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post #1 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-15-2008, 07:36 AM Thread Starter
 
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First *semi*-feral kitten--suggestions?

This has turned out to be pretty long--please bear with me. =D

Earlier today, I adopted an approximately 3-month-old black female kitten from the SPCA. They didn't tell me that the kitten had been brought in feral until after I'd signed all the paperwork and my mom had peeked into the box and the kitten had exploded from it and hidden under a vending machine. -.- Please note that the fact that she's still semi-feral hasn't changed my mind about her adoption one bit--she's found her forever home, and that's final.

One of the SPCA employees had apparently been socializing her for some time, so it seems that she's at least 1/3 of the way to being completely domesticated. However, with the adoption, I'm not sure about how old she was when she was brought in (along with the rest of her littermates) and exactly how long the SPCA employee had been working with her, or if she was doing it in a way suitable to one of a litter as opposed to a single kitten.

Though I've been reading about feral cats and their needs for socialization online, I still have a few questions about where exactly my kitten (as yet unnamed, though I'm considering Spook ^^) fits into the spectrum.

From what I've noted about her progress:

1) She's extremely wary of new people, and would only allow me to touch her after sitting in my mom's bathroom with her for several hours, pretending to ignore her;
2) She never allowed my mom and little brother to touch her when they attempted interaction before they dropped me off at my own apartment;
3) She still hisses whenever I approach her, yet immediately goes quiet and allows me to pick her up without a fight;
4) She has the loudest purrbox I've ever heard when held, petted, and scratched around the face;
5) She's as curious and playful as any other kitten as long as I'm ignoring her at the time (lol). She's currently batting around one of a pack of catnip mice I bought for her. =D
6) She's already been house-trained, so no unpleasant surprises there.

When I first brought her to my apartment, I confined her to my walk-in closet with her cardboard SPCA cat carrier tilted on its side and filled with a fuzzy sweater, her brand-new litterbox filled with Johnny Cat, and a double cat bowl filled with fresh water and dry Kitten Chow. She's had a traumatizing couple of days (yesterday she was spayed, today she was pulled from her littermates and transported all over) so I figured I'd better leave her alone to nap for a while. No sooner had I sat down at the computer to work than she began squeaking (her adorable version of a meow), so I went into my closet to spend some time with her. After the initial hissing and retreat, I rubbed and scratched and petted until her eyes were drooping and I left her alone again. Minutes later, more squeaking. Repeat the whole process.

The third time she started squeaking, I gave up and brought her into the living room with me and cuddled her against my heartbeat while working on the computer (inconvenient, yes, minded, no). Pretty soon she got bored of getting cuddled, and I chose to let her wander off. She proceeded to step all over my keyboard, then went and curled up under my desk lamp (not turned on). I thought she was there to stay, but instead she jumped off my desk and ran to hide under my futon. I was a little worried that she'd never come out, but after about twenty minutes she came out and started wandering around the perimeter of the room, exploring. Again with the worry, because I'd read that you're not supposed to give feral kittens the run of a house because the largeness of a full room may intimidate them, not to mention the fact that they're fully willing to exploit small spaces perfectly suitable for hiding in. ^^

However, in the hours since then, she's continued exploring, used her litter box, and begun playing with her catnip mouse and the hair ties that always end up on the floor. She's not slinking as much as she had been, and keeps approaching my chair to stare at me, though most of the time she runs for cover every time I look back at her, or when my computer chair squeaks.

So far, she only has the run of my main room/living room and the walk-in closet she was introduced to. I've closed the doors of the bathroom and my hall closet, and I've blocked off the open entryway to my kitchen with a long cardboard box, which she doesn't appreciate much and is intensely curious about. The only reason I've bothered with that is because there are places where she can squeeze behind/under my refrigerator and stove--those are the only two places in my house that I 1) would worry about her getting stuck and 2) wouldn't be able to get her out of if she did get stuck.

So, as for my questions:

1) She seems to meow and squeak a lot for no reason while exploring--does anyone know why? Is she asking for attention?

2) She seems to have become fairly comfortable here over the last few hours--where does she fit in the socialization spectrum, and how long do you think it'll take to fully domesticate her?

3) Should I allow her the full run of my kitchen without worrying about whether she'll get stuck behind my appliances? Or do you have any suggestions as to how I can block off those places specifically, as opposed to the whole kitchen? Not that I really mind stepping over a cardboard box to get into it, lol.

4) She doesn't seem to appreciate being shut in the walk-in closet anymore--she squeaked piteously the last time I tried to confine her in there for bed, and I don't want her to consider it a punishment. Should I allow her to roam free while I sleep?

Well, I seem to have run out of questions (for now), but if you'd like to offer up suggestions for anything at all, I'd really appreciate it.

Thank you!
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post #2 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-16-2008, 02:03 AM
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I would think the meowing and squeaking while exploring may just be her chattering to herself... "oh look, what this? maybe I'll look over there... that looks interesting... wow! I think I'll try climbing that later and jumping on that thing over there..." It may be an instinctual thing; I believe a mother cat and kitten will meow back and forth to each other to keep from getting lost or going to far.

It sounds like she's still a bit feral but making good progress. I would suggest cuddling her and petting her frequently (like you'd be able to resist anyway ) But do let her get away from you when she thinks the cuddle session is enough. Using interactive toys to play with her is also a good way to bond, as is feeding her out of your hand.

I think keeping her in a small area with no hiding spots where you're unable to reach her would be good to do overnight, as she'll probably revert back to the scared hissy kitty for a little while during the times you don't have as much contact with her.

I caught my Cheddar cat as a very young feral, and it was necessary to keep him in a pen for the first few days while he got used to people. He was cuddly and puring when I spent time with him, but he would still hiss and try to run if I approached him. I didn't want to have him run off and hide somewhere and then have to catch him because that would destroy the trust I was building.

After she becomes used to you, I would try to provide lots of positive exposure to other people, so that you avoid having her become one of those cats that runs and hides when you have company.

As for other suggestions, do check out some of the stickies about food in the health and nutrition section, as Kitten Chow is pretty bottom-of-the-barrel food. The facts about pet food come as a huge surprise and often an eye opener for many people when they first start looking into it.
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post #3 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-16-2008, 02:40 AM Thread Starter
 
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Thank you so much for your response!

I know what you mean about her turning back into hissy scared kitty after being left out in the main room overnight, and watching her run scared while attempting to get her out from under the bed is heart-breaking. I'll definitely try keeping her in my walk-in tonight instead. In addition, I think I'm going to break down my futon (it's falling apart anyways) and keep my mattress on the floor so she has one less place to hide.

You said: "Kitten Chow is pretty bottom-of-the-barrel food." It sure seems like it, unfortunately. When she still hadn't touched it by earlier this afternoon, I ran out and got some Whiskas Chicken Dinner in Gravy, put some in a bowl, and she ate quite a bit of it while sitting on my lap. So at least that's one less thing to worry about.

A friend of mine just suggested I stick aluminum foil in the cracks where the kitten can get behind and under my refrigerator--do you think that'll help prevent her from going where she's not supposed to be?

Thanks. =D
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post #4 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-19-2008, 02:23 PM
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While I am certainly no expert, I also tamed a feral cat and may be able to offer some insight. Your kitty may never be completely comfortable around complete strangers, but will probably see you as hers in just a matter of time. My Sweetie now tolerates others, but definitely prefers me. She will still scatter if someone other than me is too loud or makes fast movements around her.

The more interaction you provide, the better. While Sweetie was getting used to me, I always let her initiate the cuddles or play time. Never force your cat to sit with you, play with you, etc. Let your cat decide when it wants to play or cuddle, though you can always offer encouragement by talking to it when it walks by.

I think the key right now is getting your kitty used to its environment and in a routine of sorts. Before you know it, your kitty will be so loving! My Sweetie is THE single most loving cat I've ever had, and she's the only feral I've ever dealt with. There's something about the feral ones...once you get them to trust you, they are the most loyal cats ever.

Good luck to you!
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post #5 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-19-2008, 07:31 PM
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Re: First *semi*-feral kitten--suggestions?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Xaenthe
1) She seems to meow and squeak a lot for no reason while exploring--does anyone know why? Is she asking for attention?
I think she is probably asking her litter-mates to stop hiding. My cat who lost her sister after 15 years would walk around constantly looking for her (despite the fact that they didn't really like each other when they were growing up!) When she makes those noises, you may want to give her a reassuring noise back, like kissy noises, a little meow, saying her name in a calming voice. I wouldn't do this each time, but regularly enough to reassure her.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Xaenthe
2) She seems to have become fairly comfortable here over the last few hours--where does she fit in the socialization spectrum, and how long do you think it'll take to fully domesticate her?
The $64,00 question! She seems pretty domesticated already. She'll probably get more comfortable over the next few weeks, but expect "set backs" as you begin to introduce company into the house. The first few times you have people over, you probably will want to block off the same areas you currently have blocked off, but give her a nice safe (really safe) hidey spot where your company won't intrude. It'd be nice if the first few times company came over if there were few in number, calm in energy, and quieter people.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Xaenthe
3) Should I allow her the full run of my kitchen without worrying about whether she'll get stuck behind my appliances? Or do you have any suggestions as to how I can block off those places specifically, as opposed to the whole kitchen? Not that I really mind stepping over a cardboard box to get into it, lol.
I really think you're wise to keep dangerous areas off limits for now. You could try a bitter apple spray, but I have no idea how effective that would be for a feral cat, especially if she were really frightened. Give it a week or so and see how she does.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Xaenthe
4) She doesn't seem to appreciate being shut in the walk-in closet anymore--she squeaked piteously the last time I tried to confine her in there for bed, and I don't want her to consider it a punishment. Should I allow her to roam free while I sleep?
Another tricky one. She is most likely not used to being along at all. Being alone may be frightening to her. If your litter box is nearby, and you feel pretty comfortable with the kitten-proofing you've done so far, you may want to consider allowing her out a bit. But again, I think you're the one seeing her, and her reactions, so really you're the only one able to judge that.
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post #6 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-19-2008, 08:02 PM
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Xaenthe, I always keep my new kittens in my bedroom until they feel at home and comfortable with me. I encourage them to sleep with me, if they'd like. The most important thing when socializing feral or semi-feral kittens is patience. It sounds to me as if you are showing the patience needed. You've made wonderful progress.

Dr. Jean, our resident vet, has told us that canned food is superior to any dry food. So I would feed her a quality canned food, avoiding corn, wheat, soy, and by products. I would look at the ingredients, not necessarily the price. Of course a quality food will cost a bit more, but might not be the most expensive.

As for socializing your new kitten to other people....Make sure it is her choice and there is no rush or insistence. Patience is the key. Please keep us informed.




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post #7 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-25-2008, 04:47 PM
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Re: First *semi*-feral kitten--suggestions?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Xaenthe
2) She seems to have become fairly comfortable here over the last few hours--where does she fit in the socialization spectrum, and how long do you think it'll take to fully domesticate her?
She seems to me like she is almost tame. Even the kittens I have fostered with their momma which have seen me from day one are skiddish and will run and hide. I always scoop them up for a second and talk to them and set them down to get use to human handling.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Xaenthe
3) Should I allow her the full run of my kitchen without worrying about whether she'll get stuck behind my appliances? Or do you have any suggestions as to how I can block off those places specifically, as opposed to the whole kitchen? Not that I really mind stepping over a cardboard box to get into it, lol.
Any place I dont want a cat or kittens to sqeeze into I roll up a towel and put it there so they cant get in.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Xaenthe
4) She doesn't seem to appreciate being shut in the walk-in closet anymore--she squeaked piteously the last time I tried to confine her in there for bed, and I don't want her to consider it a punishment. Should I allow her to roam free while I sleep?
I like jeanies suggestion of putting her in your bedroom. She will learn to cuddle with you in no time!

A tip a friend just gave to me is to put a fitted sheet on the box spring so the kittys cant find a way into the box springs to hide. Mine is in shreds from them hiding up there when people come to see them. Its like "Quick, run, hide in the box springs a potential adopter is here!"

Also rule of thumb is you pay a little more for good food now or pay the vet later in vet bills because of a poor diet. Plus this will ensure a healthy life together.

You sound like the perfect kitty owner. Your acceptance and devotion to your new companion is commenable.
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post #8 of 11 (permalink) Old 05-25-2008, 05:45 PM
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Your little kitten sounds like my Shasta.
Hubby found her in a soda machine in our garage. We figure she was 'lost' when out on a field trip with her mother/siblings and she darted into our garage and was left behind by them. She was small, about 9-10wks old. I kept her in a large cat carrier for the first 2 days, and on the second day, she escaped into the house, with all the adult cats!
The most I'd been able to do was hand feed her a bit of cooked chicken, t she still hissed when my hand came near.
She did fine. The other kitties accepted her and she learned to be friendly from watching and following them. When she began approaching me, I would pick her up and sort of 'force-handle' her. Hold her, pet her, stroke her, rub her and then deliberately set her down while looking away. At first, she'd run off a little bit, then it was just a few tail swishes, then it was crawling back into my lap for MORE attention.
Do sort of push the handling envelope to get her used to being handled. Touch her everywhere and hold her every which way. I also like to make soothing noises at the kitties, little clicks, meows, merrs and mmmmm's. Blinkie-eyes is also a good trick, staring is confrontational, blinking slowly or sliding your gaze away is soothing to them. Makes them not feel so under-the-microscope.
I'd suggest little treats and handling when she comes for treats or playing with toys with you. I think you're doing very well with her already!
Keep us posted!
Heidi



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post #9 of 11 (permalink) Old 06-13-2008, 09:24 AM Thread Starter
 
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First I'd like to say thank you all so much for the responses! I came back today to ask another question about one of her behaviors that's been bothering me (posted in the Behaviors forum, as I don't think it's related to her having been feral), and I decided to scope out the Feral forum and found my topic still at the top, which surprised me.

Sorry for taking so long on the update, but I've been so enthralled by Onyx (finally ended up naming her!) that I didn't think of returning to keep you all posted.

This has turned out to be one of the most lovable kittens I've ever had. She's a complete lapcat--she'll nap in my lap for hours after eating, purring all the while. I don't have to grab her to get her here, either--she jumps up all on her own. I haven't heard a hiss out of her in weeks, either.

There was a bit of a problem with her pouncing my feet at night, but a few squirts from a spray bottle filled with water took care of that.

Now she plays by herself at night and munches from the bowl of dry food I keep out for her 24/7. I know dry food isn't the best choice, but I'm having a hard time fattening her up because she's growing so fast, so I figure the carbs may be a good thing for now. =/ I feed her wet food every six hours while I'm awake, put wet food down for her just before I go to bed, and leave the dry food available all the time.

Nowadays I wake up in the morning with a purring kitten in the crook of my left arm--waking up never felt so good. =D

I eventually removed the box that blocked off the hallway to the kitchen, since after a couple weeks she discovered she could easily leap over it as long as she had a running headstart, lol. Now she considers the kitchen her territory too. The only time she's gone behind the fridge is when I was gone for 10+ hours on a trip to my hometown for my little brother's junior high graduation. I came home to find an empty apartment, and panicked. I searched all over for her, went to www.homeagain.com to double-check that her microchip was registered to the right address, tried to peer up my fireplace flue even though the screen hadn't been moved...as soon as my mom left, out crept a very disgruntled black kitten, lol.

I've successfully introduced her to my little brother, though, who's here on a week-long visit to start off his summer vacation. She wouldn't go near him at first, but now spends a significant amount of time napping in his lap too. =D

Mitts & Tess - your suggestion of a rolled up towel will definitely be put into practice, thank you. =D Also, luckily, I don't have an actual bed, just a futon. There's nowhere to squeeze, though she does like to hide under the futon when we're playing with one of her mice-on-strings.

Smirkitty:

Quote:
I think she is probably asking her litter-mates to stop hiding. My cat who lost her sister after 15 years would walk around constantly looking for her (despite the fact that they didn't really like each other when they were growing up!)
I probably should have thought of that, actually. I had a cat, Patches, for 15 years, and I finally made the decision to put her to sleep two years ago after fighting a losing battle with cancer. She'd lost all bladder control, couldn't keep down any food and was getting horrifically underweight, and had even given up her spot of sleeping on my butt at night to curl up on the cold kitchen tile. ;-; The minute my mom and I returned to the apartment (with me sobbing hysterically, it was awful), my mom's cat Ebony started asking where she was. They'd never liked each other, and in the past year or so had called an uneasy truce, but Ebony searched for her everywhere, calling. I guess I should have recognized the calling voice.

So all in all, things are going fabulous. I'm completely in love with her, and can't wait to spend the next 14+ years waking up to this adorable black face, with the one stray white hair between her eyes.
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post #10 of 11 (permalink) Old 06-13-2008, 12:18 PM
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What a wonderful update! She sounds like such a sweet baby. She was just a bit nervous, and now that she knows how great life can be, she's a happy and loving kitten. That's great news.




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