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From Feral to Friendly – How to Help Your Cat Feel at Home

Since the first domesticated cats in Cyprus, Egypt some 10,000 years ago or more, cats and humans have not only learned to live together in harmony, but to rely on each other for companionship and to even express love towards one another. It can be quite upsetting if you bring a rescue into your home to love and care for, only to realize that he doesn’t want to be near you or worse, behaves viciously when you try to show him love.

First, it’s important to recognize that it’s not personal. According to animal-rescue experts, a semi-feral or feral cat has either not had enough interaction with humans or may have been victim of animal cruelty and no longer trusts humans as a result. If you’re willing to put in the time, there are some steps you can take to help your cat feel safe and allow him to trust again.

  1. Create a safe space that will keep him calm. While sounds such as music, doors opening and closing, or children playing might be commonplace for humans, for a cat that has lived on it’s own without human interaction, or one that has been harmed by humans, these sounds can be overwhelming and frightening. You might not be able to keep your home quiet all the time but if you create a space for your new cat that will drown out loud or abrupt noises, it will allow him to feel less on edge. Choose a small area such as a powder room or walk-in closet. Make sure he has a comfortable bed, food and a litter box then give him room to de-stress. Make sure the door is left open so that your cat can come out when he feels ready to, or can retreat back to his safe space if he feels threatened.

  2. Let your cat make the first move. Once you’ve set him up with his own space, allow your new furry friend to get comfortable with coming to you. While you might start with leaving food in the space, slowly move the food closer to the door of the room so that he can muster up the courage to come out when he feels safe to do so. It’s also important to check in on your cat rather than leaving him totally alone. Simply enter the space slowly and use a calm tone of voice to say hello to your cat. If he isn’t growling or hissing, slowly reach out your hand to let him sniff you. If he is showing signs of fear (growling and hissing are the typical signs) remain calm and leave the area slowly. Do this daily until he stays relaxed when you enter his space, then try offering your hand as the next step.

  3. Keep him curious and coming back for more. The next step is to provide relaxed, non-threatening enrichment so that the cat enjoys spending time with you and wants to come back to you. Calmly enter the space with a treat and using a soft tone of voice, offer the treat to your cat. If he doesn’t come to you don’t force it. Leave the treat behind for him to take when he’s comfortable. Do this on a daily basis to show him that you won’t harm him. You could also extend the period of time you spend in your cat’s space if he’s not showing signs of aggression towards you. Again, if he is growling or hissing, he’s letting you know that he’s afraid and you need to give him a bit of space until he is more comfortable.

  4. Consider a calming remedy to help him transition. There are several remedies on the market specifically made to help calm nervous pets. Some options include catnip, pheromone sprays and calming supplements. You should consult your veterinarian if you’re unsure about any of these. Your vet might even have some other options for you to consider.

  5. Finally, be patient. You don’t know your cat’s history or what might have caused his fear of humans and nervous behavior but if you really want to give him the forever home he deserves, you owe it to him to be patient. It might take weeks, months, or even up to a year but if you are consistent with the steps provided, eventually your cat will feel at home, safe and sound.

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