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Dear Abby:
I Found This Stray Cat And

So you’ve adopted a stray cat, or perhaps took one home from the pound that seems a little more skittish than cats you’ve had before.

First, congratulations, and thank you! You’ve probably brought home a stray or “feral” cat that has been living on its own, perhaps much of its life. Believe it or not, such cats can make great pets, although they take more patience and care than most others. Here are a few ideas you might consider.

Go Slow

First, patience is a key. Don’t try to sweep your new feline into your arms as you would one used to humans. A feral cat is semi-wild, if not more so. They may have more innate friendliness to humans than an actual wild animal, but they may also have additional fear of humans because of previous mistreatment. Either way, you’ll need to acclimate your new cat to living with humans. Accept that the process will be at the cat’s pace, not yours.

One solid bit of advice is to give the cat it’s “own” room. This is not a forever thing; you will get the room back sometime. But starting your stray in a single room where it feels safe and secure is a good idea if at all possible. In this room, place food, water and a litter box (the latter as separate as possible). Toys and something to scratch on are also a good idea (a scratching post is great, but even an old carpet can work).

Peace and Quiet

Especially at first, it’s best if this room is quiet and out of the way, something that can serve as a temporary shelter where the new cat feels secure. You might even create a small house—just a box with an open end, or even a small blanket or towel draped between chairs.

When the cat appears relatively comfortable, no more than a day or two, a few visits will become advisable. You might sit across the room and talk so the cat becomes used to your voice. Cells phone calls would be an option (for you, not the cat!).

We mentioned food and water in this room, and that should be consistent and steady. You want the cat to associate these with you, but at first you may have to leave before your feline will feel comfortable eating and drinking. However, if the cat remains too shy, you may need to resort to only feeding when you are present, and utilizing special treats or especially aromatic wet food (think chicken and gravy).

Don’t Touch, At Least At First

Physical contact should be on the cat’s terms. Sitting on the floor and talking, followed by offers of treats, can be used to expedite the process. But always let the cat initiate contact. This includes even eye contact, which cats are very aware of. Putting your face into a cat’s will likely be considered aggressive.

One of the most difficult factors can be the presence of other cats. If you already own a feline or two, any “new” cat is going to cause ruffled fur. The separate room will help. The new cat will smell the others and visa versa, and over the span of a few days they will be slightly less alarmed. This should help so that, when they finally meet, the results won’t be catastrophic (no pun intended). The exact outcome varies tremendously depending on feline personalities, but generally it’s best to delay this as long as possible so that the new cat at least feels comfortable in its new space, and your older pets are more used to the presence of a new one.

Worthwhile

These are some basic things to look out for if you have the opportunity to take in a stray or feral cat. Although the challenge can be greater than with a cat raised with humans from birth, the obstacles are usually not insurmountable and the results can be very rewarding. Cats that have fended for themselves even just as kittens are often especially appreciative of a home. And if they retain a little of that early independence, that’s just more of the characteristics that help make cats so interesting.