The creatures we befriend (feline, human, or otherwise) aren’t always the easiest to love. Many of the cats who need us the most haven’t had loving and supportive histories. Many may have been abused, neglected, or abandoned before coming into our lives. Semi-feral (as opposed to fully feral) means a cat has been socialized to some extent but remains largely untrusting and skittish. Welcoming a semi-feral cat into your home and family will require extra work and patience. Here are 8 tips to make the transition easier on both of you.
#1 – Respect Boundaries
One of the best ways to build trust in a semi-feral cat is to respect her boundaries. By paying attention to her reactions to your attention (Is she hissing? Are her ears back against her head? Or does she seem hesitant but curious?) you can show her that you understand and care about how she feels. It’ll be easier for her to relax once she believes you will go at her pace and respect her cues.
#2 – Create safe space
Being contained in an unfamiliar home can be very stressful for a skittish cat. You can help her feel more comfortable by starting her off in a contained safe space that gives her easy access to all of her essential needs (litter box, scratching post, food, water, toys, perching area). Keeping her in a small room initially will help her become quickly familiar and comfortable with her immediate environment while she takes in all of the sounds and smells of your home.
#3 – Commit to the socialization process
When you bring home a cat who has been socialized properly, it generally won’t take much effort to help her ease into your family and routine. A semi-feral cat isn’t quite that easy though. Though semi-feral cats have interacted with humans some, they’re still distrusting and skittish. Trusting you won’t come easily to a semi-feral cat, so you’ll have to be committed to the socialization process.
#4 – Share space
You don’t have to be touching or actively engaging with a semi-feral cat in order for your time with her to be productive. Simply being in the same room with her can work wonders. By going about your everyday business, whether it’s watching a movie, reading a book, or working on your computer, making an effort to spend time in the same room as your cat will allow her to observe you and become familiar with your scent, sounds, and mannerisms. As you spend more uneventful time with her it’ll also teach her that you’re not a threat.
#5 – Play
Cats love to play, and most can’t resist the allure of a laser pointer or wiggly wand toy. Playing with a semi-feral cat is a great way to help her associate you with happiness and fun.
#6 – Introduce touching slowly
When it comes to trying to touch a semi-feral cat, it’s important to take it slowly and stay very in tune with her visual and vocal cues. Attempting to touch a cat who is clearly telling you to back off can result in serious injury and emotional trauma to either or both of you. Being able to pet, scratch, or cuddle a semi-feral cat may not be something that will happen overnight. Invest in the process, respect her boundaries, and only touch her when her body language is telling you it’s okay.
#7 – Talk
Cats may not understand what you’re saying, but they certainly take in a lot of information about you and the environment from your body language and tone of voice. Talking in a voice that’s gentle and soft can help a scared cat feel calmer.
#8 – Treats
Most cats are very food and treat oriented, so treats can be a great tool when it comes to convincing a cat to continue a certain behavior. Show your semi-feral cat that you appreciate her efforts and progress by doling out treats to encourage positive steps such as being in the same room with you without hiding, engaging in playtime with you, or allow you to pet her.