I have been feeding a very feral cat since last March. Gradually, he has progressed to living on my deck. In July, I trapped him and had him neutered and treated for fleas, worms, and mites. He has gained weight and is extremely charming. He was a skeleton when I first saw him.
He can be very aggressive, however, and I have the scratches to prove it. He loves to be petted and has come to trust me, but when I go inside, he gets very upset and sometimes tries to scratch me. This behavior has lessened as time goes on. He appears to be very lonely and stares at my five indoor cats through the sliding doors. The other day I left the door open a few inches, and he acted very aggressively to one of my indoor boys.
I have provided him with an outdoor house with straw to keep him warm, and an outdoor heating pad. Both under a covered picnic table to keep everything dry. Is it possible he may eventually stop being so aggressive to my cats? I feel very bad for him as he appears to want to come in. He’s probably been outside his whole life and has never had a human friend until me.
— Janice, Eastport, New York
You may not realize it, but you’re already providing him with a good home where he knows he will be fed and looked after every day. The outdoor shelter you are providing with the straw bed sounds great, and I am glad he lets you pet him sometimes. He obviously trusts you, and could someday warm up to the other cats through the sliding glass door, but don’t push the issue. While a few cats cross the threshold from feral to indoor cat, it can be very difficult to make this transition with five cats already in the home. Cats are very territorial.
If, at some point, you feel he could cross the threshold, then bring him inside and close him in a room for a few days so all the cats can get to know each other better through scent and some under-the-door paw play. But please don’t feel you need to do this, since cats are very territorial, and this will be very stressful for all your cats too. If he is “a very feral cat” then he is likely happier outside with the food, shelter, and friendship he gets from you.
As for your scratches, he may be showing what’s called “redirected aggression,” which means he scratches you because he is frustrated by another stimulus, like seeing your indoor cats. Maybe wear boots or long socks when you are with him to protect your legs.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal