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post #1 of 21 (permalink) Old 12-21-2008, 09:06 AM Thread Starter
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Can anyone give some advice on handling my feral cat??

Hello

I'm new to this forum and the main reason i joined was to see if I could get some ideas on how to get my formerly feral cat to let me touch her.

She's a lovely girl - she loves being in the same room as me and seems happy around me (slow blinking etc) and is generally happy in herself - playing with the christmas tree just now!! However as soon as i get "too" near she runs away. She'll take chicken from my hand and I once managed to stroke her paw without her scarpering when she was lying in her bed. Is it just a case of being patient or is there anything i can do to help her know that I won't hurt her?

Thanks

Lx


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post #2 of 21 (permalink) Old 12-21-2008, 12:20 PM
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Re: Can anyone give some advice on handling my feral cat??

Patience, in my (very limited) experience, is the key. Feed her from your fingers whenever you can and play with her a lot - this'll help bond her to you.

Keep in mind, however, that some cats aren't meant to be lap cats or even in-your-face-friendly cats.
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post #3 of 21 (permalink) Old 12-21-2008, 02:29 PM
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Re: Can anyone give some advice on handling my feral cat??

Interactive toys are very helpful too.

Since she trusts you, try this. It worked for me. I put her food in a bowl on my lap, and pet her while she ate. If she hissed, I removed the food. Then I'd put it back on my lap, and pet her again until she hissed. I kept repeating this until she decided that food was worth get petted for! And then she decided she liked the petting also.

She was always a sensitive cat, however. She loved the petting so much she drooled, but suddenly she'd lash out and scratch. A vet told me that sometimes we hit a spot or triggered a reaction that so sensitive that scratching was automatic, much like us when we have a spot so itchy we can't stand it. He did not say it was an itch, however. We learned, no matter how much she purred and drooled, to stop in time! Good luck.




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post #4 of 21 (permalink) Old 12-21-2008, 03:32 PM
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Re: Can anyone give some advice on handling my feral cat??

Almost all of our cats came to us as ferals (the adults) and took more time to tame and gain their trust as opposed to kittens. Patience and consistency is key, always be reliable. Not like being 'on time' but as in she can rely on you and your actions. Food is also a great motivator!

My secret weapon:
Cooked, shredded chicken mixed with an undilited (no water or milk, or maybe just a little milk) can of Cream of Chicken Soup. Make sure the chicken pieces are small, kitty-sized bites and the CofCSoup helps the chicken bits stick to your fingers for hand feeding.

Almost all of my adult cats were tamed OUTSIDE before they were allowed inside, so the process took longer than it did with kittens. Malibu took 5mo from trapping/spaying to letting me touch her and Pretty took 14mo from trap/spay to touch. Both are now happy indoor/outdoor (mostly indoor) cats.
With your kitty inside, I think I'd start pushing her comfort boundaries; sitting next to her at all of her meals. Make sure she has specific meal times, or a specific time for canned food and/or treats. Try my chicken trick, I've NEVER had a cat refuse chicken. Begin by sitting near her and push closer each time until you are touching her. Advance/retreat. You need to advance to make progress, but you need to retreat before you've reached her maximum tolerance level.

To get cats used to being handled/picked up, I begin by picking them up from the floor and placing them immediately on a low surface (coffee table, couch, chair). I can feel them struggling to get down/away but I just hold them firmly as I lift them and place them where I want. It is a direct lift: floor to chair. Then I ignore the cat. I don't look at it to see how it is reacting, I just do it, it is matter of fact, then it is done and "no big deal". As I progress, I hold them in the 'lift' for incrementally longer periods before setting them on the surface.

Sometimes I put them on my lap and will hold them by their scruff and scrubble/pet with the other hand. Again: "No big deal". Then I will set the cat away from me and ignore it. I don't want the cats scooting away from me fearfully, but I want them to know I was holding them and I set them loose again. When I am handling them, as soon as I feel the cat relaxing even a little, I loosen the scruff hold and scrubble their neck to 'remove the memory' of the hold and let them leave my attention/lap as they wish. No big deal and I don't keep looking at them to judge their reaction.

I want them to learn I will handle them and let them go, I will not keep them against their will forever. The signal I am looking for when handling them is small signs of relaxation and I try to reward that by lowering my handling intensity.
Best of luck,
Heidi



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post #5 of 21 (permalink) Old 12-21-2008, 04:24 PM
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Re: Can anyone give some advice on handling my feral cat??

That is not the method approved by behavior experts. The cat should make the decisions, in most cases. Forcing attention on the cat might work for some, but is not recommended.

Quote:
First Contact with your Adult Feral
For the first 2 or 3 days, restrict your visits to feeding and cleaning times to reduce stress until the cat adapts to its (edit) environment. After that, build up the amount of time spent in the same room with the cat over a period of days. When in the room, talk constantly and softly, even if you are simply reading a book out loud. It must get used to your presence. If possible leave a tape recording of your voice playing when you are not in there; if this isn't possible leave a radio tuned to a news station (at low volume) in the room. When re-socializing fearful adults, I use the room as my TV viewing room or reading room.

If the cat shows any curiosity (most will probably be too scared) offer tidbits to get it to trust you. If possible, eat some of your meals in there, preferably containing food it would like and make sure you have some tidbits if it shows interest. Table scraps are not generally recommended, but used in small amounts they are good bribes in these circumstances. I usually cook a separate portion of meat/fish to give as a tidbit, since some meal ingredients are toxic to cats.

Leave some of your own worn clothing in the room so it gets used to your scent. Wear a tee-shirt in bed so it picks up your scent and leave that in the room (some owners do this when they board their cats or their cats are put through quarantine). I have met feral tamers whose tamed cats like to carry worn knickers (panties) around because of the owner's scent.

,cat itself. If the cat tries to attack you, you will need to use long-handled brushes and thick long-sleeve gloves etc until it lets you approach more closely.


Once it has settled into the room, spend as much time in there as you can. You will probably have to spend much of this time on the floor so invest in two comfortable cushions - you will need two, because the cat may later decide to sit one while you are in there. Make sure the cat can see you, then yawn, stare into the middle distance (not directly at the cat) and blink slowly. In cat-speak, these are signs that you are friendly and relaxed. With your hands, mime washing your face and hair cat-fashion. It sounds silly, but you must communicate in cat body language it starts understanding humans.

Once the cat seems relaxed, even if it is still hidden, sit on the floor with one hand outstretched towards it (fingers curled). It may not investigate you for the first several attempts, but eventually it will be curious enough to sniff you especially if it is used to getting titbits by hand. In most cases, the cat will still be in its favorite hiding place (den) at this stage. If it starts coming out to investigate you or sits in the open, you are making excellent progress as considers you to be unthreatening.

Physical Contact and Playing
It's still a long way from 'unthreatening' to 'friendly'. It is an especially long haul to the next step which is touching the cat. Don't move onto this stage until the cat allows you to place your hands near it without it reacting with defensive aggression.

When the cat is relaxed move your hand slowly towards it. Talk reassuringly. If it hisses or growls then stop, leave your hand where it is until the cat sniffs it or ignores it. Leave it there a little longer then slowly move it away (if you move too fast, the cat will probably swipe at it instinctively). The aim is to touch the cat's fur without it reacting badly. Start with top-of-head scratches and progress to back scratches and cheek scratches. Avoid touching its legs and belly as many cats simply don't like these areas touched. Don't ever surprise the cat or touch it suddenly from behind. It will defend itself.

Always move slowly and keep talking. Be alert for any sign of trouble (defensive aggression) - flattened ears, dilated pupils, low growling, swishing tail, prickled fur or an extreme cases, the cat may flatten its whole body against the floor and wall and may even lose bladder/bowel control because it feels cornered. Many cats, even domestic pets, pee in fright. If this happens, back off to a point where the cat is comfortable for a few days before trying to move closer again. If the cat starts purring at any stage, you know you have turned the corner and the battle is half-won. Once again, it will probably still be in its 'den' at this stage. If it has come out to investigate you, you have made excellent progress.

Note: Wait until the cat moves to another hiding place before cleaning 'accidents'. Use a specialist cleaning solution and deodorizer to mop up cat urine/feces. Do not use chlorine bleach or general disinfectant since some are toxic while others break down into products which smell like cat pee and encourage inappropriate toileting. A dilute solution of white vinegar may help. Bleach based on sodium hypochlorite (e.g. Domestos) may be used in proportions 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.

During the last two stages you have been encouraging the cat to come out into the room with you present. It's important it regards you as part of the furniture which is why you should spend plenty of time with it. Generally, if you can get to the stroking and purring stage you can entice it out. Never make any sudden moves - it will still be very wary and will either run for cover or panic. However, some cats are still in hiding at this point even if they do allow stroking.

Games with feathers on string, wands and ping-pong balls may entice your cat out into the open and it may lose some of its inhibitions while playing. If necessary, pat the toy around a little on your own so the cat can watch you. It will soon get the idea that the toy is harmless (sometimes I have had cats forget themselves and join in, even making physical contact with me while they play). Start of slowly, it has never seen cat toys before and may be fearful of them, but few cats can resist a trailed piece of string. When socializing fearful cats, I like to leave some balls or soft cat toys in the room with them. The cats have frequently kept me awake during the night with rowdy play.

Stroking and Starting Socialization
When you have reliably reached the stroking stage, try sitting on the floor with a towel or some bedding on your lap. Using food treats, encourage the cat to sit on you when it is stroked. If the cat has built up a bond of trust, you may be able to pick it up (I recommend wearing leather gloves) and place it on your lap. Many cats (ferals and domestics) never learn to like sitting on laps, but will come to sit next to you for some attention.

If you can pick the cat up, start to pick it up and sit it on your lap on a chair. Once again, if the cat gets defensive or distressed, back off to the sitting on floor stage for several days before trying again. Always progress at the cat's pace and never rush things. You have made a lifetime commitment to this cat and these initial weeks or months will lay the foundation for you relationship.

By the end of this stage you should be able to reliably pick up the cat and place it on your lap or on a seat next to you and it stays there to be petted (you may need to use gentle persuasion or restraint if it seems uncertain about staying put, but never attempt restrain a scared or struggling cat). You have bonded with it, but you now have to introduce it to other people and to the rest of your household.

It's possible that your partner or grown up children (if you have them) have taken part in these early stages. I usually find that the initial taming is done by one brave and committed person and that other members of the household don't get involved until the cat has lost much of its wildness. If they haven't previously been involved, get them to sit in the room talking to the cat and also playing with it with string or wands. At first it will refuse to play with strange people, but sooner or later it will overcome its shyness.
MuttCats.com

The entire article, which includes all aspects of taming a feral and acclimating it to your home is a sticky at the top of this page. This method is also approved by Dr. Jean Holve's partner, a behavior expert. The important thing is that the cat should make all of the decisions, and do every step at its own pace.

This method was developed by behaviorists. My last post was about a tamed cat who had been bullied and did not come out of hiding except to come in my bedroom window for food. I tried to help her get used to human touch again, and fortunately, it worked. Your cat might fit that mold. If not, try the behaviorists' method of taming a feral cat. The article is well worth reading, despite its length.

This link is from Little Cat Big Cat, a site composed by Dr. Jean Holve, veterinarian and her partner, the behaviorist, Jackson Galaxy. There are free articles concerning many health and behavior problems cats have.

http://www.littlebigcat.com/index.php?action=whoweare

http://www.littlebigcat.com/index.php?action=whoweare


And tips from another expert:

Quote:
1.Think like a Feral Cat. Allow her to be scared. Reset your clock to her needs.
2.First things first Ė a trip to the vet. Have your vet check for worms and parasites (fleas and ticks), test for FeLV and FIV, ringworm and lice. Spay or neuter as soon as possible.
3.Prepare your home: a dark room that is fully cat-proofed, with hiding places, food, water, toys, two litterboxes filled with organic-only potting soil, and articles of your clothing bearing your scent and placed in appropriate places around the room.
4.Release her into the prepared room and leave her alone for 24 hours.
5. Be prepared for the worst when you go in the room. Wear long sleeves, long pants, gloves, shoes, and bring along a piece of cardboard for a shield in case she attacks out of fear.
6.Work on building trust. Food = trust. Feed her on a regular schedule and stay in the room while she eats.
7.Donít force contact with her. Petting is a threat; let her come to you when she is ready.
Avoid direct eye contact with her. Eye contact is aggressive to a feral.
Initiate play with a fishing pole type toy. Never play using your hands as the object of attack.

8.Be prepared for two steps forward, five steps back. It takes a while and a lot of testing on her part for her to truly trust you.
9.Pay attention to her body language. When she says, ďThatís enough,Ē back off. This reinforces her trust.
10.Donít have expectations of this cat. Let her show you who she is, accept her quirks and limits, and you will have a friend for life.
http://www.straypetadvocacy.org/html/so ... l_cat.html

I wish you the best.




Jeanie

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post #6 of 21 (permalink) Old 12-21-2008, 08:13 PM
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Re: Can anyone give some advice on handling my feral cat??

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeanie
That is not the method approved by behavior experts.
Surely you could have been more diplomatic and less...abrupt...towards me.

Because every step that I outlined I found in the information you posted, so it looks like the experts and I actually are in agreement. The only difference between your experts' excerpts and my own post? I did not begin my (and may I point out: my very abbreviated) outline of what I do relating it to a completely feral cat (like my Pretty and Malibu were) and instead tailored it to her description of a "formerly feral" cat and the things she could try.

NONE of the things I detailed are things I would ever try with a completely feral cat who has had no human contact, which is what your two examples detailed. I worked long and hard to get Mallie and Pretty to the points of handling I described, and I did so without the benefit of having the cat contained in a house or a room. They were both outside cats and I did state how long both took me to achieve just that first touch. It was weeks/months (and in Pretty's case, a year) after that first touch before I could push physical handling with either of them. Because of our outdoor setting, everything is dictated by the cat's acceptance and there is no way I could proceed without the cat's approval.

I shared what procedures worked for me. Certainly a person needs to do it at the cat's speed, but you do need to make progress while you listen to what the cat can tolerate.
I will say again:
"Advance/retreat. You need to advance to make progress, but you need to retreat before you've reached her maximum tolerance level."

Worked for me and Flash, Inky, Bonnie, The Wanderer, Blaze, Tiger, Oscar, TonyHawk, TiggerThreeToes, Tabby, Tess, Daisy, Dagger, Diego, Todd, Malibu, Shadow, CalicoBob, Toddson, Cheetah, Lilly, Domingo, Winston, Pretty, Dusty, LuckyDuck and is continuing to work with Bella and Luna. I have been lucky that I have not yet failed in an attempt to tame a feral. So, while I haven't yet met my match, and I'm sure I will at some point, surely I'm doing something right to have such success with my ferals?

Lilyb, good luck with whatever methods you try with your kitty. I wish you both success and the best of everything. I'm sure you will find a way that works for you both, suited for both your cat's temperament and your willingness to try.
Heidi



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post #7 of 21 (permalink) Old 12-21-2008, 08:27 PM
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Re: Can anyone give some advice on handling my feral cat??

Heidi has helped me a great deal with my four foster feral kittens. Go at the cat's pace, but each time the cat becomes comfortable with a certain level of handling, do push a tiny little bit to help bring her to the next comfort level.

The very best of luck to you! It's a beautiful thing when a feral kitty comes over to the light side.
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post #8 of 21 (permalink) Old 12-21-2008, 09:25 PM
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Re: Can anyone give some advice on handling my feral cat??

Lilyb, I wanted to ask you to keep us posted about your progress and challenges with Honey (I saw her pic on the Orange Cats thread, she is a beauty!) because by sharing what worked for you and her, and how she reacted (both good and bad) could help other CF members who need help with their kitty getting used to handling.
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post #9 of 21 (permalink) Old 12-22-2008, 01:39 AM
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Re: Can anyone give some advice on handling my feral cat??

One other possible thing you could try is a Spirit Essence product called Feral Rehabilitation.

http://www.spiritessence.com/?action...act=view&id=70


A friend of mine has started using the Spirit Essence Products and had good results.

I saw your sweet orange kitty on the Orange cat thread. Very cute girl!

Were glad you have joined CF. Youll find alot of information here to help you!
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post #10 of 21 (permalink) Old 12-22-2008, 05:18 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Can anyone give some advice on handling my feral cat??

Wow - thanks to everyone for your very helpful responses. Definitely loads of great ideas here to try

She does love her chicken so will get some cream of chicken soup and try that magic formula too.

At the moment I'm also giving her 1x75mg capsule of zylkene every day. She seems a bit more chilled out but then that might just have happened anyway. Does anyone have any experience of using feliway? I thought i may order the diffuser if it would help.

The spirit essence product looks great - I'm in the UK so it might be quite expensive to get it shipped but if I don't have any success in my local natural remedy shop I may still order it and take the hit for shipping from the States.

Thanks again for all your help. I'll keep you updated on my progresss.

Lx


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