how old are they? and are they totally feral? - Cat Forum : Cat Discussion Forums
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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 06-15-2008, 01:44 AM Thread Starter
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how old are they? and are they totally feral?

Hello all. First post. I have two older-gentlemen cats who have both lived overseas with me. I'm kind of a nomad at the moment; this (school) year I've had a temporary teaching job 5 hours away from my husband and family. I rented an apartment for the year, and since school let out 6 weeks ago, I have spent most of my time 5 hours away from it with my husband/family. I have returned twice to my work-place apartment. The last time, I noticed some kittens living wild under the building, which I have felt obliged to trap and try to help this time. I hope no one minds if I tell you all about what happened and ask for advice and some help answering some questions about them.

6 weeks ago, when school was still in session, there were no visible kittens seeming to ask for handouts near the hole that leads to the basement in my apartment building. Two or three weeks ago, when I came back to my work-place apartment, there they were. Two of them. I suspected I knew who the mother cat was, but I never actually saw her with the kittens. I guess the fact that the kittens were out and about means that they were 4-5 weeks or older at that time. The kittens gave the impression of wanting and expecting handouts. They would come out of the window/hole in the basement to watch you walk by, staying close enough that they could run back inside if you came too close. I got the impression that they were expecting and living off of handouts. I put some food out for them. I tried to coax them to me, but there was no chance. I had to go back home to my husband. I left them, and I suppose I hoped for the best.

My husband returned to my work-place apartment with me this week. I didn't see the kittens for the first two days. Then, one night, as we got in the car, there they were. The weather has been absolutely brutal (above 100 degrees), and I suspect they may have been keeping to their basement-like abode during the daylight hours. I began to really worry about where they could possibly be getting water from. I made some calls and drove to a shop where I could purchase an appropriate trap. I put the kittens in a spare bathroom in my apartment. Luckily, I have an apartment with two bathrooms. I know it is not ideal, but I don't feel like I had much choice but to try to trap the kittens and to try to sort this out.

I have never trapped a feral animal before. I did help out with some at least semi-feral cats at an animal refuge where I used to volunteer for a few years (this was when I was studying overseas, so I don't have the contacts to ask for advice anymore). But just about all of the kittens we got in there were tame-born.

So I am really hoping that these kittens are not older than 12 weeks, since from what I have read, it is difficult to socialize the kittens beyond that age. My first question for the forum is: does anyone have any tips on how to tell how old these kittens are? I suspect that they were not in the habit of travelling any distance from their original "nest," and I am sure that they were not up and about 6 weeks ago. They are probably under-nourished, and I worry that this may cause them to look younger than they are.

My second question concerns a curious lack of spitting and hissing in capture. When the trap closed, the kittens certainly panicked, but at no point, even when we sat in the bathroom with them, did they ever hiss or spit. Is this a good sign? As I mentioned, I believe they have been living off of handouts. Online, I have seen cats that live around restaurants, etc. referred to as "semi-feral." I wonder if this might make it easier to socialize them? Of course, we have not attempted to handle them. And I should mention that they are indeed terrified. Though they have taken food off of me several times in the past, they have not eaten the food we have put out for them in the bathroom--they are huddled together behind the toilet. They have been in there for several hours, and we have visited them twice to check to see if they have eaten.

I will probably call some no-kill shelters on Monday, to see if any can help. Various circumstances would make it difficult to try to socialize them myself, but I have had situations before (i.e. a heavily pregnant cat showing up on my doorstep at about this same time of year) where I was not able to find a no-kill shelter that was able to help. I suppose this means I may be forced to try to socialize/rehome them on my own. I feel like this just landed in my lap, and hope no one thinks me irresponsible for going ahead with trapping the kittens when it will not be easy to follow through on my own.

OK, so I did give more details than I promised. But I thought that some of the things I have mentioned might help to shed some light on the likelihood of socializing these kittens. Any advice would be much appreciated!

Also, my husband is trying to convince me that the kittens need a flea bath. I just don't think this is a good idea, as they are already so frightened. Any advice?

Oh, and one more thing--I will have to return home in a couple of days. As I've mentioned, it is a 5-hour drive. I'm sure that I will not have had much luck with the kittens by then, if I have not found a no-kill shelter to help out. I'm a bit nervous about the drive. I have one of my own cats with me at the moment. Advice on this?

Thanks ever so much for reading, and thanks in advance for any words of wisdom.
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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 06-15-2008, 09:41 AM
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First, I think it is great that you are trying to help these kittens, whether you keep them or send them to a no-kill or foster situation, it HAS helped them. Pictures could help us determine age better than descriptions but you may be fairly accurate with your own assessment of age via timeline.

I have tamed feral kitten litters, including one litter that was +/- 14wks of age.

The short version:
Give the kittens in your bathroom a place to hide. I do not feel the toilet tank is sufficient. I like to use the hood of a litterbox laying on a bathmat or folded towels with the opening facing away from the bathroom door. It is like a cave for them and helps them feel secure in the small area but is easy for me to lift if I need access to them immediately.

I like to make a mix of chopped, shredded, cooked chicken stirred into a can of cream/chicken soup (no water/milk added) to make a thick mixture that sticks to my fingers and I try to hand feed the kittens by putting my hand/arm into the hood/cave. As they enjoy the food I slowly insert my hand/arm less/less to draw them out.
This mix isn't to be used as their usual diet, only used for taming purposes when I would go to sit with them.

Fleas...depending on how bad it is, you may want to wait on it a bit unless they are old enough for a frontline or advantage type treatment. If they must have a bath, understand that you or they could become injured from their struggles and their fear of the experience may set back the trust-part of the socialization process. If the fleas are awful, perhaps you could spray some flea spray on the bathmat or towel they would be laying on? (I do not know if that would help or be harmful, I guess you could call a vet to ask...)

For the drive home, if they have to go with you, put them into their own cat carrier and drape a towel over it to minimalize stimulation and help keep them calm.
Good luck!

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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old 06-15-2008, 11:37 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks! This morning at least one of the kittens had eaten all of the white fish and most of the cat food we put down for them, so that was a relief. We've put some turkey down and more cat food, and the braver of the two has taken several steps toward it.

I did put down a cardboard box with some towels in it before we took them in, but they are more interested in the toilet for now. I am thinking of putting the cat carrier in there to see if they would rather crouch in there.

Thank you so much for your encouraging words. It really helps so much! Strangely, I find that I feel guilty for having taken them in and somehow "creating" a problem, but that really isn't true. These kittens were there and no one was going to help them if I did not.

I will try to get some pictures later and post them. The smaller of the kittens jumped in the air before and when I saw his/her whole body I thought, "surely, no more than six weeks!" Tiny. Of course, I do think they are older than six weeks. They must be at least eight. I know they are under-nourished and looks can be deceiving, especially to my untrained eyes.
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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 06-21-2008, 09:33 PM
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Zonar how are the kittens?

I brought in 6 week old kittens to the vet. They had fleas. Advantage doesnt want you to treat them until two months. My vet called the company and they said you can put a half treatment on them.

It worked quickly! Bathing them is so stressful. This would be easier for you. One person hold the kitten and the other treat it skin level by shoulder blades.
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post #5 of 8 (permalink) Old 06-22-2008, 11:04 AM Thread Starter
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The kittens have now gone to a rescue organization that is going to put them in proper foster care. Apparently, 10 weeks was not a bad estimate, though "they might have been closer to 12." Thanks for all your help on this forum. I was incredibly worried that they were actually too old to be socialized, and that I was too inexperienced to know it. In the four days my husband and I had the kittens, they made great progress, however, and I have now been moping around for days because I miss them so much! I know it is impossible to keep all of the ones that need rescuing, of course. At the end of four days, my husband was carrying around one of the kittens without gloves, all around the apartment. The other was beginning to get better, though he was still very nervous and likely to scratch and bite when picked up. When we dropped the kittens off with the rescuer, we both gasped when she put her hand right into the carrier, expecting the little nervous one to absolutely attack--he did not. She picked him up without any struggle, which was such a relief, and so rewarding. I've got some pictures on my husband's computer, which I will post soon!
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post #6 of 8 (permalink) Old 06-22-2008, 12:16 PM
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Sounds like you really started the ball rolling to bring them around. When they first come in they are so freaked by all the new noises and smells and human intereaction. Sounds like you really broke the ice for them.

2 batches of kittens ago someone rang my door bell and one of the kittens flipped out and ran and forced his way between the wall and my display cases. Then it couldnt move or back out and was thrashing around and crying scared to death. You never think a door bell would cause that reaction!

Post those pictures of your little guys.
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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-08-2008, 06:27 PM
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Really Shengmei? Really? My mom had a feral for over a year that she fed twice a day on her deck, and not once was ever able to pet it. Glad you have had a good experience with all your ferals but really, not everyone is that lucky.
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post #8 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-09-2008, 09:22 PM
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I agree with Heather. Ive had older kittens from the same litter. Some would come around quickly and others were instinctally wild men not wanting to come around. They would never be a regular house cat. Thats what survival is all about.
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