Helping a former feral cat or kitten adjust to a new home and environment takes a little extra work but is worth the effort. Here are some suggestions to help make the adoption of a former feral a success. They are important in the adoption of any cat, but with a former feral, they are critical.

Some Feral Facts

Feral cats are used to an established territory.
Cats do not like change.
Feral cats take much longer to adjust to new situations and may never adjust completely.

Take your time!

There is no such thing as going too slowly when you're helping a former feral cat adjust to new surroundings. Please don't rush the process. It's vital to provide ample time to let your cat cope with a completely new enviornment.

Set up a "sanctuary" room.

This can be a spare bedroom, a small bathroom, or any other quiet, safe spot. Try to keep the space as small as possible--the larger the territory, the more difficult and longer the adjustment period. Ideally, you might want to begin by placing a large crate in the room, containing a litter box, water dish and blanket. Cat-proof the room, eliminating potential hazards such as electical wires or easily-tipped furniture. Provide plenty of hiding places for the cat to help reduce its stress. Cats don't like change and will want places to hide while they adjust to their new territory.

When you first bring the cat home....

Do not allow the cat to roam the entire house when you first bring it home. Place the cat in its carrier in the sanctuary room. If you don't have a large crate set up in the room, have a litter box on one side, and have food and water available in another area of the room. Open the carrier, then go out of the room and close the door. For the first 24 hours, only enter the sanctuary to provide food and water and to scoop the litter box. Keep the door to the room shut.

Start spending a little time in the sanctuary.

After the first 24 hours or so, you may begin spending a little time in the sanctuary room with your new cat. Bring a book or your laptop. This will give the cat time to adjust to its new human's presence without feeling threatened. Sit still and ignore the cat. Direct eye contact should be avoided as it is considered aggressive. You may or may not see the cat--this is okay. Let it hide while it adjusts to your presence and your scent.

Let the cat approach you on its own terms.

For the first week or so, continue to enter the sanctuary regularly to spend time with your cat, keeping the door shut at all times while the cat gains confidence and adjusts to its surroundings. You may, as you notice the cat's comfort level increasing, want to have an interactive toy (such as a fishing pole-type toy) to provide positive experiences in your presence. Tasty treats could also be helpful. Try to let the cat set the pace as far as touching goes. This could take weeks--each kitty is different. You may want to leave a radio or TV on with soft music playing while you're gone.

After the first week, pick up the food dish when you leave the room and bring it in with you at regular feeding times. It is vital that the cat knows you as the source of food. The cat may go a day or two without eating, and this isn't too problematic. If he or she hasn't eaten in two whole days, put a small amount of food in the room and leave. A hungry kitty (within reason--don't starve your cat) is a more friendly kitty!

Increasing the "territory" beyond the sanctuary.

After a few weeks, you may be able to leave the sanctuary door open to let the cat begin exploring further afield. Try to choose a time of day that is quiet when there won't be anything scary going on. A bad experience can set your kitty back weeks. Again, let the cat set the pace. Provide a litter box on every level of your home if at all possible, particularly while your cat is learning its way around.

Introducing your cat to other pets.

Please do not immediately introduce your former feral cat to other pets. Allow the cat time to adjust to its sanctuary and its new people before attempting to introduce pets. You may want to stack baby-gates in the doorway of the sanctuary room after you begin leaving the door open in order to allow your pets to become acquainted without risk of harm to anyone. Supervise all interaction between the animals once the cat begins to leave the sanctuary until you're sure everyone is getting along peacefully. Leash your dogs to be sure of avoiding a bad experience. Even cat-friendly dogs will chase an unfamiliar kitty if it runs.

Finally, use common sense.

If your new kitty is still hiding under the bed, it's not time to expand its territory. The more quiet, positive experiences, the better. Return your kitty to its sanctuary before company arrives, and expect some withdrawal whenever there is a change in the house.

Each kitty is different. Some adjust quickly, and some never adjust at all. Generally, they are slower to adjust to men. Acclimating a feral cat can be a long process, but it is well worth it when you are able to earn their trust.

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