Feral or stray??? Please help!!

NMCNovember 19, 2011


I have been feeding a little cat who showed up at my house one night in the early fall for about 2 months now. She is a shorthaired tabby. She will not let me pet her. Since I have been feeding her, she has definitely gained weight and often wants to sleep next to my front door. I have 2 (indoor) cats that like to also sleep at the front door, but on the inside. There is literally just the glass separating them. If I am in the house, I can go right up to the glass, only inches away from her and she is not afraid. But as soon as I go outside, she makes sure to be clear of me. I talk to her, she knows my voice.

I am so worried because I am in Michigan and it is getting really cold at night. I bought an insulated wood feral "outdoor house" but she will only go in it to retrieve food, and will not stay in it. How can I tell if she is just a really scared stray or feral? Wouldn't she let me pet her by now? I can tell she wants to be with my 2 cats. I am worried if I trap her and she is feral, (I would then have her neutered and re-release her) any trust she has in me will be gone. I am so worried about her. I often go to sleep feeling bad that we all have a warm house to sleep in and she is in the cold. Any suggestions are so greatly appreciated!!


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Hi Nicole,

I just emailed you about your outside girl. I've been in your position ... many times. Unfortunately, I know of no way to tell a timid stray from a true feral until you can get her into your home and start working with her. I can tell you, though, that it is possible to convert even a fully feral cat into a happy, domestic couch-lounger if you're willing and able to invest the time, patience, and love into her.

If I were you (and I have been), I would go ahead and trap her, bring her inside, and see who she really is.

I wish you the best,


    Bookmark   November 19, 2011 at 10:40PM
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I would just trap her, take her directly to the vet's to have her checked out, and bring her in. If there are other cats in the house she gets along with, she'll adjust.

All About Animals/Kitty Fixers has a trap bank if you need one and are in the greater Detroit area, or could probably get you set up with a rescue near you if not.

Two of our five/eight (three fosters) were maybe-ferals. The older of the two we trapped when she was about a year old and pregnant, and while it took about a month, she's a lap cat now- and she was the kitten of a stray, not a house cat.

The other was this little tiny puffball who ate two cans of canned food in under 5 minutes the first time we saw her. We thought she was 12 weeks old, but she was more like 20, and her growth was stunted (or she's just tiny- she's smaller than our 5 month old fosters). She sleeps snuggled up to us, and is on the arm of the couch next to me, but does not like to be petted in general. Even if we have to point where we want to go so we don't freak her out, it's better than being outside in our weather.

If she really is feral and you're putting her back outside, it's kind of cruel to fix her this time of year. It takes months for the hair on the belly to grow back. But about the warm house- she has a warm house she's not using, so she's probably not that cold.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2011 at 1:08AM
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I'd trap her , take her to the vet for spaying and bring her home. I'd isolate her in a room till she healed and then gradually give her access to the others. I wouldn't force myself on her, but gradually she'll come around. I had two feral, really feral, sisters and they lived in my house for ten years. I could never pick one up but she sat on my lap every single night. The other was fine..wild at first and I couldn't catch her. Then she was hit by a car and was after that gentle and sweet.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2011 at 3:09AM
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Oh my gosh thank you so much for your responses. I feel better about trapping her now. I always had the impression that once a cat is "feral" they can never be domesticated and also will be miserable and scared living with humans. This gives me hope. I am going to get a trap this week. Thank you thank you thank you for taking the time to respond to my post! :)

    Bookmark   November 20, 2011 at 9:12AM
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We have a feral cat we feed, Baby. Turned up pregnant on my porch, I started feeding her and later captured her & spayed her. Your cat may be feral, it may be stray. If you've been feeding her & talking to her, she'll recover from being trapped. Canned mackerel is the best for trapping cats, they can't resist the stuff. Also, be prepared for her to be totally wigged out in the trap, they have no escape and are really fearful in it. It's a natural reaction & she'll forget it later.

Please get her to a vet before you bring her inside, she may expose your indoor cats to feleuk, FIP, and other illnesses. I tried a long time ago to bring Baby inside, but our older cat got sick & for the sake of the inside cats, I didn't bring her in again.
Having a neutered cat outside can help keep the population of feral cats down in your area. We have a kennel heater in Baby's house for the cold weather, she uses it all winter.
If you do bring her in, she'll probably connect w/your cats then eventually warm to you. You may or may not get to handle her.

And I also worry about Baby on cold or rainy nights. Good luck & thanks for looking out for her.

Here is a link that might be useful: feral cat info

    Bookmark   November 20, 2011 at 10:33AM
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I have 2 ferals living in my office at work. They are getting less fearful.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2011 at 3:54PM
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Yep, get the trap and see what happens once she's inside.

One of my cats (adopted from shelter) was living with a bunch of ferals - when they trapped the cats they noticed one was friendly, whereas the true ferals were hissing and spitting. I think what happens to some when they get lost is they revert a semi-wild state - they've only been domesticated a few thousand years so that instinctive self-preservation thing hasn't been totally bred out of them yet.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2011 at 11:39PM
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