Seeking advice on handling feral kittens - Cat Forum : Cat Discussion Forums
 
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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 10-29-2017, 08:08 PM Thread Starter
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Seeking advice on handling feral kittens

Hi all,

Since Wednesday I've been working with a litter of four 5-6 week old feral kittens, in the hopes of adopting them out. While we've made some progress, I feel stumped on how to get them to accept human handling. Here's the background:

Their mom was apparently nursing the kittens in my bushes, and I first noticed them on my lawn two weeks ago. I trapped them 5 days ago and put them in a crate with litter box, water and dry food in a near-empty guest room with a bed directly on the floor (so they can't crawl under it). I bring them baby food and kitten food every time I enter the room.

I started letting them out of the crate to explore and interact with me on day 2. Today, day 5, they are living out of the crate. The room has a few boxes and cat cubes and a scratching post. They are playing a lot with each other and I can play with them with a snake toy. I talk to them and they have gotten more comfortable with my presence in the room. When I feed them, I sit on the floor with legs outstretched and a plate of food on my legs. They will climb onto my legs to eat. They will also eat from my finger (which is gloved because a couple will bite down). They sleep on the bed curled up together, and have gotten used to me lying down a couple of feet away.

But I am having a lot of trouble with handling them, and every time I try I feel like I'm setting things back. A couple of days ago I was able to stroke their backs while they ate. Now they hiss at me and run away when after the first stroke. I've tried to pick them up with and without towels and they just panic and hiss. I've stopped trying for fear of setting things further back, and now I just hang out with them.

While they're more comfortable with me, I'm realizing that they may never be okay with being petted and handled without intervention and a little forced handling.

Would very much appreciate any advice here. Should I just be patient and keep hanging out with them, and they'll come around eventually?
Do I just keep trying to pick them up using a towel, and just overpower them if they struggle? Do I need to separate them? (I'm afraid I may have to, though I don't know how I'd manage this.).

Thanks for reading, and any advice you can offer.

Caroline

Caroline
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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 10-29-2017, 09:14 PM
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Out of the 4 cats we have, 2 daughter and 2 us, all were a rescue with 3 being feral kittens. Daughter's two were found/caught about 5-6 weeks of age and our Kali was believed to be 8 weeks. Daughter's two adjusted immediately, but I also recall the vet saying that we were lucky with the age as 8 weeks is the point at which they have a problem being domesticated. Our Kali, though very loving is that little bit more distant, and I wonder if that little age difference mattered.

Anyhow, your situation. If they are actually 5 - 6 weeks of age, I would expect they would adjust. So I am trying to offer you hope. As for methodology, I hope that others here can be of help.

I did do an internet search on "how to domesticate feral kittens" and saw the following instructions. Don't know if my posting as a cut and paste is a no no, but you would get the same hits using safari and that phrase.

"Give the kitties a safe space. Once you are able to bring the feral kittens indoors, create a safe space for them in a bathroom, spare room or other confined space, where they won’t be around humans, dogs or other cats. Install a litter box (they’ll instinctively know what to do with it) and supply food, water, beds and cat toys. At first, the kittens will be scared to death of you and won’t come near you. They’ll hide when you enter the room and hiss and scratch at you if you get to close. This is all perfectly normal behavior.

Ignore them. If you try to get the feral kittens to come to you before they’re ready, the only result will be hands and arms covered with scratches. When you first start working with them, the best approach is no approach: Ignore them until they’re ready to investigate you. Unfortunately, it could take days or weeks for them to start coming around, but your patience will pay off eventually.

Read to them. My favorite way to get feral kittens accustomed to being around humans is to sit in the room with them and read aloud from a book. The book serves two purposes: It keeps you from getting bored — of course — and it allows the kittens to get used to the sound of human voices. Visit them for about 15 minutes at a time, as many times a day as your schedule allows.

Introduce them to play. With enough time and patience, you’ll find that the kittens will start investigating you — let’s hope sooner rather than later. Don’t grab at them or make sudden moves, which can set you back days. Instead, arm yourself with a couple of string toys, the kind that have a feathery mouse dangling off a short pole — or a laser pointer — and tease them into pouncing on it. You’ll be able to engage with them without having to get too close.

Handle with care! Once the kittens begin to respond to your presence and play with toys, take things a step further by initiating physical contact. Go slow and let them come to you. Don’t grab them, and don’t pressure them into doing anything they aren’t ready for yet. When you are able to handle them regularly, do so as often as possible. Your primary goal at this point is to acclimate them to human touch."
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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old 10-30-2017, 10:37 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you for sharing your story, smoda61. That is interesting about your Kali, I did read that 8 weeks seems to be a turning point when it's trickier to bond with cats--that they are better at "changing their minds" about people when they're younger (it sounds like Kali a happy member of the family, regardless).

Thank you also for copying the post! I've read conflicting things, e.g. some say to wrap them in towels and handle them immediately, others that you have to separate them, etc. But so far taking it slow--as that post suggests--is definitely helping to build their trust. Today I kept a cat dancer wriggling around and over my legs and they were jumping all over me. When they all got tired, the smallest one--who was the most frightened and hissy at first--came the closest and fell asleep next to me. I resisted the urge to pet him just yet, just put my hand near him for a bit. So far, things are improving steadily and I'll see where it goes over the next few days before I try anything else.

Thanks again! Caroline
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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 11-04-2017, 09:46 AM
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@Carolinr, slow and steady is more likely to win you this race. That, combined with lots of food and patience is how I tamed all the feral farm cats on our farm. Quite a few of them were already adults when i learned to know them, so taming them was very difficult. I was lucky and found most of their kittens in time to raise them more like "normal" kittens. For the adults, and those kittens not found in time, I basically followed the following approach.
1. Food, you're already on a good track there, the way to most cats' hearts is through their tummies. If they associate you with food, they associate you with good things, and that's well, good.
2. Try not too grab them, unless it's a life and death situation, no reason to. Lots and lots and lots of casual little touches, preferably while they're distracted with eating. That's what I did, the barn cats' "bowls" they had old train sleepers for bowls, I'll try and find some pics later, they were fed on top of whatever platforms we could construct to keep the dogs away from their food. I would hang out with them and just casually touch a few backs while passing by. Lots of dirty looks, but I always moved on before they could get seriously antsy and move away. That way I tamed even a female I had names Oreo who would when I learned to know her would not come within three meters of me.
Good luck with your little monsters, I hope you've managed to get mom spayed, because otherwise you're going to have the same problem in four or so months.
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post #5 of 8 (permalink) Old 11-05-2017, 06:48 AM
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How is it going? It has now been about 6 more days. Any progress?

Last edited by marie73; 11-05-2017 at 09:05 AM.
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post #6 of 8 (permalink) Old 11-06-2017, 10:54 PM Thread Starter
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Update

@2Siamese, thanks, I kept this in mind the past few days, and @smoda61, we are definitely making progress! Now a couple of the kittens will purr when I give them baby food as a treat, and will let me pet them & even fall asleep on my legs. I've been waiting for a breakthrough where they actually enjoy the petting and just tonight I was able to get 2 of them to purr during petting. I've tried to go cautiously and so far it's paying off.

The bigger kittens are still more wary of me than the tinier ones. But I'm more confident that with patience we may get to where they are okay with human touch.

Adding a photo that was taken when I first spotted them in my bushes a few weeks ago (been hard to get good shots in the house). I think they were 4 weeks old at the time. Two are black just like their mom, and two look Siamese (or Balinese-they are fluffy).

My neighbor, who has been feeding the mama for months, said she would try to get her trapped and spayed but I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon. So I made spay appointment through a local rescue and am going to try to TNR.

Thanks for the support all. Caroline
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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old 11-16-2017, 12:39 AM Thread Starter
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Update

Well, we've come a long way and want to let anyone in a similar situation know that slow, steady and patient has worked out well. Baby food has been really key because when I bring it out they lose all fear and get up close and personal, which gives me a chance to pet the more hesitant ones. Now they are calm and purry when being petted--a couple liking longer sessions and the others preferring shorter ones and still a little skittish. I've connected with a local rescue and think they'll be ready for adoption soon.

Attaching a current pic of this little brood.

-Caroline
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Caroline
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post #8 of 8 (permalink) Old 11-16-2017, 01:20 PM
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They are adorable. I hope they can find a good home. Kudos to you for keeping with it.
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