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I’m new to this forum and to raising a feral cat, but I have a few questions for the old hands. Thanks in advance for any advice ....


I have a 5-month old feral that I adopted from a municipal rescue center a little over 1 month ago. It was among a litter that had been captured off the streets along with the mother. I took the last kitten, and I don’t know the fate of the mother.

I gave the kitten free roam of the house for a month to observe it and give it a chance to bond spontaneously, but we made little progress and I rarely saw him except for mealtimes, where he would only eat at the opposite end of a room. About 1 week ago, I invested in a tiered cage for forced socialization. It’s big enough to accommodate a litter box, scratching post, water bowl and resting ledge. There's only me and him, no other animals or people.


He will play with wand toys poked through the cage bars, though his play seems excessively rough and his goal appears to be to destroy the toys rather than actually play with them (he gnaws right through the string.)

I’m spoon-feeding chunks of tinned food and offering individual pellets of dried cat food. Each time I serve a piece, he withdraws a few inches, hisses and swats, then relaxes and gobbles down the food. He gets no “free feed” and all meals are served this way.



He loosens up a little during feeding sessions, and by the end of a session, the hissing/swatting has stopped. But each new session his brain seems to "reset" and we are back to square one.


My question is: Am I doing this all wrong? I feel I am reinforcing his bad behavior by feeding him while he is showing aggression. However, he always seems to be aggressive when hungry. Any way out of this catch-22?
 

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I can throw in my opinion, but hopefully someone more knowledgeable will come along to give advice as well.

Every kitten takes their own amount of time to adjust to their surroundings and the people in them. You haven't really said what the kitten has been doing while its roaming about the place though - does it completely avoid you? How do you get it in the cage? Where does it spend most of its time?

From what I've read of taming feral kittens (and it pretty much is the same for feral cats) is that you start them off in one room. You leave them alone a lot of the time at first, just so they can adjust to the room they're in, you come in and feed them, and sit in the same room with them. Maybe read a book or something. Just get it used to you being in the room to start with.

I think the idea you have about feeding the kitten in a cage is not the best, though I really have no experience with these things, it doesn't sound like the interaction is positive - what with the hissing and being trapped in a cage. You should try and make every visit you have with the kitten as stress free for the kitten as possible and not push its boundary limits. To entice it closer to you, crouch low to the ground, or lay on the ground, holding out something tasty. You've only been at this two weeks... it can take a LONG time for a feral kitten to come around, a year or more in some cases, but often kittens don't take as long to be willing to interact with humans.

In my experience with my feral kitten, which was trapped from behind a dumpster where the him and the other kittens had been living, he had not had the best interactions with people - likely a lot of loud noises and people chasing them away. To this day - 15 years later - he's still terrified of the sound of plastic bags and garage trucks. When I got him he was about six months old. For the first month he did not move off the couch and I was worried that he wasn't eating or drinking enough. He would hiss all the time. We lived in about a 700 square foot apartment and it took about a year before he was willing to explore the area closer to the hall by the door, probably because that's where loud noises came from. A feral kitten is a real time consuming commitment, but they can turn out to but just as loving as any other cat. Mine is a big baby now, purring, meows a lot, follows you around the house and hasn't hissed at anyone or anything in about 13 years.

Have you read this: Taming Feral Kittens

It likely reinforces some of my suggestions and you might find it very helpful.

Best of luck!
 

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I have tamed and socialized plenty of older feral kittens and adult cats.
Patient persistence pays off.
I have found food to be the best motivator and a restricted area for interaction to give the best results. I don't feel you feeding him as he hisses/swats is reinforcing any bad behavior. He is simply communicating to you that he is uncomfortable with the arrangement, but hunger wins out.

You have a long way to go, but you can get there. Think like a cat and try not to act 'predator-ish' yourself. Be slow and deliberate in your words/movements. Give him opportunities to learn and trust. They will NOT learn while they are frightened, but eventually, with patient repetition, they will relax and become open to thinking about what has happened and learn new ways to look at their situation.

Taming ferals can take a long time. Don't become discouraged too easily. One of my most toughest cases took 14mo from TNR (trap-neuter-return) to the time I was able to just barely, lightly touch one finger to her coat. It took about 4yrs from TNR, but she finally became one of our relaxed and confident housecats.

Just keep your end-goal in mind and realize that repetetive baby-steps that practice and reinforce the skills you've been introducing him to ... will carry you both wherever you want to go. The baby steps just seem like they don't get you very far, but they do. Don't give up!
heidi =^..^=
 

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I've taken in several young and several adult ferals, some as wild as the wind. You'll get lots of good advice here, so I won't add much. Just two things: (1) Don't think of it as a 'job' -- just go about your life and move around as you normally would, but have lots of conversations with him and show him what you're doing. (2) Don't take anything personally that he says or does to you. His world is colliding with yours and it may take him a long, long time to adjust and understand.

You will learn more patience from this experience than any other. But, man, is it worth it!:love2
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thanks a lot for all the great advice. I know it's going to take a long time, and I have to trust that he will come around eventually. I just don't want ingrain any nasty habits that could be impossible to remove later. I'd like to serve him food only when he doesn't hiss/swat, but I think this would stretch out the sessions to marathon lengths that would trying for both of us.
I don't like the cage any more than he does, but I do think it's the only way to get close enough.
 

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Socializing formerly feral felines (fff)

I think you're on the right track; food is a great and sometimes the only motivator, at least initially. I personally don't like the idea of a crate: could you confine the kitten in a small room, like a bathroom? If the kitten can have access to a medicine cabinet or bookcase like furniture (good place to hide), all the better. And try experimenting with the types of food, like 100% (cooked) beef or chicken pieces. Feed kitty by hand as you are doing, just "up the game". If you are able to give kitty an entire room by herself, then you can graduate feeding her by hand, to moving the food closer to your body so kitty has to move closer to--and on-- you. Also, it took kitty at least four months to learn to distrust humans, so don't expect kitty to be able to trust you in four weeks much less days. Every kitten is different, even within the same litter. Among the four kittens in "Ritz" litter (Ritz is a fff, trapped when she was around six months old), "Taz" became friendly in around four weeks, Ritz five weeks, and Ripley and Riley five MONTHS.
Finally, bless you for taking on this fff. I wish there were more kind, patient souls like you. (I'm myself am trying to find fosters for the eight cats in my feral colony.)
 

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is the little guy fixed, this can change their whole outlook on being tame, i had a wild one year old female that took 1.5 years to tame down(she is now a lap magnet) have also a male ferral that was trapped at around a year old(he was making a good living on the birds in the area)about two weeks after getting him fixed we held back on his food and only spoon fed him canned food, he relized this was pretty good deal and tamed down in a matter of days..
 

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Discussion Starter #8
I'm not sure I can put his issues down to teenage angst but I agree that it's something that needs to be done sooner or later. I'll get him fixed as soon as I can find some way to get him in a cat carrier. He's not going to go in there without a vicious fight and I think that would blow any chance of ever bonding with him. At the very least it will wipe out the modest progress made over the last 6 weeks.
I had to trick him (food as bait) to get him into the socialization cage, and I don't think he's going to fall for that again.
 

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I have a dumpster colony feral I acquired within 3 days of being trapped (vet estimated @ 6 mos old).Also still afraid of loud noises & paper/plastic being rattled! No other cats in the house. I did confine him in a small bathroom with a cat bed to "hide" in & his food, water & little litterbox. I just went in & put his food out for him; he would always scurry into his bed where he soon let me touch him, but mostly I would go in, sit & talk or sing softly to him, which seemed easier than talking & seemed to fascinate him. I waited, too, several weeks before taking him to the vet. Even then I had to grab him & force him in as he wouldn't go for a baited transporter. He actually got away once & I had to run him down a second time. I felt like a monster. It seemed for about a half a day after he got back he had had a setback, but then became cautiously tolerant of me again. We've had him about 7 mos now & he still won't get on a lap or up on most things, although has just started taking some of his naps on our bed up by my pillow! (when no one is there, of course) He loves rubbing us & being petted & tolerates being picked up, and hangs out with us most of the time, comes when called, etc. I don't know about the cage, it seems less friendly or something, but others here know a lot more than I do! I think patience, patience, patience along with lots of verbal communication and companionship and gentleness and letting him know you are his food source.
 

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Hi Janis, your attached photo looks just like my Inky! Happy to know your vet visit didn't cause a major setback in socialization. I might ask a friend to do the thug work for me ... :D
 
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