How to Teach a Semi-Feral Cat to Use a Litter Box

Full-grown strays may need up to eight weeks to adjust to litter box use.

Full-grown strays may need up to eight weeks to adjust to litter box use.

Unlike human-wary feral cats, semi-feral cats aren't averse to human interaction. Though not necessarily socialized already, they are less shy around people and may be trained as domestic pets. Between his natural instincts and your welcoming attitude, you can train a semi-feral cat to use the litter box.

Place a litter box in a quiet, private place. You don't like an audience when you're using the bathroom, and neither does your kitty, so give him some solitude.

Fill the box with 3 to 4 inches of soft clay or finely ground litter. A gravelly cat litter may feel unnatural under his paws -- remember, he's used to going potty on soft earth outside.

Place him in the litter box periodically, particularly after a meal. Wait until about 20 minutes after he eats, then place him in the box. Dig around in the litter a little bit with your fingers, too, as cats like to imitate the behaviors they see. When he sees you digging around, he'll want to dig, too.

Adorn his box with some familiar decorations. A semi-feral cat is used to doing his business in the wilderness, surrounded by nature, so inject some nature into his new habitat. Mix natural soil from your yard with the cat litter and throw a couple nonpoisonous leaves in there, too. You can slowly remove these things as he gets more and more comfortable going in the box, but for now they're a little reminder of home.

Clean out the box daily when he uses it. A cat used to going outside is less likely to keep using a litter box if waste is accumulating in it, so keep it clean.

Get the little guy fixed. Unfixed adult cats, especially those that have matured in the wild, go to the bathroom wherever as a way of marking territory and looking for a mate. If your semi-feral cat is doing his business on the couch or watering your potted plants, that could be his way of taking out a personal ad. When you get him fixed, he'll stop leaving his scent all over your home. In some cases, he'll stop gradually.


  • Be patient. Cats take anywhere between three and eight weeks to get completely comfortable with a new environment.
  • Don't be discouraged if your cat doesn't like being handled right away. While some semi-feral cats are strays that have experience with humans, others are simply less shy by nature and may not be comfortable being held.


  • Don't expect to have much luck training a true feral cat. While semi-feral cats generally act like strays, an honest-to-goodness feral feline is a wild animal with little interest in human interaction or the strict rules of indoor living.

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About the Author

Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

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