Can a feral cat get along with my cats?

by Veronica
(Charleston, SC)

Can a feral cat get along with my elderly cats?


We have four cats. One is 18 years old. The other three are 11 year old sisters. I feed 10 feral cats every day. I've been doing this for the last five years.

Two months ago, I spotted a sweet cat, about 1 year old, behind a local Subway. I've been feeding him ever since. I assume he is feral.

He comes as soon as I call his name. I've named him Wally. At first, he wouldn't come near me but now, I can pet him and even pick him up.

I would love to bring him home, but I'm concerned about disrupting our cats' lives, especially the 18 year old one.

Can anyone give me advice on whether or not it would be a good idea to bring Wally home? We've had our cats since they were kittens. Thank you!

My thoughts: Thank you for helping the kitties! This type of question comes up from time to time.

In fact, some time ago, I reached out to our community to get input on how to bring feral cats into your home. Although the circumstances are different, you might want to read that discussion to see if it gives you some insight.

Whether any two cats get along or not is up to the cats, but a controlled, slow introduction process can help. This is true no matter what the cat's past has been.

But, should you even try to bring this cat home? To get closer to an answer for that, we need to make an important distinction between feral cats and stray cats.

Feral cats are not socialized to humans. Kittens can be socialized to humans, though, even if born to a feral mother.

A stray cat that was once socialized can become feral over time. Under certain conditions, it's possible to adopt a stray cat into your home.

So the first thing we need to establish is if he's feral (or not). If he's friendly at all, he may be a stray and not feral.

According to Alley Cat Allies, adult ferals cannot be adopted. The thinking is they have been born wild and never had human contact, or they have reverted to their wild state over time. This line of thinking says they cannot be tamed.

From the Alley Cat Allies website:

"Stray cats can readjust to living with people and can be adopted as companions.

Adult feral cats are not socialized to people, which means they cannot be adopted. As a result, they are likely to be killed if picked up by animal control or brought to shelters, so it is in their best interest to continue living outdoors."

Some who have worked with ferals, however, have been able to tame them, but this is not a task for the inexperienced and the process can take months.

If you do decide this cat is a stray and not feral, and you want to bring him into your home with your existing cats, here are the ground rules I would lay out for myself and family...

1. No cat comes into the house without a vet check and vaccinations. If he's got a contagious disease, your cats aren't safe until he's treated.

He'll also need to be neutered, which should make him more docile and potentially make for smoother cat-to-cat introductions.

2. No cat comes into the house without a separation/quarantine period. You'll need to restrict his movements while he recovers from his neuter surgery.

You'll need to set up a recovery area for him that is cut off from the rest of the house. This falls in line with the need for separation from the other cats.

3. Introductions are critical. I've already outlined the process for one of our readers who made the mistake of dropping a stray cat into the house without a proper introduction. Cat-to-cat introductions should be done slowly and in a controlled way. If you shortcut this process, you risk problems developing later on.

If you're in doubt about his status, you might want to enlist the help of people experienced with trap-neuter-return. An organization like Alley Cat Allies or a local rescuer might be able to help you evaluate him. If you can get him in a carrier and to the vet, your vet can help with that as well.

To summarize:

Is he stray or is he feral?

Get him vet checked, vaccinated, and neutered.

Quarantine him while he recovers.

Begin the slow introduction process.

I hope that helps and best of luck with him. Please come back and update us in the comments on how things turn out.

-Kurt

P.S. Products like Rescue Remedy, Feliway, or Jackson Galaxy's herbal products can sometimes help to calm cats and make for smoother introductions.

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Update
by: Kurt (Admin)

I've updated the post with my commentary and some reference links. I hope it helps!

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