Taming Feral Cats
Feral cats are just wild cats - you can find them pretty much everywhere, and they're the same genetically as a house cat, they just haven't ever been socialized to be around people. They will often live in groups or "colonies" around people's houses or any source of food. If you put out food for them, don't be surprised if you get a group of them living in your yard. All cats that you see running around are not feral. If a cat isn't afraid of you or will let you pet it, it's not feral - it's been socialized at some point to people and may even have been someone's pet.
Many people decide they want to tame feral cats. This can be very hard, but it depends largely on the cat. When the feral cat is already an adult, very few of them are capable of being resocialized to live with people. Some can be, but it is a long, hard road. It's not as difficult to get them to be willing to come up to you and be around you - feeding them and showing that you're not a threat can be enough for that. But to actually get them inside as domesticated cats is a different matter. You should really think about whether you want to take on this project. If you want a pet, going and getting a kitten from a shelter is really a better option. If you just have a feral cat in your backyard and want to help it, really the only thing you can do is capture it and neuter it. That will keep it from breeding more. If you're anywhere near a rural area, you have another option as well - relocating the cat to a farm or similar environment as a mouser.
The first step is to catch the cat - you can use gloves or use a cat trap. You can get a humane feral cat trap online for about $30.
If you've decided to just get it neutered, you can take it to the vet and then bring it back and release it. Leaving it at a shelter will only get it put down. If you're going to try to tame a mature adult anyway, you're going to have to take it to the vet to not only get neutered but also get its shots. Neutering is essential to taming, especially for males - it will make them less aggressive and more friendly.
Next, put the cat in your house in a large, caged area inside the house. At first, you shouldn't spend much time near the cat - you should only feed it and otherwise leave it alone. After that, gradually build up the amount of time you spend with the cat. You don't have to be badgering it or trying to pet it - sitting in the room with it reading or watching TV is actually a better idea. It will show the cat that you're harmless and not going to attack it. You should put something you've worn in the cage after a few days so the cat gets used to your smell.
When the cat is somewhat used to you, then you can try to touch them. This will be a slow process - you'll have to talk softly to the cat, and approach it from the front and not behind. The goal is not to touch the cat - it's to get it to let you touch it. If the cat gets angry, hisses, etc., just back off. You may also have some luck with cat toys. A long piece of string is the key - a feral cat will be unfamiliar with it, but if it's long enough the cat doesn't have to get near you to play with you. The key to all this is patience. A feral cat will be very wary for quite some time.
The final stage is petting - when you get here, there's not much else to it. If the cat will let it pet you, just do it gently. You should also try picking up the cat periodically - have treats on hand to reward it, and start out small. Pick up the cat for short periods and try to get it to stand on your lap as you pet it. You should go slowly - rushing things at any stage during this is a bad idea.
One other thing you should remember is litter training. This should go on the whole time you're doing this. Start out with a litter box filled with soil in the cat's cage. Remember, a feral cat has never seen litter. You switch over by gradually sprinkling litter on the top of the soil in small amounts so the cat can get used to the feel under its feet. Just keep adding more as long as it keeps using it. Once the cat is potty trained, you can start letting it out of the caged area into the house. You can check out a detailed guide on the process here. There's also a good general site on dealing with feral cats here, along with a specific article on taming feral kittens here.
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