Need suggestions for 2 (semi?) feral kittens! - Cat Forum : Cat Discussion Forums
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post #1 of 53 (permalink) Old 10-16-2013, 08:16 PM Thread Starter
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Need suggestions for 2 (semi?) feral kittens!

To make a long story short:

I brought home two kittens on Saturday. I knew they had been raised by mama, who is a socialized outdoor cat, and they were the last of their litter to be caught and rehomed. We live on a small farm and have some rodent problems, so my plan was to make spoiled outdoor working cats out of these two. However, I'm not used to cats, I'll freely admit, and I didn't expect them to be quite as wild as they are proving to be. They went from Puss 'n' Boots innocent to demon possessed spitfires in two seconds flat, and promptly escaped. Oh if I could only go back and redo that moment... anyway. They returned within 24 hours and took up residence by our back porch underneath the well house. I fed them twice a day at milking time. They would eat in front of me if I kept my distance, but that's about it. Because they are sill in that young, 8 ish week range, I decided to catch them again... I don't want truly feral cats running around here, and I don't want to have to trick them into vet visits later, you know?

They are currently in a sectioned off area in my bathroom (it's weirdly large). It's the only shower but we have other toilets we can use, and right now it's just DH and I in the house. I'm hoping I can make some progress with them by Sunday, so I can move them into the shop outdoors and keep working on them from there. We have a roommate who is mildly allergic to cats, and he's gone until Sunday night.

Today, I positioned myself in front of the crate, but not facing it, and put a plate of food between them and me. Then I studiously read my book for over an hour before they finally came out. The orange male ate, and the grey female (this is what I was told they probably are) promptly looked for an escape. These kittens are lightening fast, can jump high, and are REALLY good climbers. Though even if they escaped the enclosure they couldn't escape the bathroom. Pretty quickly, the orange male used my makeshift litter box, which was positioned in front of me, though I made of point of not look at him while he was doing his business. I stayed in there awhile longer with them. They didn't show much interest in me. The orange male meows, and the grey female seems to be the more skittish of the two. I exited the enclosure after about two hours in there total, and managed to get out without anyone hissing at me. I was careful not to look at them or move directly toward them. Then I sat on a chair for awhile on the other side of my "wall" I made. They napped in the corner. I had a quite phone conversation, during which one, or maybe both, meowed a little, and then they went back in the crate. Since I want to associate the crate with "their" space, I retrieved the empty food dish and shut the door gently.

I've been in and out of the bathroom since, not going out of my way to make noise but not tip toeing either, and am wondering, now what? Keep doing what I was doing? Once or twice a day? I have zero experience with wild kittens; I admit they shocked me a little. The grey female tore my hand up pretty good before escaping, which is probably why she is more wary of me.

Well, now you're probably thinking, that was the short version? I figured that in order to get the best advice, opinions, tips, etc., I had better give you as many details as possible. Please don't stone me - I truly didn't realize I was getting such wild kittens, and I wasn't really prepared for it, honestly. I want to do my best by them, and want to try to avoid hindering any progress we might make. Help?
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post #2 of 53 (permalink) Old 10-16-2013, 10:58 PM
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No, it's good to provide as many details as possible, so don't worry about length.
Did you mention how old the kittens were? Kittens younger than 8 weeks are relatively easy to socialize, after 8 weeks, it gets progressively harder.

My boyfriend and I recently tamed a feral kitten-I swear she was the devil at first and I didn't know jack about taming ferals. So I hit the internet. I will save you the hours of research and refer you to the best site: Urban Cat League.
Taming Ferals - UrbanCatLeague

It is definitely worth the read, and watch the videos.

You basically have the right idea. Your first step is to get them to eat in front of you. Once they are doing that, you can move the bowl closer and closer to you and eventually start touching them and whatnot. I won't rehash everything from the site.

One thing I would change in your strategy is how long you leave the food out. Only leave it out for about 30 minutes or so. If they don't eat, pick up the food and try again at the next feeding. Their hunger will drive them to eat in front of you before too long. Also, you may want to pick up some meat baby food-apparently kittens LOVE that stuff.

I will let you look over that site and I will monitor this thread to see if you have any more questions. You've got the right ideas going on, just may need to tweak your techniques some.
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post #3 of 53 (permalink) Old 10-16-2013, 11:07 PM
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If you want some more websites, I saved some of the ones that were the most helpful to me. They all pretty much say the same thing, and I think the one I gave you in the previous post is the most comprehensive, plus it has the video. But here are some more links:

Taming Feral Kittens - Feral Cat Coalition

Taming Feral Kittens
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post #4 of 53 (permalink) Old 10-16-2013, 11:57 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks! The only reason I persevered so long this afternoon was a) I had the time and b) I wanted them to come out while I was there. But I can already tell they are getting braver... It probably took them 15 minutes max to venture out this evening. And I'm really not very far away from them... maybe a couple feet. They are getting more used to me and to the idea that I'm not, in fact, going to eat them. lol

They are 8 weeks old, I'd say into their 9th week now. I know that's right on the cusp, but because these guys weren't totally without exposure to humans before me, I feel fairly confident that I can get them to come around. The fact that they ventured out so fast tonight tells me that they should get better. Or they are very hungry, but I think they've been getting enough at least to not be starving and desperate. This is mostly them - they get spooked and leave the food, and I decide to try again in the morning. Tonight they let me fiddle with my phone beside them and I was even able to snap a few (bad) pictures before they got nervous.

Thanks for the links - I've watched the Urban Cat League's videos and they were helpful. It's just a little harder for me to simulate that environment here... I wasn't planning on this level of taming. I hope to spend quality time twice a day with them, maybe three times a day if I'm home. Tomorrow I plan to get some stinky tuna, salmon, or sardines for an evening treat... depending on how they're doing, I may try to see if they'll take it from a spoon. I'm feeding raw food, which is what they were getting at their previous home along with mama's milk. They seem to really like it, both before and after catching them.
I don't know if it would upset their tummies to be fed anything else at this point... but I could grind some meat up and try that, I suppose, instead of baby food? Hmmm. I also want to add here that their poo looks normal.

ETA: The Feral Cat Coalition site says that part of their process is to handle using a towel. I've been on the fence about whether to do that, or at what stage to try it. Thoughts?

Last edited by marie73; 04-17-2014 at 03:05 AM.
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post #5 of 53 (permalink) Old 10-17-2013, 12:33 AM
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We had a hard time simulating Urban Cat League's set up as well, so we tweaked what we learned there. And our kitten progressed so quickly that the steps got all jumbled into one. Our kitten was probably 7 weeks, and she surprisingly came around in just a few days. It sounds like your kitties will come around relatively quickly.

I have no idea if baby food or even canned food will upset their systems if they are used to raw/whole food. Better just try the sardines.

I will check out that sight. I have been considering raw for my girls, but I am still on the fence about it. In the mean time, I am just going to incorporate raw once or twice a week and see how it goes.

As far as using a towel, I don't know if it is really necessary in this case. And if you don't do it right, you could really freak them out. I probably wouldn't use a towel. We didn't need to with Arya (the kitten we tamed).
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post #6 of 53 (permalink) Old 10-17-2013, 12:50 AM
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If 8 weeks is an accurate age, they should come around really fast. I wouldn't use the towel unless you aren't making progress with them any other way.

The scratching can be scary. We had one of our L batch fosters who took a chunk out of each of our hands. Try to bear in mind how afraid she must have been and be extra patient with her. Don't be afraid of her; she'll pick up on that. It sounds like you're doing everything right...keep up the good work and I think you'll be surprised at how fast they come around.


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post #7 of 53 (permalink) Old 10-17-2013, 01:27 PM
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I've tamed kittens a bit older than that, they were being fed a what-ever-their-momma-could-catch diet lol. I used canned food to bring them around, as long as you use a grain free canned and just use it for practice you should be good. The baby food is ok too...

TBH what I'd use though is chicken hearts. They seem to be raw fed kitty candy. My cats gobble them up like there's no tomorrow, lol.

As far as the towel method...I didn't read it, but I would try this:

Put on gloves. Scruff one of the kittens, then move it to your lap (or the floor right in front of you if they're doing their best chainsaw impression). Use your other hand to pet and scratch the kitten gently, speak to it in a calm voice. Rub it's head and neck, good scratches will help. Ideally you're aiming for purring, but in the beginning just relaxing a bit is good enough. Once the kitten has relaxed you can let go and they can choose to move away, or they may stay for more loves.

Repeat with the second kitten.

If you do that once a day, or twice is better, you'll see big changes quickly. They need to learn ASAP that people are nice and pets are great. At this age they're very forgiving, so you can use gentle force (scruffing, but otherwise treating them gently) to help them come around.

You'll fine that after a few days you probably won't need to scruff them, a hand on their neck will do, and you'll start getting purrs pretty quickly. After that they'll relax, maybe even fall asleep on you. The kitten I caught were 12 weeks old, and it took me a week to get some of them napping on me. I'd bet your boy will be like that.

The little female may take a bit longer, but between the food, cuddling, and add in some play time (ideally something where you hold fairly still) they'll be happy to see you in no time. Laser pointers are perfect play for these kittens, you can hold still and move only your hand and they'll forget you're even there.

Now we need pics!!!
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post #8 of 53 (permalink) Old 10-17-2013, 01:53 PM Thread Starter
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Here they are!

There is progress even in just one night. I went in this morning (knocking softly before entering the bathroom, as I've been doing since last night to announce my intentions), and I found them curled up on the counter! On my camisole! It's a bad color on me and I won't wear it, so I left in there on purpose. They did NOT spook and run when I came in. I went to the sink (not the one pictured, my bathroom as two side by side), took out my retainer, etc., and they didn't move! Then I tried something new. I made eye contact and did some slooow blinks. The orange one definitely gave me a slow blink back! The grey one... I'm not so sure. She's braver... the orange one hides behind her a bit. They were trembling slightly but held their ground, even when I came back to quietly snap a picture with my phone. Progress!!!
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post #9 of 53 (permalink) Old 10-17-2013, 02:48 PM
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OMG. They are SOOOOO cute! They look tiny. They look younger than 8 weeks to me, but that could be due to lack of nutrition, etc. But they are so adorable.

If you have a dirty t-shirt of yours or something with your scent on it, put it in their room/kennel so they can get used to your smell. What you're doing is great though, just being around them doing normal stuff helps them get used to people. Eye contact is GREAT, that's a huge step! It sounds like they are definitely coming around!
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post #10 of 53 (permalink) Old 10-17-2013, 03:05 PM
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I am willing to bet that in one weeks time these two will be almost lap cats. My first feral kitten adjusted inside of 48 hours. He was about the same age as these two. I have a feeling that the are sharing their fear and that may be slowing them down. My experience with single cats/kittens is they come around quite fast when there is only a human to interact with. I don't know if one learns from the other or not but at this age success is almost guaranteed.
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