When A Wild Cat Becomes an Indoor Cat

Many people go about their days and some notice the number of wild cats living in their neighborhoods, on college campuses, in gardens, or even in the alleys of cities. Out of sympathy, some people bring these stray cats into their homes as a new pet without considering how this change of environment will affect the cat or themselves. This is not to discourage folks from taking in homeless cats or kittens; those who do are animal saviors. But let’s go over a few questions that you should ask yourself:

If I take in a feral cat, can they become a happy, welcoming, domestic pet?

  • Many cats can transition from feral to domestic behavior. Adult cats have a more difficult time with this change then kittens do. Wild kittens are still in the state of needing to be nursed, nurtured, and needing food to be brought to them. With you as their caregiver, they will be more open and accepting to care and developing trust with their new humans. Kittens will also be able to socialize with other humans and other kittens within some time.

This dirty little baby really needs a loving home.

  • Adult cats can change too, but that process will take longer and will require a large amount of patience from their new humans. Keep in mind that adult feral cats were either misplaced, abandoned, or raised in the wild. Developing trust with humans will be hard for such self-reliant and estranged cats.

Should I take my new cat straight home? How do I start training them?

  • Once you have a feral cat in your arms, the smartest thing to do is to take them straight to a veterinarian; this is especially true if you have other cats or children in your home. You need to know about past or present injuries and parasites, how the cat behaves with the veterinarian, getting vaccines, and other medical matters before you start the move-in process.
  • Once your cat has been cleared by the veterinarian to be taken home, remember to remain patient and to give your new cat plenty of space and alone time to settle into their new environment. Don’t force attention, over stimulation, or snuggling on your new cat. Remember that they need to develop trust with you and that only happens when they can feel safe exploring their new home and when they can take the time to watch and get to know you. Provide your new cat with a quiet and peaceful home as they adjust.

This cat is very curious about what is going on, but he’s not ready to get involved yet.

  • In terms of training, I suggest that you show them three areas that will more than likely become safe places for them: where the litter box is, their water and food dishes, and a scratching post. A steady routine of when your cat is being fed will help them figure out when and where they can use the restroom and when they can start playing.

How can I tell is trust is building?

  • When your new cat begins to trust you, they will be willing to come near you and may become more loving, too. Remember what I said before: do not force yourself on your new cat. They need to set the pace of interaction with you, they need to observe you from a distance that feels safe for them. They will be close enough to be able to smell, see, and hear you 24/7. When you decide to start playing with them, I suggest a cat pole with feathers or a fake mouse tied to the end.
  • Safe places to pet your new cat are the top of their head and their neck when they’re willing to accept your touch. Use treats as rewards and positive reinforcement for their behavior. Remember not to have high expectations, some feral cats will become your best friends where others may not be able to become lap cats. Every cat has a different personality and has had different experiences that will affect the way they integrate into their new life.

Fredrick Douglass and His Story

The brilliantly handsome Fredrick Douglass!

About a year and a half ago, I came home from my boyfriend’s (now husband) fraternity house. I was exhausted and on my way to the restroom to brush my teeth. When I walked in, I heard very loud meowing coming from the room. I couldn’t figure out where the meowing was coming from! It wasn’t until I crouched near the bathtub and I realized there was a cat stuck underneath it! I immediately called my boyfriend and said, “Honey, there’s a kitty inside the bathtub!” Kyle drove over as soon as he could, went to the back of the house, pulled the panels apart and a little blonde cat crawled from under the house and into Kyle’s arms.

After we pulled the burrs and thorns from his coat and paws, we brought him inside and continued cleaning him up. This little cat has become an addition to my household as he and Kyle had imprinted on each other. Kyle had been reading former slave and abolitionist Fredrick Douglass’s autobiography My Bondage and My Freedom before he rescued this cat from the bathtub. Out of inspiration from such a strong man and great author, Kyle named his new cat Fredrick Douglass; Fred or Mr. Douglass for short.

We took him to our veterinarian a few days later and learned that Fred was about eight months old, didn’t have a microchip, and wasn’t neutered. After getting him his needed vaccines and scheduling his neutering appointment, Kyle and I brought him back to my home and began introducing him to my other cats; Missues and Baby Kitty. Fred didn’t have the easiest time adjusting to the other cats at first. He and Baby Kitty fought frequently for dominance and territory. Missues would avoid Fred as much as she could, but would be cornered by him sometimes when he wanted to try to mate.

Baby Kitty watches his new brother Fred with curiosity.

Fred was hesitant to letting me touch him and only accepted pets and snuggles from Kyle. He began spraying in the other cats hiding places to assert his dominance, and even on Kyle’s shoes and dirty clothing. And when it came to feeding, Fred would become aggressive with whoever was eating; growling became the norm when we placed food in front of him, and we had to be fed separately from Baby Kitty and Missues. To say the least, it was a struggle in the beginning.

Kyle was a previous dog owner and, with Fred as his first cat, he was confused with Fred’s behavior. When he picked up Fred, loud grumbles and growls always came, and when we walked past him sometimes Fred would crouch and hiss at us. So, we practiced leaving Fred alone and letting him discover the house, us, and the other cats at his own stride. Of course, when Fred would attack Mr. Baby Kitty or Missues we would put him in a kennel, but other than that we let him do his own thing. Eventually, Fred started sleeping with us. He wouldn’t come close to our faces, but we would curl in a ball at our feet or between our legs. He also started letting me touch him, brush him, and bathe him when was he was dirty.

Baby Kitty and Fred comfortably lounging on their parent’s bed.

After Fred was neutered, he became less hostile and more curious about the other cats and what Kyle and I were doing. He began sitting on the arm of the couches while Kyle read and he laid on my yoga mat, staring into my eyes while I was in downward-facing dog. Fred was staring becoming kinder with Missues, and he  would lay next to her while she slept. He became more affectionate with Baby Kitty, too! Fred isn’t much of a lap cat like his brother is, and he isn’t as introverted as Missues, but he’s adapted well to living in a house with other cats and he loves being able to spend one-on-one time with his Dad and myself when he wants to.

A very happy Fred cuddling with his loving Dad.

If you find a feral cat and they aren’t comfortable with your home or your lifestyle, you can always foster them until you find an appropriate home for them. No-kill shelters and sanctuaries are also a great way to save a life without sacrificing your time, home, or the happiness of the cat you thoughtfully rescued. They may not be the right fit for your home, but you can still help find them their purr-fect forever family.

Elanda-Isabella Atencio, our Feline Editor, is on her road to being a “crazy” cat lady. She has three cats; a moody Missus, a wild Baby Kitty, and notorious Fredrick Douglass. She was raised with cats, chickens, dogs, and geese. From cleaning coops, morning dog runs, picking eggs, to growing catnip, Elanda enjoys pampering her pets. Elanda is a student at New Mexico State University, earning her BA in Creative Writing and is Editor-in-Chief of the online arts journal, Independent Noise and reader for Puerto del Sol. She plans to move to Oregon, where she hopes to take her cats on daily walks when it’s overcast and cool. If you’d like to contact Elanda, email her at eincatencio@gmail.com.

Sleepy Head: Understanding Your Horse’s Sleeping Patterns

There can’t be many owners who haven’t gone into a state of panic when seeing their beloved horse lying on its side with his eyes closed. Nervously, they call their horse’s name and run anxiously towards him, fearing the worst. The horse lifts his head and reluctantly gets up, looking annoyed at this crazy human being who has disturbed him for no apparent reason! Sound familiar?

It is most likely there was absolutely nothing wrong with the horse, and he was just fast asleep, enjoying a lovely dream!

Many people believe that horses sleep standing up. Although this is partially true, much of an equine’s most important sleep is acquired when lying down.

This little foal is simply enjoying a good old nap.

Horse sleeping patterns are typical of a prey animal. Compared to human beings, equines do not need very much actual sleeping time and usually sleep for short periods throughout the day and night. The reason for this is that they are extremely vulnerable to predators and they must be ready to flee at any moment.

Types of Sleep

Equine sleep is something that people do not tend to think about, especially as there are very few studies regarding this subject. However, it is vital that we understand our horse’s sleeping patterns, as any changes in their usual behaviour could be early indications of health problems.

Equine sleeping habits largely depend on whether they are wild, stabled, or living out at pasture.

This gorgeous horse is relaxing while out at pasture.

There are four stages of the wake/sleep cycle in horses:

  1. Wakefulness – During this stage, the horse is completely conscious, spending much of its day eating. In the wild, they go in search of food, often travelling great distances, whereas domestic horses are typically ridden or at pasture.
  2. Drowsiness (DR) – Most domesticated horses are stabled inside for long periods, so they relieve their boredom by dozing. The sight is familiar to owners; drooping head and neck, floppy lips, relaxed ears, eyes closed and often standing on three legs, with one hind leg resting. The horse remains in this position because of his ability to lock his knees and stifles, known as “stay apparatus.” The resting hind leg enables him to kick out at any potential predators instantly.
  3. Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) – In this stage, the brain is not at its most functioning level and is effectively “sleeping.” The horse must go through Slow Wave Sleep before reaching the deeper REM sleep. The horse can stay standing or rest in sternal recumbency, whereby he lays down with his legs tucked under and the head and neck remaining upright.
  4. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) – As the name suggests, REM sleep consists of rapid eye movement and is also known as ‘paradoxical sleep.’ The mind is almost as active as it is during wakefulness and usually dreaming occurs. To achieve this type of sleep, the horse must be lying down, due to the loss of muscle tone at this stage, and preferably flat out if there is sufficient space.

The benefits of quality sleep

Good sleeping patterns allow the horse to function and perform properly. During Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) the brain is resting and in REM sleep the muscles rest.

Equines that are fed regularly throughout the day are more likely to enjoy quality sleep compared to those that only receive their feeds twice a day.

REM sleep affects the horse’s attention during wakefulness. Lack of REM causes the horse to either overreact to situations, becoming extremely alert and difficult to handle or appears lethargic and lazy.

Waking up from a quality nap!

How long do horses sleep?

Where humans typically sleep for about eight hours in one long, uninterrupted stretch, horse’s sleeping habits are polyphasic, meaning they sleep multiple times throughout the day and night.

The average equine usually sleeps from two to four hours over a 24-hour period. Much of that time is spent dozing and approximately two hours are in Slow Wave Sleep (SWS), split into four or five sessions, with wakefulness and REM happening in-between stages. Foals, like any young human or animal, will sleep longer than an adult.

An adult horse spends 45 minutes in REM sleep, occurring in short bursts of up to twenty minutes at a time. To engage in REM, a horse must feel safe in his environment and have a suitable place to lie down.

Equines are unable to lie down for very long as they risk suffering from reperfusion injury. Because horses are such large animals, when they do lie down, blood flow is restricted to certain areas, causing problems as they attempt to stand up again.

The herd instinct

In the wild, a group of horses will use the buddy system where one is on lookout duty, known as the sentinel, while the others sleep. All members of the herd take turns, and this method is also adapted to suit the domesticated, stabled horse and his neighbours.

Sleep disorders in horses

Sleep deprivation

Horses can go several days without REM sleep before you start to notice the effects. There are a variety of reasons why your horse is not sleeping:

Change in environment – Moving to a new barn or sleeping overnight at a showground for a competition can have a profound effect on horses. Many will have little or no sleep until they settle into their new surroundings.

Physical – Often if a horse is in pain, especially in the limbs, they may be physically unable to lie down. Older horses, especially, may find it difficult due to conditions such as osteoarthritis.

This horse does not appear to be sleep deprived!

Isolation – A horse kept alone is likely to be stressed and would have no sentinel to keep guard making him feel vulnerable.

An unsuitable place to lay – Reasons maybe a lack of bedding, too small an area in the stable or wet and muddy conditions if kept out at pasture.

Noisy location – If your barn is located near to a busy road or there is another noisy activity going on, it may cause disturbance to your horse

Feeling unsafe in outdoor environment – There may be wild animals around that make your horse feel insecure and exposed to danger.

Social situation – If your horse is new to a herd or there is an aggressive horse, he may be reluctant to lie down.


If you think your horse is suffering from sleep deprivation, he may display the following symptoms:

  • Your horse may not be lying down at all. Tell-tale signs are if you never see bits of bedding or dirt on the body or mane and tail, or your horse doesn’t appear to roll.
  • Performance is affected.
  • The horse seems drowsy.
  • Drifts off into a deep sleep while standing, causing the horse to buckle at the knees due to the muscles relaxing. Usually, they will wake up abruptly as they start to fall. Signs this may have occurred are bruises and grazes on his knees.


Once you work out the cause of your horse’s sleep deprivation, you can take measures to treat it and get your horse some much-needed shut-eye.

Moving your horse away from an aggressive equine or noisy environment, or keeping him with others if he is isolated, will help matters. Make sure his stable is big enough for him to lie down in with good bedding.

If he is living out at pasture, ensure there is somewhere dry for him to rest or bring him inside when the weather is bad.

If it is a physical pain or another medical issue that is making him reluctant to lie down, then your veterinary should be consulted.

Your horse may find it stressful travelling to shows and staying overnight, which will affect the quality of his sleep. It may be worth going on the actual day of the competition, so he has benefited from sleeping at home.

Make sure you pay attention to how much sleep your horse is actually getting.

Hypersomnia (Sleeping excessively)

As horses only sleep for a few hours, any horse that wants to sleep continuously is a significant cause for concern.

Reasons could be that your horse is depressed, lacks stimulation, is isolated or suffering from a neurological or infectious disease.

If your horse is sleeping excessively, you should consult your veterinarian.

Final thoughts

It is vital that your horse has the amount of sleep he requires to repair and restore his mental and physical systems. Having good, quality sleep will ensure a good performance from your horse, and he will be much happier and easier to handle as a result.

Alison O’Callaghan, our Equine Editor, is a professional horse riding instructor and has owned many types of pets. When she is not riding horses or walking her dog, she loves to write about animals. If you’d like to contact Alison, you can email her at ocallaghan462@gmail.com.