second batch of kittens were in my neighbors car (motor), so i tried to get as many out as i could. at this time i have one in a carrier. the rest ran off. they are approx 4 weeks old. the one that i have does hiss and snarl. i know that there are others in the neighborhood, because i can hear them crying. i can only hope that they will be fine or that the mother will find them. this is my first wild kitten and everything that i have read is what i have been doing. i have only had her for a very short while. my husband and i are opened to suggestions. thanks

  9. Brenda Nelson

    On September 7, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    to trina
    keep holding it and playing with it, I have done this for many kittens though my work at an animal shelter and on my own.
    You may ask a shelter or vet if they have a cat trap you can use to catch the mom
    Good luck.

  10. Sean

    On October 12, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    Hi, B Nelson?

    A litter of wild cats was born two months and change ago near the high school I work at, and they weren’t being cared for. The school got three of them picked up by animal control one after another, and after that the city stopped coming to get them. Well when one started hanging around my classroom door I adopted him and took him home, cleaned him up, and things have been going swimmingly. That was two weeks ago.

    Things are still fine, but see I have a twelve year old tabby already, and they have had a pretty easygoing relationship so far but their boxing looks like it might be getting less playful a little bit at a time here, and I’m afraid they might have a real altercation at some point. They’re like two kids who have let the teasing get too personal.

    Any thoughts? I can’t find what I’m looking for on any forums or anything so far.

  11. heather

    On December 17, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    I would have to disagree that you can\’t completely tame a wild cat. I have tamed plenty of wild kittens and cats. It takes them gaining your trust and it takes alot of time and effort but it can be done. I have three 3 month old kittens at my work I am tameing now. I have one tamed to where he runs up to me in the mornings and I pet him and one other is getting close. I\’m sure there are some cats that will never trust a human but it is possible to tame a wild cat.

  12. Niamh

    On December 17, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    Hey i have 2 wild kittens. Im off for christmas so it would be the best time to tame them. I was wondoring if i should neurtring them first or taming them? I am a 13 year old girl who would do anything to earn these kittens trust. Plz reply soon as i neeed help. Thanks

  13. Brenda Nelson

    On December 17, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    to Niamh – You should call the vets in your area to see what age they do spaying or neutering at. If they are kittens – tame them first for sure, if they are older, and are almost full grown cats – spay or neuter them first. Good luck

    to heather. As far as taming older wild cats they might be tame to YOU but will usually still run from strangers. I have tamed a 1 year old cat who I know was born wild – we caught his brother as a wee kitten and saw this guy but were unable to catch him until a year later. Anyhow he is totally tame and friendly with us but runs from strangers.

  14. R M

    On January 1, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    Hi! I have 1 wild Cat named Tinker in the prosses of being tamed and I have 1 wild Cat named Sarah that is in the garage and has been coming in every night since about 2 weeks ago! But she still wont even come to the name i gave her! She is a pretty cat that is very easily scared! I want to tame her but she is being really stuborn! I am about 12 years old and i would love any tips anyone could give me! Thanks!!

  15. Milton H Peebles III

    On May 29, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    My mother and I have done this more than a few times. We’ve ended up with some wonderful cats this way. I recently helped my son catch a wild kitten and she is now living with him on his houseboat. She thinks she owns the boat.
    Take Care, DreamSweet and Let Your heart Shine
    ~ milty

  16. woodlandsdash

    On June 15, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    hello, just to say about anyone hating cats, i don’t think anyone could dislike cats as much as my mother, but when she saw a notice in the post office that read:

    2 SEMI-FERAL CATS, 7 weeks old, boy and girl. must go by sunday or farmer will DISPOSE OF THEM!!..

    we had to get them!!..we always planned to get a mouse killer but never expected two little cute kittens!!
    Hobie (cat.. get it!!) and Polly are now settling in, and although slightly scared still of us and petrified of the labradors, we are so glad we have done this!!

  17. Melinda

    On November 10, 2010 at 4:53 am

    I’m trying to catch a baby under, he or she is under my shed, I have a Doberman and a Irish Terrier and a Cat, I am concerned more about how my adult cat will react to this baby provided I can catch him or her and tame it. Any suggestions would be so appreciated, I could not sleep last night worrying about it being cold or hungry under the shed. I did put out a crate with some food and water last night, I just discovered the kitten when I got home from work yesterday.

  18. zeus1997

    On November 10, 2010 at 4:54 am

    I\’m trying to catch a baby, he or she is under my shed, I have a Doberman and a Irish Terrier and a Cat, I am concerned more about how my adult cat will react to this baby provided I can catch him or her and tame it. Any suggestions would be so appreciated, I could not sleep last night worrying about it being cold or hungry under the shed. I did put out a crate with some food and water last night, I just discovered the kitten when I got home from work yesterday.

  19. Melinda

    On November 10, 2010 at 4:55 am

    I\\\’m trying to catch a baby, he or she is under my shed, I have a Doberman and a Irish Terrier and a Cat, I am concerned more about how my adult cat will react to this baby provided I can catch him or her and tame it. Any suggestions would be so appreciated, I could not sleep last night worrying about it being cold or hungry under the shed. I did put out a crate with some food and water last night, I just discovered the kitten when I got home from work yesterday.

  20. zeus1997

    On November 10, 2010 at 4:58 am

    I have no idea, why my comment posted 3 times, sorry

  21. Miranda

    On March 30, 2012 at 5:54 am

    Please Help!
    Hi. I just recently came into contact with a barn cat. The other day she came up to us and we fed her and she even let us pet and love on her. It was obvious she was starving,poor thing devoured a packet and a half of soft dog food(All we had at the time). Today we were sitting outside and she came up to us and I fed her again. She will even hop up on my lap. She absolutely loves attention and being loved on, but if you stand or walk near her she growls and hisses with her ears drawled back. I’ll be sitting with her in my lap and petting her and she’ll be purring, but once I put her aside and stand up to walk to the other room she will hiss and growl and even run in front of me as if to block me from walking or sitting somewhere. As soon as I lower myself though she comes running to me for loves. How do I get her to stop this aggressive behavior and to relax more when someone stands or walks by?

  22. Brenda Nelson

    On March 31, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    to Miranda
    She is still learning to trust, over time this behavior should fade. Spaying her might assist too. Thanks for caring for her.

  23. Sonya Worley

    On May 23, 2012 at 6:45 am

    2yrs ago i got a kitten when he was about 7mths old i moved in with my boyfriend with it being hes house i didnt want the kitten spraying all over his house my youngest son took over looking after him his girlfriend at the time was besotted with him and i was relieved that he was in a good home my son then started work and he split with his girlfriend he thought it best to give the cat to a good home but before i could say i would take him back my oldest son said he would have him he was always happy in female company and my oldest sons girlfriend took to him straight away and so again i was relieved that he was being looked after then after they had him a few weeks to get used to living there they let him out he loved the outside then my oldest sons girlfriend died 3mths ago and basically the cat just came home for food and went back out or when it was cold weather would stay in he is 2yrs old now but i fear has turned feral because my son doesnt seem bothered with him i desperately want him back but i dont know if he can be tamed if anybody can give me advice on this i would be truly grateful.

  24. Brenda Nelson

    On May 25, 2012 at 10:34 am

    If the boyfriend did not want the cat spraying in the house – neutering it would have been a better solution. If it was spraying in the house and was neutered it should have been taken to a vet to rule out bladder infection.
    Yes the cat can be tamed, I have tamed adult cats, it is never to late, try to catch the cat and bring it indoors keeping it in a small room, ideally get it to the vet right away for neutering.

  25. terri

    On October 15, 2012 at 1:15 am

    Please help I have a feral cat that for the last 3 years has had a liter of 4 every time.Was a great mom for the first 2 liters left the last liter at my house,I have fed and made shelter in winter for all. Thought something happened to the mom but showed back up again one month later won’t go near babies but wants fed.babies. are now seven months old no stranger to her babies having babies but this time it’s really early it’s always been every spring.Now one is friendly all the sudden letting us pet her ,afraid she’s pregnant by brother. Still can’t pet him but comes right up at feeding time.need to catch somehoe both and take to no kill shelter,I’m deathly allergic but love them anyway.any sugguestions?

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