Gaining the Trust of a Stray Cat
If a stray cat visits your home, you may find yourself wanting to pet him like a house cat. But sometimes, stray cats can be very skittish and reluctant to trust you. How do you get a stray cat to come to you? Getting a cat to like you involves a lot of patience, compassion, and a calm, quiet demeanor when you're around the kitty.
Understand the Difference Between a Feral Cat and a Stray Cat
First, understand the difference between a stray cat and a feral cat. A feral cat was born wild and never knew a human. These kitties will act terrified of you and may never come close, no matter what you do.
A stray cat, on the other hand, is a cat that once knew human companionship. Stray cats may be timid at first but will warm up over time. If your stray cat simply won't come near you no matter how long you wait, it's not your fault. He may simply be feral. Rest assured, your feral cat will still truly appreciate it if you feed him and give him an outdoor shelter, even if he doesn't outwardly show it.
The Fastest Way to a Stray Cat's Heart Is Through Her Stomach
Stray cats are often hungry cats, so the best first move is to feed the kitty and provide lots of water. Once the cat learns you're a source for food, she will visit every day. For some very friendly cats, this is enough to gain their trust. But others need more time.
Start by leaving a strong-smelling cat food, like one with tuna, outside where you've seen the cat. Try to put the food out at the same time every day, and watch from a distance to see if she eats it. You may need to watch through a window from inside your home at first.
If it's cold outside, consider keeping the cat's food and water in a Thermo-Kitty Cafe that keeps the food and water from freezing. If you need something that holds more water, consider the K&H CleanFlow Filtered Water Bowl for Cats, which can come with a 90-ounce reservoir. Make sure you place the bowl in a fully enclosed area to protect it from the elements. When it's hot in the summer, a Coolin' Bowl is a good option.
Give Him a Safe, Comfy Bed
Stray cats can have a hard time when braving the weather and extreme temperatures outdoors. The more stressed a cat is, the less likely he will engage with you in any meaningful way.
If you can, leave your garage door or another place with a roof slightly open, so your stray cat can go inside when it's raining or the temperatures are extreme. If it's cold, consider a heated Thermo Outdoor Kitty House or the Thermo Outdoor Multi-Kitty A-Frame. Both are water-resistant for the outdoors, and the heated versions come with pet-safe heating pads. Another option is the Thermo Mod Kitty Shelter, which is also waterproof and comes with a heated pad that covers half the floor. As the weather warms up, the heated pads can be removed (so the cat doesn't overheat) and replaced with a comfy cushion.
Stay Very Still When She Eats
After your cat is accustomed to finding the food you leave for her, try staying outside when you leave the food, but at a distance.1 Don't try to approach her when she appears; instead, stay very still. Remember that a cat's body language is different than yours. Don't stare directly into her eyes for long periods of time. If you do catch her gaze, blink slowly. Don't act overly interested in her, and she'll trust you more.
Let the Stray Cat Make the First Move
Let your stray cat approach you first. This may take days or even weeks. Don't try to walk up and pet him. Give him a chance to rub against your leg cautiously. Speak soothingly to him. You can try extending your hand slowly and gently, but don't try to pet him. Let him approach and sniff your hand. He may sniff your hand and then rub it with his head, which is an invitation for a gentle pet.
Remember, a stray cat that trusts you one day may not have the same level of trust the next.2 Sometimes his outdoor adventures will leave him stressed and a little less friendly. Don't be discouraged if you sometimes feel like you've regressed. With time and patience, your stray cat will come to trust you and want pets consistently. You might even start giving him access to your home from time to time if your bond has grown. At some point, you may want to take him to the vet for a checkup and vaccinations.
It's a beautiful thing when you finally gain the trust of a stray cat. Some cats have had a hard time in life, and, for whatever reason, they end up homeless. By winning a stray cat's trust and providing some essentials for him, you could make a huge impact on his life. And you'll gain a lovable feline companion as well.
1. Elliott, Pippa. "How to Earn the Trust of a Stray Cat." WikiHow, 12 November 2020, https://www.wikihow.com/Earn-the-Trust-of-a-Stray-Cat.
2. L.C. David. "How to Win the Trust of a Stray Cat." PetHelpful, 22 September 2020, https://pethelpful.com/cats/How-to-Gain-a-Stray-Cats-Trust.