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How to Win the Trust of a Stray Cat

Updated on July 18, 2016
Feeding a stray cat is the best way to start gaining its trust.
Feeding a stray cat is the best way to start gaining its trust. | Source

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 it will take time and patience.

What To Do First: Feed The Cat

The first priority is to get 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 because 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.

You can 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 first feeding the cat, 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.

Cats are very wary and have a strong sense of danger in new situations.
Cats are very wary and have a strong sense of danger in new situations. | Source

What To Do Next: 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.

You might try to step back fewer steps with each feeding.

As the cat realizes that you are not a threat, it will get more comfortable with you being nearer to it.

What To Do To 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.

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.

Eventually the cat may allow you to pet or even pick it up. But it is important, again, not to move to quickly.

When gaining a stray cat’s trust and affection, it is sometimes two steps forward, two steps back.

Any stray cat needs to receive vet care as soon as possible.
Any stray cat needs to receive vet care as soon as possible. | Source

Once You Have Gained Trust: 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.

Do's and Don't's For Gaining A Stray Cat's Trust

Do
Don't
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, there are ways to capture the cat.

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.

Once the cat has been caught, it still needs to be transported to the vet as soon as possible.

If the cat is young, he or she will probably be easier to capture.
If the cat is young, he or she will probably be easier to capture. | Source

Making Decisions About The 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.

Feral Cat Colonies

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.

Cats that live in feral cat colonies often have an ear that is notched or cut by a vet.  This lets caretakers know that the cat has been vaccinated and spayed or neutered.
Cats that live in feral cat colonies often have an ear that is notched or cut by a vet. This lets caretakers know that the cat has been vaccinated and spayed or neutered. | Source

Taking Care of the Cat in Your Own Backyard

You can also take care of the cat yourself. Remember that the cat does need to be spayed or neutered and receive its vaccinations. But if 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).

Stray cats take time to adjust to those trying to help them. With patience you can gain the cat’s trust and even affection.

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    • Lucky Cats profile image

      Kathy 3 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Wonderful instructional hub about helping the feral and dumped, abandoned cat population. I love that you've taken the time to teach us how to properly introduce, handle and care for cat(s) who show up. You've written a loving and comprehensive hub, LCDWriter, and I thank you for it. This is very important information....I wish everyone would take the time to help the lost kitties who need our help. This is a life mission for my friend Al and me....so, seeing this hub warms my heart and gives me hope. Thank you. UP Useful Awesome Interesting and Beautiful because you care!!

    • Lucky Cats profile image

      Kathy 3 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Liked on FB, Too. Thank you.

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 3 years ago from West By God

      I have a cat that I have been feedimng for about a year now and still as soon as we look at each other he takes off. I call him Merlin because I know not where he comes or where he goes. He just seems to appear for nowhere. I do with that I could at least get a picture of him to send you but not yet. I talk to him but he is so far way when I do. He does actually run away now he kind of mosies.

      Great tips here in this hub and I will share it.

    • LCDWriter profile image
      Author

      L C David 3 years ago from Florida

      Lucky Cats: Thanks so much for this. I care so much about these babies and currently have five strays that I've taken in---my oldest is 15 and coincidentally, Lady Guinevere is named Merlin. The last one I caught using the methods described in this hub. Thanks to both of you also for caring about those innocents who didn't deserve the fate they got.

    • Cresentmoon2007 profile image

      Cresentmoon2007 3 years ago from Caledonia, MI

      Very useful information here. I loved it. Thanks for sharing.

    • LCDWriter profile image
      Author

      L C David 3 years ago from Florida

      Thanks for stopping by Cresentmoon!

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 3 years ago from America

      We have two strays living in our house. Here we also had to make sure they were warm before they would come in our house. Thank goodness we had a barn they could go in. Voted up.

    • LCDWriter profile image
      Author

      L C David 3 years ago from Florida

      Thanks moonlake. It's so nice to know how many good people there are out there caring for cats and other animals in their time of need.

    • iguidenetwork profile image

      iguidenetwork 3 years ago from Austin, TX

      Now there's a cat in our garage that is staying all day long. She's not apprehensive whenever we go out of the house, she's always meowing. We give her food sometimes. She feels as if she's our pet. There are some cats like that when they've gotten used to staying in one place.

    • LCDWriter profile image
      Author

      L C David 3 years ago from Florida

      iguidenetwork--she has obviously picked you guys as her family! Sounds like she is friendly. Do you plan to keep her or will you try to find a home for her with someone else? If she is that friendly she will probably make a great pet for someone. Cats need people! Glad you are feeding her. Good luck.

    • winter savior 2 years ago

      There is a kitten in danger of a winter storm. I hope this information works to save him from hypothermia.

    • LCDWriter profile image
      Author

      L C David 2 years ago from Florida

      You may want to call a rescue group and borrow a trap to try to get the kitten inside before the storm hits. Best of luck.

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