Eyes of a Friend

Life with companion animals

Taming feral cats – Tsu Dho Nimh’s method

on February 1, 2010

This guy, Tsu Dho Nimh, is an excellent writer and I agree with much of his method – when I get through laughing at his descriptions, anyway.

Taming Feral Adult Cats: My Own Technique – by Tsu Dho Nimh, – associatedcontent.com.

All I Do is Ignore the Cat and See What Happens

I have no delusions about being a “cat whisperer”, but I developed this successful socialization method while working with feral cats. A cat has a powerful survival instinct that will drive it out of a hiding place to learn all about its surroundings, just in case it has to hide from enemies or hunt for food. I just act like part of the surroundings and let the cat make up its mind about me. It may take months, it may take years, the cat may never be a pettable, purring lap cat, but it’s easy. All I do is ignore the cat and see what happens.

Stages of Socializing a Cat

The Prisoner: Place food, water, litter box, scratching post and a couple of toys in a quiet room. Ideally the room should be unused for a few weeks.

When you bring Cat home, place the carrier on the floor facing away from the door. Open the carrier, and leave the room, closing the door behind you. Leave Cat there for several days. Tend the food, water and litter every day. If food vanishes and poop appears, Cat is still there. After a week, leave the door open and continue to check supplies and clean the litter pan. Cat will eventually decide it’s safe to leave the room.

The Invisible Cat: After you open the isolation room, Cat will examine every part of your house, locating hiding places and looking for danger. You will hear Cat prowling in the night, even feel feline footsteps on your bed, but you will not see Cat. During the day, you may see a tail vanish under the couch or an ear showing over a stack of books. If you encounter Cat in the open, stand still and let it decide what to do. Remember: Ignore the cat!

Separate Lives: Soon after the isolation period is over you will look up and see Cat staring at you. Say, “Hi Cat” and then ignore it. Cat will begin to appear near you and move from room to room with you.

This stage is like working in the same office as an ex-lover after a nasty breakup. Cat will wander around but make detours around you or turn into an open door to avoid you. Talk to Cat when you see it, but don’t approach it.

Signs of Progress: If Cat moves away but pauses to stretch, look back, or sit and wash it’s whiskers it means Cat is getting used to you. If Cat is sitting with its back to you it is testing you to see if you will attack as soon as it turns its back.

Cat crouched in the open with it’s front legs visible is a relaxed but possibly wary cat. The classic “meatloaf” posture with front paws curled under the chest is even more relaxed.

Close Encounters of the Feline Kind: Curiosity will eventually drive Cat to investigate you, probably while you are lying down. This is not an invitation to touch Cat. Hold still and see what happens. Cat may walk up to you, sniff, hiss, and run away.

After Cat has made some cautious approaches, lies calmly as you walk past, and doesn’t panic at normal household noises, it’s time to start moving the boundaries towards the cat. Instead of walking past Cat, pause, say “Hi, cat“, then continue. If Cat is lying on a sofa, touch the sofa. Slowly make the pauses longer or move your hand closer to Cat. If Cat holds its ground and hisses, move back a bit, say something and then leave.

Offer your hand to be sniffed. Alas, it may also get scratched so have a good supply of bandages.

This is a slow process. Day by day, inch by inch the distance between you and Cat decreases. Enjoy the small victories, one night waking up to feel Cat curled up on your feet, a month later having Cat join you for a nap.

Getting Physical: After Cat has consistently and calmly sniffed your fingers and appears to be at ease with your approach – it’s finally time to try touching. Do not try to touch the head – that end of Cat is full of teeth and claws. Start with a short gentle stroke near the hips, as far away from teeth and claws as you can get. If Cat hisses, withdraw your hand. Continue offering your fingers to be sniffed and try touching Cat again a few days later.

Slowly work your way up to two or three gentle strokes with one finger, then try leaving your hand in one place for a few seconds. This is the slowest part of the process, because Cat probably has very bad memories of hands grabbing it and shoving it into a cage at the vet’s. Don’t rush it.

What happens next? It’s still up to the cat. I have had feral cats suddenly decide that petting was great and become demanding attention junkies. Others became touchable but never sought out attention. One never tolerated humans touching her, but she accompanied them around the house, played fetch, and slept near them.

Important Cat Language to Learn

Vocal Clues: A “Go no further” hiss is delivered without growling and without a large change in the cat’s posture. Respect the boundaries by retreating. Growling is defensive. Whatever you did to provoke a growl was too much, too soon. Stop it.

Emo Ears: If a cat is staring at you, with its ears flattened sideways or back flat against the skull it means the cat is about to run away, about to attack, or both. Back off.

Running Away Can Be a Good sign: A cat that is running away isn’t always afraid of you or trying to escape. A cat galloping across the room with an exaggerated rocking-horse gait and arched tail is enjoying itself. A cat that looks at you intently, then fluffs its tail and bounds off is not frightened, it’s being a drama queen.


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