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Adopting a Feral Cat - Advice?

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  • Adopting a Feral Cat - Advice?

    So in a fit of insanity, I took in a feral cat from a Seattle rescue group today. My barn cat George (a non-feral stray that moved in about 3 years ago) has been very lonely, and increasingly obnoxiously attention seeking, since I had to put my elderly garage cat down in January. He needs a friend, and I decided to do a good deed to get him one.

    She's from a feral colony of about 15 cats, is 4-5 months old, was recently spayed, and is completely untouchable. She's been captive for 3-4 weeks total, but the rescue seems to have put no effort into socializing her. She's tiny - weighed 3lb 13oz when she was spayed 3 weeks ago - and terrified. The rescue rehomes the totally unsocialized ones as "working cats" so for the price of $20 and the time I put in to her, I get a new barn cat to keep my other cat company and help with the rodent population. The rescue installed her in our x-large wire dog crate on the table in the barn. She's got a heated bed, a hidey hole, a litter box, food, water, and a wool horse blanket giving her 80% privacy.

    I don't care if she ever wants to be picked up or sit on my lap, but I would like to put in a valid effort to get her to the point that I can get near her, ideally touch her at will, and make sure she's okay going forward. Catchable for shots is a bonus, but [edit]I'll trap her if required to keep her current on rabies - required by state law[/edit]. Right now, she stays as far from me as possible when I open the crate, growls if I get too close, and the rescue lady says that she will swat you hard if you try to touch her.

    Here's my plan as it stands, I'd love to hear from anyone with any experience or advice.
    • I'm in the barn about an hour a day, spread over 3 times. I feed horses and hens in the morning; clean stalls after work; and put horses in feed dinner at dusk. I'm going to make sure to lift the blanket on the crate and talk to her whenever I'm out there
    • On the rescue's advice, I'm bribing her with canned food morning and dusk to get her to associate me with treats, she has high quality dry food at all times
    • George's food/water dishes are right next to her crate to encourage them to interact. I'm giving him treats and lots of love on the table to encourage him to make friends and show her that I'm not that scary. So far he's half-heartedly hissing at her while purring. He's been up to get food when I've been out of the barn today, so that's positive
    • As soon as she calms down - she's so terrified she's trembling at sight of me - I'll start working to get her to take treats from me
    The rescue seems pretty confident that if I keep her in the crate for 3-4 weeks (since she's so young), and she makes friends with George (likely since she's from a colony and he usually likes other cats), and she comes to associate me/the barn with food and a warm bed, that she'll stick around. I'd consider that a success, but would love to get beyond that. Ideas? Advice? Thoughts?

    Oh, and this is Polly (-Pocket, -Wog, -Soul Patch, take your pick). The rescue provided the picture, and I think it's from as she woke up from being spayed.
    Last edited by UrbanHennery; Apr. 2, 2012, 02:30 PM.

  • #2
    You may get more responses if you post this on the Menagerie forum.

    I also got a feral cat at four months from the feed store, many years ago.
    Caught her with welding gloves after cornering her behind some sacks of grain.
    She was a spitting fury kitten.

    I kept her in the bathroom for some two or three weeks, went there with a book and sat on the floor and read every time I could.
    I had a whip with a string and a feather on the end and flipped it slowly.
    She decided to investigate that and then my shoes and the rest is history:


    She was extremely sweet all her life and used to purr away at the vets and let them carry her around like a stuffed toy.
    She was also very smart and learned by seven or eight months to use the toilet.

    I don't know what yours will turn to be, but if you make an effort, she may become very tame.
    in your situation, with her in the barn, I don't know.


    • #3
      From a given litter of feral kittens, some will become very friendly, some will remain very "feral" (& eveything inbetween).

      On the rescue's advice, I'm bribing her with canned food morning and dusk to get her to associate me with treats, she has high quality dry food at all times
      I would actually just feed her quality canned 3 times a day, after a week or so, I'd introduce some high value treats (S loves loves freeze dried chicken - only 1 brand is worthy of her love - & freeze dried duck liver: these are dog treats anything marketed for cats is beneath her notice).
      Once you've got kitty's attention with the treat (& she's no longer so terrified), introduce an interaction payment for the treats.

      I'd be surprised if she comes around as much as you'd like in a few weeks, though she will likely remain at the barn IF she feels reasonably safe by then.

      You might have more luck training her to "kennel up" than to allow you to touch her - of course after the first time you then take her to the vet etc, it will take time & patience to re-inforce the positives of "kennel up".


      • Original Poster

        Thanks Bluey - once she's calmer I may try to get her to play.

        Alto - what is a high quality wet food? I've only ever fed dry and then used cheap canned as a bribe when/if needed. I'm assuming Fancy Feast doesn't count...


        • #5
          Last summer I worked with some ferals and rescues to spay and rehome over 20 cats.

          My local rescue recommends 5 weeks in the crate- not 3 or 5. It seems at 5 weeks chances of the cat sticking around (and survival) go up significantly.

          One of the ferals- the oldest and more feral of the ferals- is sitting next to me on the couch. I trapped her on Halloween, and now I can pick her up. For a long time, she was in my basement (she escaped while I was transferring her from the trap to a cage), and I was just diligent about bringing her wet food and such. Usually even feral cats will let you touch them when they are eating wet food. I also discovered after a couple months that she LOVES toys. It's like her previous hunting instinct needed to be used or something- but she now dives into the toy basket like a swimming pool and cat toys going flying all over the living room. I pick them all up almost every day.

          She is still a bit skittish, and will probably also run under the couch when a new person comes over and stuff, but I can pick her up now, and she licks my face and gives me nuzzles.

          As long as you make an effort (think like a cat) at 4/5 months your kitten should come around in no time. Lots of love. Lots of treats.


          • #6
            Feral success?

            I've been feeding a feral for 3+ years. We've "progressed" from him fleeing, to his eating on the porch, to his eating inside. I can brush him...but he's definitely not an indoor cat. I got involved when he was 3-ish, so he was probably too old to be domesticated. Playing is not his thing...if he's in the mood, he'll swat at a feather-suspended-on-a pole. But he is fun...even when he gives the occasional swipe with his claws.


            • #7
              I don't know in your area, but around here, feral cats without rabies vaccination are a real danger to our domestic animals and humans.
              They mentioned in the news yesterday that they had a rabies case in a cat right now and several people on the shot series.
              They think the cat got it from a skunk.

              A friend years ago was feeding several feral cats in her yard, she had them half tamed, this one bit her hand out of the blue one day, animal control caught and tested and he was rabid and she had to go thru the shot series.
              She also almost died of an infection caused by the bite, had to spend time in the hospital getting that treated.
              They told her if she had waited to the next morning to come in, when her hand started swelling one evening, she may have died before she could get help, or at least lost her hand.
              Those cat scratches can be really dangerous.

              Just be careful, don't push the kitten where it may scratch you and if it does, tend to the scratches right away and see a doctor.

              I am not sure it is too smart, if you have rabies around, to have any animals, in your house or barn, that are not vaccinated for rabies.

              Just one more factor to consider.


              • #8
                My three barn cats were feral TNR cats; trapped elsewhere and brought here immediately following their neuter surgery.

                We attempted to keep them in a dog crate but the two smaller cats escaped after a day. We let the larger cat out so it was not alone in the cage.

                The first six months I am surprised they did not hurt themselves how scared they were. When we came into the barn they would run so quickly that they would splat into things.

                I fed them wet and dry food. I provided them with comfy beds in the hay pile and I basically left them alone.

                Now they are pushy cats that get brushed and insist we give them attention.

                I did not force attention on them. It just worked out. They slowly came closer at feed time which led to accidental touching, which led to getting petted, etc.


                • #9
                  I have a pair of ferals in my barn that have been there since just after Christmas. (so about three months)

                  They were also part of a TNR program, and were about 14 weeks old when they arrived.

                  I go to the barn to feed them canned food twice a day, but they also have free choice dry.

                  They are limited to one room in the barn and will be until they are less fearful of me. They still scatter and hide in the space under the stairs to the loft when I enter the room.

                  I don't force myself on them. I make my appearance, talk to them, feed them, and leave them be.

                  They have gone from "wide eyed terror" to "squinty eyed calm" when I peek in at them under the stairs. So I think they're getting more comfortable.

                  Time will tell. They don't need to be super friendly as I took them in to keep the rodents down, not to be cuddle bunnies. But I'm hoping to be able to keep up on their rabies vaccs, so getting them to allow touching will be a plus.

                  Good luck with your feral!


                  • #10
                    At the BO's request, I got two feral kittens last year - brother and sister, both neutered. I have been the main one interacting with them. Little Boy is still very fearful and skittish, Little Girl (I know, what an imagination I have . . .) will come over to me and let me pet and scritch her. It helped that the existing resisdent barn cat is adored by both of them, and HE will beg for pats all day. So they saw me patting him and him obviously loving it. They were confined for several weeks in a large cage before being released, but didn't really start to get tame until later.

                    I love that Little Girl so much I would take her home if I could. She looks kinda like yours, too - so cute!
                    What's wrong with you?? Your cheese done slid off its cracker?!?!


                    • #11
                      I have two ferals that have access to my tack room and I feed them daily. I don't try to touch them, though one tolerates it.
                      Some ferals may become socialized, some never will. I don't really have a strong desire to handle these cats (I have house cats) but I am happy to give them a safe home.
                      Bluey is right about "beware of rabies". And inoculation does not cure an existing case. If you get bitten or scratched and can't quarantine the animal for 10 days, you will need post-exposure shots.
                      Not to be Debbie Downer..bless you for helping out some ferals.


                      • Original Poster

                        Thanks all. To be clear she's had all shots but rabies as she was too young. I'll get her a rabies shot before I let her loose. She's been captive for long enough that we'd know if she currently had it.

                        My other cat gets his shots, esp rabies, because he gets a neck abscess every fall that requires cleaning. When I take him in for that he gets his shots as needed. the only cats that haven't been kept current were my very elderly cat that didn't roam and the ferals that I've never been able to catch - they also don't have access to my barn.

                        I'm less concerned about keeping her rabies current - I can always trap her as required for that - and more wih how I go about trying to at least minimally socialize her.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by UrbanHennery View Post
                          I can always trap her as required for that.

                          Once trapped, they are the dickens to trap again (with exceptions, obviously).

                          Do not assume that you will easily retrap her once you let her loose.

                          Do you live somewhere that rabies it not a concern?


                          • #14
                            IMO she's too old to socialize well if she's really 4-5 months - you might be able to get her to stay around, but I doubt she'll ever be really tame....


                            • Original Poster

                              Trubandloki - I haven't heard of a case of rabies up here, well, ever, so aside from the fact that it's a state law it's low on my list of critical concerns.

                              Animaldoc - I don't need tame, I'll take socialized enough to be caught if medically necessary. Frankly, if I can't socialize her enough to get her to stick around and live in the barn, she's likely to get picked off by a coyote long before she'd be due for her next rabies shot. The rescue claims that about 70% of the cats they place in barns stick around for at least a year - I just want to get her in that group rather than the other 30%.


                              • #16
                                She's gorgeous. You have lots of great advice. Have fostered some feral types...some come around immediately, some take longer, a lot longer. When they do, they seem to be one person types.

                                Am surprised she didn't have her rabies if she's 4-5 months. 16 weeks is the
                                age we vaccinate for rabies around here.

                                The petting heads while eating canned food worked quite often. It was really cool when one would push into your hand for more petting.


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by animaldoc View Post
                                  IMO she's too old to socialize well if she's really 4-5 months - you might be able to get her to stay around, but I doubt she'll ever be really tame....
                                  When mine were trapped the two smaller cats were probably just under six months old and the larger one was an adult cat. The paper work from the place that did her spay said she was 2 (assume estimated from her teeth and size).
                                  She is our biggest attention whore. She follows us around and mews at us and begs for attention.

                                  Maybe my three are the exception not the rule, but I would not assume that this cat will not allow pettings and such.


                                  • #18
                                    You just never know. I adopted a "friend" cat for my barn cat. She's been very lonely since our other barn cat disappeared and her best friend, our collie, died last year. The new cat was more feral than I was led to believe. I kept her crated for 3 weeks, spent time petting her, etc. When I released her from the crate, she disappeared. We now call her the phantom garage/barn cat. I see glimpses of her from time to time, and she eats the food I put out for her, but that's it. She has a 3 yr rabies shot, so I imagine I'll be trapping her in two years for a booster.


                                    • #19
                                      I am really happy to see people getting feral cats - they make the best barn cat, because they will survive where as other cats probably will be eaten bycoyotes. A feral cat? Nah. Not a chance! One feral cat at my trainer's barn goes hunting for raccoons nightly. He just hates raccoons. Yes, all shots and fixed, etc. Nothing could catch him. He won't ever let you pick him up, but I haven't approached him, let him come to me, and he winds around me at horse feed time, which is when I fill his food bowl. Big honking cat who has a meow like a squeak which is really funny. I forget his real name, beause I call him Mr. Squeaks.

                                      I think giving them barn cat homes is the best life for a feral cat. Around here, the rescues and 'pounds' won't take and rehome feral cats and I think that's a shame, because there are tons of horses and barn home opportunities for them.

                                      That said, my BF adopted two cats, and the lady insisted the one was not feral, but there is no other explaination for this cat - he took weeks of patience while they lived in a crate, after 5 weeks they were out in the house, but the feral boy always retreated back to his open crate. He would let one person (we left him alone, let him bond with BF only) brush him while he ate, and our policy was not to move towardshim but wait for him to come to you. Now he sleeps crooked in BF's arm, bats his book away when he wants attention, and will let me approach him. He's still skittish at sudden movements, but has aclimated really nicely. Hes' a real joy to have a round.

                                      Good luck and do report back about your feral cat!
                                      My warmbloods have actually drunk mulled wine in the past. Not today though. A drunk warmblood is a surly warmblood. - WildandWickedWarmbloods


                                      • #20
                                        Yep, food is the motivator! We had a 10 year old feral cat living in our barn since she was a kitten. I trapped her and had her spayed and vetted after her first litter of kittens were born several years ago and hoped that would help her temperament but she stayed pretty feral, only allowing the occasional pat once in a while. She was an excellent mouser so we tried to make sure she had what she needed in the barn but she didn't seem to care. Anyway, last year she started looking horrible (skinny, wormy, infected) so I trapped her again, took her to the vet and decided to keep her in the house to either have her die in comfort and warmth, or possibly rebound. All these years that cat has been spooky and feral and now she won't leave us alone because my husband started feeding her kitchen food - chicken, milk, fat scraps, etc. You'd never know she spent 10 years in the barn hiding from anything that moved. Now she's in our laps, on the furniture - fat and happy (and I don't have the heart to kick her out). She has NO desire to go back outside so....another feral has taken up post so I'm trying to lure this one to do the mousing! This time I'll use real meat .

                                        Good luck with your kitty. Do post back!
                                        Last edited by hundredacres; Apr. 3, 2012, 01:22 PM.