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Can a feral cat be tamed?

Species: Cat
Breed: DSH
Age: 6-12 months
Dr. Marie - a few months ago I came across a feral cat who is now named Gypsy. I started feeding him daily. I spent about 2 hours a day talking to him trying to socialize him. He lived under a bush on the side of my house. He was really starting to trust me although I was never able to get closer than 5 feet of him. The coyotes were after him every night so about 2 weeks ago I decided to trap and neuter him and a no kill shelter agreed to take him in. He also needed medical attention for worms, fleas and an infected nail bed. I decided to start volunteering at the shelter. Gypsy is just so miserable there. He sits as far back in the cage as possible and hisses and keeps his ears tucked down. He will also lunge for your face when he feels threatened. I go to the shelter several times a week to talk to him hoping that will help. The goal is to be able to allow him to roam the shelter with the other 150 cats who live there. I bought a long handled back scratcher that I slide thru the cage to get him use to contact and that makes him more upset. My heart is broken. Should I ask the shelter to release him back in my yard and I will continue to care for him as an outdoor feral? Should I give it more time in the shelter and maybe he will eventually come around? I read an article that said he may never trust me again. What is the most humane thing I can do for Gypsy? He is 8 months old and was much more friendly living outdoors. I am looking forward to your advice.

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Hi Shelley,

First of all, thank you for trying to help Gypsy. Cases like this can be very difficult. I don't have any direct answers for you, but hopefully I can give you some helpful advice.

I have seen this type of situation a number of times. I have seen some cats like this that eventually do become either manageable or occasionally quite friendly. But there are some cats who never do come around.

Personally, I think if you let him back outside again you're going to always be worried about him. He's in danger from the coyotes. Plus, he's very likely to get more issues with fleas, parasites or infections.

I'm thinking of a few things though that may help him to become more tame while he is at the shelter. One, is a product called Feliway. This is a pheromone that often works well to help calm cats down. It comes in a plugin diffuser or a spray. I think it would be wonderful to buy a bottle of the spray and ask the shelter staff to spray some on his bedding each day.

Another product that I am really excited about is something called "Calm diet". It is produced by Royal Canin/Medical/VMD and is a prescription food. Because it is prescription you would need to have a vet sell it to you. I'm going to write an article on this food soon to explain it more, but it contains a number of natural things that really do help to calm anxious animals. It would be wonderful if Gypsy could eat this food.

Is it at all possible for you to bring Gypsy into your house? He may be less stressed there than in the shelter. If you could, then you could confine him to one room such as a bedroom. It would be great to have a Feliway diffuser in the bedroom. I would recommend making no attempts to pet him for the first month he is there. Simply go in each day and give him food and change his litter. You can sit on the bed and see if he is interested in coming to you. I would bet that after a while he will start to come around.

I really hope things go ok for you!

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

Customer reply:

Dr. Marie - I actually ordered Feliway yesterday along with Composure chews. I will call my Vet on Monday to order the Royal Canin "calm diet".

I agree that bringing Gyspsy to live in my home is the ideal solution but I cannot take him into my home at this time. I have a very sickly cat with chronic pancreatitis and uncontrollable diabetes and bringing another cat into my home would just make matters worse for him. His medical bills literally cost me a half a year salary last year alone.

Thank you for taking the time to provide your expert advice! I appreciate you and your work.

Shelley Rosa

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.