Can a Stray Cat Become a House Cat? (Step-by-step guide)

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Have you noticed a cat outside your home? Does she seem like she needs a loving family? Are you curious as to whether or not you can tame a stray cat?

You can make a stray cat a house cat, but if she is feral, some believe adult feral cats are very difficult to socialize with humans. 

Getting the stray cat to trust you is the key to adopting her. Read on to find out more!


What is the difference between a feral and a stray cat?

Feral, stray, and domesticated cats are all the same species, but they are classified differently based on their level of socialization with humans. 

Feral cats

A feral cat was born outdoors, will avoid humans, and does not like to be touched. They are more likely to strike out at humans in fear because they see them as predators rather than friends. 

Some people believe adult feral cats cannot be socialized and brought into the home, but there are anecdotes of people who have successfully tamed them. It takes a lot of time and patience. 

Feral kittens, however, are easily socialized and usually show no signs of being wild once they are adopted. 

Stray cats 

A stray cat was once owned by humans but is now abandoned or lost

She has been living in the wild and has lost some of her trust in humans. However, she will likely let you touch her after she realizes you are not a threat. 

Some strays never lose their trust in humans and will immediately come to you. A stray cat will be easier to capture and adopt. Both stray adults and kittens are adoptable once you gain their trust.


How do I get the stray cat to trust me? (6 steps)

How do I get the stray cat to trust me

Step 1: Use food as bait

The first step to getting a stray cat to trust you is to feed it. Leave a food dish out. You may want to experiment with wet and dry food to see what the cat likes. 

Let the cat see you putting the dish out. Then, walk away to let her eat. Each day, get a little closer to the dish. 

Let the cat guide you about how comfortable she is with you being around her. You are building a relationship with the cat and showing it that you mean no harm.

Step 2: Slowly build to touching the cat

Next, you need to get the cat comfortable with your touch. If you have been slowly moving closer and closer each day while feeding, when you are within range of touch, attempt to pet the cat

At first, she will likely run away. It will take a few days for her to feel comfortable letting you touch her. 

Do not run after her or try to touch her when she is hiding. This will make her even more traumatized. Instead, try again the next day. 

Each time you touch her, she will be building trust. Eventually, she’ll be comfortable with you petting her.

Step 3: Pick the cat up

If you have progressed to the point where the cat lets you pet her regularly, you may be ready to pick her up. As with petting, this may take a few tries. 

Try not to look the cat in the eye, as this sometimes translates into an aggressive movement. Pick the cat up from behind gently. If she struggles, meows, or tries to claw you, release her immediately. 

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Some cats never enjoy being picked up, but if she lets you pick her up without clawing or biting you, you’ve probably progressed to the next step of your relationship.

Step 4: Prepare your house for the cat.

While getting the cat to trust you, you may want to prepare your home for a new cat. 

Indoors, your cat will need a litter box and litter in a safe and quiet location. She will also need water and food dishes, preferably away from the litter. 

Toys and a cat bed will give the cat a sense of home. The cat bed is especially important because your cat will need a place to hide and feel safe when she’s nervous about the move.

Step 5: Bring the cat indoors 

Once the cat trusts you enough to let you pick her up, you are ready to try to bring the cat indoors. You can carry her inside your house. 

If you have other pets or children, you may want to keep them away from the cat first. Let your cat explore and smell the house. She will probably hide for a while.

Step 6: Getting the cat to come out of hiding. 

The cat is fine if it is eating and showing evidence of moving about the house. It may take her a while to get used to her new home. 

You can try sitting next to her if you know that she is in the room. Leave her alone, so she can get used to the way your home operates. 

Build a routine around her meal time where you try to pet her and praise her for being out. Don’t pull her out of hiding or try to force her to socialize. 

As you did when she was outdoors, try to gently encourage her to come out with treats and pets. Eventually, she will feel at home and move about the house freely.


Is it illegal to adopt a stray cat?

Is it illegal to adopt a stray cat

Don’t forget the legal ramifications when considering taking in a stray cat. 

Why you need to pay attention to legality

A domestic cat is the property of its owner, so if your stray is lost and the owner is still looking for it, you could get into trouble if you keep it. 

Even if the owner is not looking for the cat now, he or she may regret it later and come back to reclaim it from you.

Imagine having to deal with an emotional heartbreak, on top of a potential lawsuit, after you have deeply bonded with the cat.

You need to take steps to protect yourself and the cat.

Doing it the proper way.

There are a few steps to ensure you can legally keep the animal. 

First, take it to a vet or shelter to check if it has a microchip. If it does, make efforts to contact the owner. After all, it is only right to return what belongs to them.

Even if you cannot locate the owner, that does not automatically grant you ownership of the stray cat.

Remember, only an approved animal control center has the authority to grant the stray cat to you. 

Bring the cat to your local center, where they will hold it for a few days while they try to contact the cat’s original owner.

The point here is to exhaust all means to help the cat reunite with its rightful owner.

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If no one turns up with the proof of ownership within the holding period, you can then do the paperwork to apply for the adoption and bring the cat home.

Different locations have different holding periods. Refer to local policies to make sure you are following the law. 

Some will also require the dog to be spayed or neutered before releasing it under your care. So, do take note and abide by the rules.


Other risks of adopting a stray cat

Other risks of adopting a stray cat

Diseases

Before bringing in a stray cat, consider the possibility of her having diseases from being outdoors. 

Many feral cats carry diseases, and many stray cats were abandoned because of long-term illnesses their owners couldn’t afford to treat. 

Some of the diseases that cats have can be passed to humans and other pets. If the cat in your yard is showing any signs of illness, you will want to make sure you take her to the vet before bringing her into your home. 

Look out for the below symptoms:

  • Lethargic and weak
  • Discharge from the eyes, nose, or mouth
  • Open wound
  • Limping
  • Aggressiveness

If she displays any of the above symptoms, you can get live trap cages to catch the cat and take her to the vet. 

A live trap cage is a metal cage you place food in. When the cat comes to eat, she’ll be closed into the cage and can’t get out. This trap is not harmful to the cat.

Unhappiness 

Many cats who have become accustomed to being outdoors are unhappy once they are brought back inside. 

Some cats will destroy your house, breaking through screens in order to escape. Cats may also try to run out every time you open the door. 

If this is the case, you may want to consider an indoor/outdoor situation. If that is not possible, you may need to weigh the benefits vs. the negative aspects of having her inside.


Any other ways to help stray cats? 

Capture. Neuter. Release. 

If the stray cat in your yard cannot be tamed, you may consider capturing her using a live cat trap. Then, you can take her to the vet to get it fixed. 

Many feral and stray cats reproduce at rapid rates. This increases the number of cats you have around your house, and it increases the competition for resources. 

Once you have had her fixed, you can release her back into the wild. She can live out her life outdoors but won’t be contributing to overpopulation.

Relocation

You may consider relocating the cats if a feral colony has been set up near your house. 

The problem with this is cats will often return to their territories. Other cats may also come to the same location and start the colony again. 

If you choose to take these stray cats to a shelter, many shelters kill stray cats, especially feral cats, because they are seen as unadoptable. 

If it is a stray cat, you can have the cat checked for a microchip to see if it has an owner who is looking for it.


Final Thoughts

A stray cat can be a great companion. Make sure to take your time and gain the cat’s trust before trying to make her your pet. 

You may also want to look for an owner and get her checked by a vet, but once you’ve exhausted all avenues, you can ensure the cat in your yard is safe and cared for in the warmth of your home.