How to Win the Trust of a Stray Cat
If there is a stray cat hanging around your home or work, you may want to know what you can do to help.
It is important to help the cat—contrary to popular belief, cats can not live well on their own outside.
They are domesticated animals. If left on their own, they will likely succumb to an early death from disease, starvation, or injury.
You can gain a stray cat’s trust, but by following these four steps and practicing patience, you too can help save a life.
Step 1. Feed The Cat
Your first priority should be giving the cat access to food and water in as safe of an environment as possible. The best way to gain a cat’s trust is to give them food.
The old adage, “if you feed a stray cat it will stay around,” is only true in the sense that the reason it stays around is that it is hungry and you are finally giving it what it needs.
Cats depend on humans for care, and even stray cats need food, water, and shelter. Here's how you should feed a stray cat:
- Start with a bowl of dry food.
- Leave it out and step far away. Wait quietly.
- If the cat is hungry, he or she will tentatively come forward and eat.
When you are feeding the cat for the first time, don’t try to move in closer. Letting the cat know that it has access to food or water without threat is the first step to having it trust you.
If time is not important (if the cat is not in an area of major danger), then continue to offer food to the cat every day.
Step 2. Move Closer and Talk to the Cat
While you may feel silly doing it, talking to the cat, without approaching it, is important. Talk to the animal quietly and calmly.
You may want to do this while sitting at a distance from the cat or while he or she is eating.
As the cat realizes that you are not a threat, it will get more comfortable with you being nearer to it—so try to step back fewer steps with each feeding.
Step 3. Establish Trust
Finally, you need to allow the cat to approach you. If the cat has been timid, don’t try to reach out and pet it. Allow the cat to come to you.
Eventually, the cat may allow you to pet or even pick it up. But it is important, again, not to move too quickly. When gaining a stray cat’s trust and affection, it is sometimes two steps forward, two steps back.
A cat working to trust you may eventually come and rub your legs or sit near you, but just out of reach. Don’t try to force the relationship. It will develop over time.
Step 4. Get the Cat Vet Care
Whether the cat is going to live outdoors or you plan to take it inside (preferable), the cat needs to get to a vet for examination, vaccinations, and spaying or neutering. It can also be checked for a microchip to see if it is someone's lost pet.
If the cat has been outdoors, he or she may have been exposed to a host of diseases. The vet can test for communicable diseases such as FLVS and FIV. The cat also needs to get vaccinations such as rabies and distemper.
Whether the cat is going to live indoors or out, he or she needs to be spayed or neutered. Countless numbers of cats are euthanized each year simply because there are more cats that need homes than people willing to take them in.
Spaying or neutering will also cut down on the cat’s tendency to roam and fight, ultimately keeping it safe. Even an indoor cat can slip outside and reproduce.
Dos and Don'ts of Gaining a Stray Cat's Trust
Talk quietly to the cat
Try to approach a cat that is hissing or angry
Offer canned food
Leave food out overnight
Immediately take to vet if captured
Leave outdoor cats to fend for themselves
What to Do If You Need to Capture the Cat Sooner
Sometimes you may need to capture a stray cat sooner than it is ready. If the cat is in a dangerous situation, here are two ways to capture them:
- If it is very hungry, you may be able to get a large cat carrier and place food in the back of the carrier. This method works very well for younger cats, especially. Once the cat goes in the carrier, you can quickly shut and lock the door.
- If the cat is still wary, your best bet is to rent or purchase a humane trap. Many animal shelter and rescue groups will rent the traps to you. Sometimes vets have them as well. The trap is easy to use. Place food at the far end of the trap. When the cat steps in far enough, a trigger plate will cause the door to close.
Note: Once the cat has been caught, he or she needs to be transported to the vet as soon as possible.
What to Do Next
Once you have captured a stray cat, there are a few things you can do, depending on the cat and the situation at hand.
Domesticate a Semi-Feral Cat
Sometimes, even semi-feral cats can be domesticated. If possible, the best place for the cat is indoors. You can place the cat in a secluded room and give it several weeks to months to get used to being indoors and to the house.
If the cat has trouble with the litter box, a simple solution is to put a layer of dirt on the top of the litter. A cat outdoors is used to going in the dirt. This will help to teach it how to use the litter box. After a few days, you can return to straight litter.
Release a Feral Cat into a Colony
If outside is the only option, there are sometimes established feral cat colonies where spayed or neutered cats live and volunteers feed and take care of them. Although the situation is not always ideal and can be controversial, there are valid reasons for these colonies.
Well-maintained colonies pose very little problem for the area. It has also been shown that removing feral cats from an area doesn’t actually fix the problem. Often another group will just move in. So maintaining a healthy community actually can be better for the environment and the cats.
Take Care of an Outdoor Cat in Your Own Backyard
You can also take care of the outdoor cat yourself. Remember that the cat does need to be spayed or neutered and receive its vaccinations. But if the outdoors is the only option, you can still make sure the cat has food and water and place to shelter during bad weather.
Remember to take up any extra food in the evening to prevent scavengers such as raccoons or possums to move in and eat the food (and possibly harm the cat).
Remember to Be Patient
Stray cats take time to adjust to those trying to help them. They aren't used to people, and any defensive behavior stems from fear. With patience, you can gain the cat’s trust and even affection.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.