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Socialization of Feral Kittens

 

How old is My Kitty?  What are Ferals?  Caring for Ferals. 

This article was written by fellow cat activist known only as "Stray Cat".


Lost or abandoned domestic female cats teach their offspring to be "feral." These latent instincts, acquired from their African Wildcat ancestors, help them to survive in nature. Feral cats are elusive, often nocturnal, and usually fearful of humans. Like most wild animals, they will not attack if unprovoked, but will defend themselves if threatened or cornered. Their strongest instinct is to run. If they feel trapped and escape is blocked they will bite or scratch. Never try to catch a feral by hand. Always use a humane trap. I suggest a semi-heavy long sleeved shirt, jeans, and thick gloves, for your protection and depending on the age of the feral.

I know of two methods that for socializing ferals that will work:
The one you are about to read, (and I believe to be the one most commonly used). The other is something on the new side, called "The T Touch". I have heard some very positive comments about, but as of yet have not attempted it myself.

Any person attempting to tame kittens should be totally committed and patient. The taming process is certainly worthwhile. You are saving lives and producing affectionate loving companions. The keyword is patience, that is something that can not be stressed enough. I will go as far as to say, almost any feral can be socialized to some degree. Some may never be cuddly lap cats, just as some may become completely domestic. Commitment, time, patience and love will tell the tale.

Feral kittens should not be taken from their mothers before they are four weeks old if this is possible. Five to eight weeks, being optimum. Their chances for survival are lowered if taken sooner. You can work with up to six kittens at one time, if you have a willing partner in your effort and some experience. I would recommend one for your first attempt at socializing. "How long will it take?" Ideally, with everything going for you, plus a bit of luck, with a kitten five to eight weeks old, two to four weeks.

The socialization of ferals can be divided into five stages.
(This is assuming you already have the kitten)!

    1.Confinement -
Remember - this kitten now sees you as threat. It is terrified almost to the point of shock in some cases. Feral kittens should be checked out by a veterinarian and tested for diseases contagious to other cats before you bring them home. Keep them isolated from your pet cats, wash your hands, and wear a smock (or change clothes between handling visits) to protect against the spread of disease from the kittens to pets.
If a trap was used to capture the kitten, transfer the kitten to a cage or a pet carrier large enough for a small litter box and bedding for the kitten. This carrier should be kept in a quiet room, where there is not a lot of traffic of any kind. You want the kitten to calm down. You must also provide water and food. Some carriers have bowls that you can fill without opening the carrier. For the next three to four days, visit the kitten often. Sit on the floor, talk very softly, and do not touch the kitten.
    Hint for Bedding....Use some piece of your clothing that has your scent on it!

    2.Handling -
After two or three days, place a towel over the kitten, and pick it up in the towel. If the kitten stays calm, pet it gently on the head from behind. Never approach from the front. A hand coming at the kitten frightens them, which may cause them to hiss or bite. If the kitten remains calm, grip it securely by the nape of the neck; put the towel on your lap and set it on the towel. Stroke the kitten's body while speaking in soft, reassuring tones, then release. Make this first physical contact brief. Now for a treat, like baby food off a spoon. This has won over many Ferals. Repeat this process as frequently as possible.
Brushing with a soft pet brush imitates the action of the mother grooming the kittens and will help the kitten start to transfer its need to you. It is also extremely important for the health of the kitten to remove fleas as soon as possible. Flea combs work great. Kittens become anemic from flea infestation and can easily fall prey to illnesses in this condition. Combing also helps the bonding process.
Never stare at a kitten for prolonged period they may take this as aggression. Try to be on the same level as they are on the floor. You look like a giant when you are standing. You might try a toy now. Perhaps a knee sock tied into a ball or tied to a short stick, for interactive play. Remember you want the kitten to bond with you. I have gone as far as to sleep close to the carrier on the floor for a night or two.

    3.Restrict to a small room -
Within five to seven days, the kittens should have settled in, gotten past the terror stage, and started to bond with you. Every kitten is different, some come around quickly, and some are shyer. Nothing is in stone when dealing with a cat. Now you need to start building up the trust level. You do this by letting the kitten out of the cage. You will need to confine the kitten to a small room, this will allow him some freedom, and he won't feel so trapped. Remember that before you do this, you will need to kitten proof the room. This is like baby proofing. Make sure it is escape proof, look for climbing hazards, cords that can be chewed on, those types of things.

    4.Exposure -
As soon as the kitten is no longer responding to you by biting, scratching or hissing, it is time to start to expose him to other humans. Ferals tend to bond with one human. This is fine if you are going to keep the kitten. If you want to adopt the kitten out, it's time to make new friends. Do this slowly, one new human at a time. Don't have a party or you'll undo all the good you have done.

    5.Adoption -
Carefully Screen Potential Adopters! Many people make up applications, or contracts for the process of adopting out a cat. This is a good idea. You may also want to inspect the home in which the kitten will live. Also, always ask for a donation for the kitten. People who get a kitten free, may not value the kitten as much as they should or they may want a free kitten to sell to a lab. Be careful, you are the only protection the kitten has against a bad owner or worse. Kittens can be placed at eight weeks, if they have become socialized. Temporary vaccinations can be given at six weeks and permanent vaccinations from twelve weeks. I feel strongly that all feral cats should be altered, preferably after they are four months old.


When screening perspective new homes you should look for several things. Feral kittens will do better in a calm, secure environment, where there are no small children. The ideal home would be one in which you could place two kittens together and they would be indoors only cats.
How old is My Kitty?