Shelter Me Inc, a nonprofit animal rescue organization based in Medford, MA, prepared the following how-to, step-by-step guide to acclimating semi-feral cats to a barn. These (very specialized) suggestions are based on the group’s experiences placing more than 100 otherwise unadoptable cats in barn homes across Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The cats provide rodent control services to barn owners in exchange for lifetime room & board and veterinary care.
A. What do the barns need to provide in the way of supplies?
o Cat food – dry is essential; wet food is a bonus. Most rescue groups recommend Purina One for dry food and Friskies for wet.
o Large water bowl.
o Food bowls – separate bowls for wet and dry are ideal.
o Litter – sand-like is best – the cats will know what to do with it.
o Smallest litter pan you can buy. (The small ones fit well in the acclimation cage.)
o Soft blanket or cat bed– cats like soft places.
o If the cat is feral, definitely a little house for them to hide in; a small cat carrier can fit in the cage. It is also helpful to cover the top of the cage.
o A large acclimation cage (52 inches x 36 inches x 26 inches)is helpful because it allows the cats to be relatively comfortable while they are being confined. The kitty playpens that Shelter Me Inc purchases on Amazon.com cost about $110 have three shelves and room for a small house or heavy bed, toys, and litter box. Partially covering the cage with a sheet or blanket(s) in cold weather is especially desirable.
B. The physical set-up of the barn is important because it determines where to place the cage. These are some key considerations –
1. The cats need to bond with the new environment (in addition to the caretaker).
2. The cats should be able to see people and farm animals coming and going from the barn.
3. The cat(s) need fresh air and light.
4. The cage should be next to a window or in a center aisle, or a busy tack room.
5.The cats are kept in the cage to enable the caretaker to interact with them; otherwise – if they are loose in a tack room for example, they may just hide away.
-A key thing to think about is where to place the food and water relative to the litter…you don’t want the litter to contaminate the food and water. So, if you can place the food and water bowls on an upper shelf of the cage that can be very helpful.
-Cats drink quite a bit of water – a larger bowl is better than smaller one. It is also useful to have the water bowl separate from the dry food and wet food. It makes the water bowl easier to fill. Conversely, small litter boxes (see above) are helpful to the extent that they leave more room for the cats to move around.
C. The cats need a dedicated caretaker but it is probably wise not to force yourself on them. Probably better to let the cats come to you –
ü The cats need a regular feeding schedule; morning and night.
ü The litter box needs to be cleaned every day.
ü The water needs to be changed every day.
D. Helpful Hints –
Some people feed their cats wet food—specifically in the evening during the acclimation process
—and continue that practice after the cage door is open
—to help ensure that the cat will return to the barn for the evening feeding
—then they close the cats into the barn at night to protect them from predators.
The barn owners can usually tell how well the acclimation period is going by how the cats react when they open the door to feed them. —If the cats are settling in comfortably, they will brush up against the feeder’s arm. (But this may never happen with really feral cats, even though they may decide to stay in your barn forever.)
Even if cats are very skittish, it is often possible to pet them when they are eating
—especially when they are eating something they really love – like wet food or tuna juice.
— If you have very, very skittish cats, try feeding them wet food on the end of a wooden spoon (as a friend-making gesture).
Special food like tuna fish or juice is great, but commercial cat food contains nutrients that cats need for their diets.
Cats love toys (Even feral cats although it may take longer for them to figure out what to do with them.)—We often deliver the cats with a catnip toy or two…but it is really nice for barn owners to buy the kind of rope or feather toys that allow them to interact with/play with the cats.
E. How we recommend handling the “release” of the cats.
After five weeks (we recommend five because we have seen it work many, many times)—tie open the door of the cage in the morning after feeding the cats.
– When people keep the cats in the cages for fewer than 5 weeks – often because the cats are semi-tame, it wise to continue to keep them enclosed within the larger space – ideally a tack room with a door or even close up the barn. That way, they still have time to adjust to the new surroundings – and to understand that this is really ‘home.’
Continue to feed the cats – in feed bowls in the cage – and continue to change the water and the litter regularly.
If you have a barn that you can close up at night – please do so – it will help protect your cats from predators.