If you've befriended a stray cat you'd like to bring in as a pet, you might wonder at what age it is too late to socialize them. Unfortunately, there's really no definitive age when cats are too old to be tamed. Most experts say that the kitten socializing window closes around 16 weeks old, so older kittens and cats are trickier to tame, but not impossible. It really depends on the cat's personality and previous experience with people. A lot of cats who appear feral are actually just scared.
There Is No Single Age Cutoff
It's tough to say exactly when it's too late to socialize a feral cat. Most people agree that kittens over 4 months of age are difficult to tame if they've had absolutely no human interaction. But cats who have some familiarity with people — for example, they were fed by someone, they saw their mother being petted by a human, or they had some other type of positive experience — are more likely to be successfully tamed.
Think of it like this. A cat's socialization window falls on a spectrum. Yes, it's easiest to get them comfortable with people before they're 16 weeks old, but kittens older than this have been tamed, too. You need to evaluate each kitten's personality and go from there. They absolutely may develop into well-adjusted, domesticated pets with the right mix of love and attention.
How to Tell if a Cat Is Fearful or Feral
Here's the kicker, though. You won't know right away whether the kitten or cat you've found is truly wild and untamable or has some potential. A lot of kittens and cats who are actually somewhat (or even very!) socialized can act the same as a feral cat because they're terrified. And we're not just saying that — it's backed by science.
By observing feral cats in a shelter setting, researchers found that cats who are socialized but very frightened show a lot of the same initial behaviors as those who are not socialized. It wasn't until the third day (when the cats were more secure in their environment) that the more socialized feral cats started showing signs they were comfortable with humans.
What does this mean? Basically, you should give a feral cat at least three days of gentle reassurance, safety, and care before you can say whether they're just scared or truly feral.
Cats are considered only "semi-domesticated," which means even house cats have wild instincts and tendencies. But the more handling and interaction a cat gets, the tamer it will become.
Adult Feral Cats Are Difficult to Tame
If you begin working with a feral kitten under 16 weeks old, there's a very good chance they could become a wonderful companion, and when they grow up, you may never know they were once feral. But adult cats may never get to that point. They can certainly live comfortably with people, but they may not accept cuddles or enjoy being picked up. Be patient as you work with a feral cat and let them set the pace for socialization.