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Taming feral kittens

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  • Taming feral kittens

    Any tips on taming feral kittens? I have 5 kittens I brought home from the barn on Thursday. They are between 4 and 5 weeks old and ridiculously adorable, but very fearful.

    Some of the research I've done recommends separating them so they bond with humans, and I tried that with the most aggressive one but she cried all night and I didn't have the heart to keep her separate. I have them in two large dog crates and several times a day hold them and gently pet them. They are definitely coming around, are hissing and spitting less, but are still very wary about people. Any tips would be appreciated!

    If I wanted to hear the pitter-patter of little feet, I'd put shoes on my cats.

  • #2
    Honestly, the separating thing works the best. Try separating one at a time. Take the most aggressive/least tame one out first and handle him for a day or two. Then start with the second in line and keep going until you have done that with all of them. That way most of them are together while you devote all your attention to the one that is singled out. Neighborhood kids are also great for handling them; after they are dragged around for a day or two they are completely different.

    I remember one of ours was so scared and hissy he hid under my daughter's dresser for days. I was sure it would not work. Alas, I was wrong. He is number three out of six. All but one were barn cats.


    • #3
      If you decide to separate one sacrifice a bathroom (if possible) and make it the isolation room. Take your laptop or a book into the bathroom and spend as much time as possible in the bathroom. Most kittens will come around if you are their only source of company and food. Thankfully they are young. At that age they should come around fairly quickly.

      My sister managed to tame a 6 month old feral kitten using the bathroom method. I will admit that I tried this with a year old feral cat (big favor for a friend) and it was an epic fail. There's nothing worse than needing to pee at 3 am and having a feral cat behind the toilet growling and hissing at you.


      • #4
        Hand feeding. The only food they get is what they will take from your hand. Eventually you should be able to pet them at the same time. Don't rush to pick them up, let them be comfortable being near/on you.


        • #5
          Shouldn't be a problem at all that young. I tamed down two at four months and I wish I had got them sooner. They are tame but only really bonded with me. I don't think they will ever be completely normal after being wild for four months. I did the crate and bathroom method but I kept them together the whole time. They graduated to a whole room then finally out at liberty in the house. It took about 3 months or so.


          • #6
            Sounds like you are doing it right! We brought home two feral kittens a few years ago at about 2 months old. Having somewhere to hide and REALLY DELICIOUS FOOD and baling twine (to play with/attack) are all necessary.

            Both grew up to be friendly, tame, and brave indoor/outdoor cats.
            It's a uterus, not a clown car. - Sayyedati


            • Original Poster

              Thanks for all the great advice! I think I have taken all of it.

              I have been sitting on the floor outside their crate at feeding time with several bowls set up. For the most part they have been very good about letting me pet them while they eat. Two of them have even fallen asleep on my lap.

              The male, who was the most docile when I picked them up, is the most aggressive and when he gets hissy and spitty seems to influence the others so he is in his own crate with a cozy box and soft blanket. It's killing me to see him so sad but I know this will be the best for all.
              If I wanted to hear the pitter-patter of little feet, I'd put shoes on my cats.


              • #8
                I can testify to some of the advice you've been given! I had two female kittens (feral) given to me at about the same age as yours, and they were SO fearful and aggressive. I kept them isolated in a bathroom (together). They are now LOVELY and SWEET, brave, and affectionate indoor/outdoor cats who are not even fearful of strangers (which is more than I can say of another cat I adopted at 8 weeks old, who was never feral but spent time in a shelter).

                This is what I think was essential:
                -Kept them in a safe place, but with no real small/hard to get to places to hide and not come out (bathroom was perfect)
                -left the iPod speakers on ALL DAY. I really think this helped them become so brave. Really desensitized them.
                -Played with them with string, got them to come towards me/on me by luring them with the string. Kinda hurt (claws!) but it got them to come to me on "their own"
                -held them! this was difficult, because at first they didnt like it. But they were sick and needed medicine, so they needed to be held. I would essential hold them and talk to them gently until they were less tense. Sometimes this would take 20 minutes. (but now both cats loved to be held!).
                -fed them by hand- same concept as the string.
                -brought friends in to see them. the more they are used to other people being part of "the norm", the less nervous they'll be in the long run.

                I admit, I was so discouraged at first! All you want to do with kittens that age is snuggle, and its so hard when their such little (granted, scared) monsters! But patience and time really paid off

                The ladies themselves, Fiona and Daphne (yes, they are sisters!)
                Daphne (and Augie, her best friend; he's full grown now, but they still play and sleep together!):



                • Original Poster

                  CP your pets are adorable! So just over a week into it 3 of the 5 are doing exceptionally well. One of the females is very attached to me and likes to get on my lap. The funny part is she was the most aggressive when I picked them up.

                  The male and the 4th female are still quite hissy. I have been feeding the male from a spoon and putting him on my lap which is helping, but the female seems to be making no progress. I think I need to isolate her in another bathroom so she doesn't see and hear her littermates and work with her separately.

                  Tomorrow they all go get checked out by the vet. Hopefully they'll get a good report!
                  If I wanted to hear the pitter-patter of little feet, I'd put shoes on my cats.


                  • #10
                    Didnt read the other responses. But we found 2 that were 2-3 weeks old. I hand fed them a lot and kept them in a small area for a few weeks. By then, they were lovin humans!!!
                    Charlie Brown (1994 bay TB X gelding)
                    White Star (2004 grey TB gelding)

                    Mystical Moment, 1977-2010.


                    • Original Poster

                      I'm hoping when you guys say "hand feed" you mean off a spoon versus literally by hand.... I would be worried about losing a finger with these two hold outs!
                      If I wanted to hear the pitter-patter of little feet, I'd put shoes on my cats.


                      • #12
                        I have tamed many, many kitties with the "total immersion" method. So much so that I've typed this out many times for people;

                        Have some insanely good food. A few days worth of lunchmeat won't kill her and there's nothing like sliced chicken or turkey for this.

                        Once or twice a day, pull her(him) out and sit down in an easy chair, one with enclosed back and arms, let her "escape" to the kind of tent you'll make with your back and the back of the chair by sitting a few inches forward and leaning back, and let her eat the lunchmeat out of your hand. Once she's eaten a little, pet her. (Don't worry about your fingers. They will not let go of the meat to bite you, though they may freeze and growl)
                        Keep her there, eating meat from your hand and gently petting her until she purrs. She will purr, even if it's just for a second, as stress relief. First time might take a half hour or so. At that point, put her back.

                        From her point of view, the worst happened. The Monster "ate" her. And ... it wasn't so bad. It was warm and there was food and gentle touching. As soon as she started to relax a little, it was done. She'll sit there and process that and decide she could have done with more chicken.

                        Next time you "eat" her, she won't be anywhere near as scared to start with, she'll relax sooner, eat more and purr louder. In one or 2 sessions, she'll be purring as soon as you're in the chair. At that point, she'll figure out that gentle scritches and stroking is pretty ok too.

                        Progression is quick and the cats end up very, very friendly. As I typed this, one that I tamed this way jumped into my lap and shoved her face at me to "whisker kiss" (rub her whiskers and side of her mouth against my face) me with some force, draped herself over my shoulders for a minute and then went to investigate something.
                        When I first caught her, she hissed, bit, scratched, fought, screamed and released her anal glands on me. She wasn't just a little feral, she was out and out wild.
                        She isn't the only kitten I ever tamed this way. They all come out like this.


                        • #13
                          I went through it as well with 5 older kittens. I could not find them when they were as little as the ones in the OPs pictures. and when I found them, only 2 would eventually let me touch them although all of them would come out to eat while I sat there. I had to get traps to catch them and their mom and "baby daddy" lol. A wonderful agency here in Central Florida spayed/neutered, vaccinated and microchipped them all for me. I caught them in batches, so had 3 of the kittens (about 3 months old at this point) in one of our bathrooms for a couple of weeks. They would get in the trap/cage that I left in there covered with a towel (and with towels inside for confort), so I took them out into the living room in the evenings when we were watching TV. I already have 4 dogs and 5 cats, so they got exposed to all of them in the cage. I eventually got the last 2 kittens and was able to place them with a local rescue who sent them to their "cat whisperer". If they had been unable to tame and place them, they would have come back here and been part of the feral cat colony that was started when I took the mother and daddy cat back. Luckily, they were tamed as were the 3 I had, and all but one were placed in wonderful homes. I kept one and he is sleeping on one of my saddle pads that I just took out of the dryer. The mother is quite tame, and loves to be petted, but freaks if I try to pick her up or bring her in the house. The daddy shows up to eat but is very wild. He looks so much better now though and is quite handsome now that he is not running around "Tom-catting". They had to pull a tooth when he was under to be neutered, and I'm sure he eats much more comfortably now. I had named all of the kittens after Harry Potter characters: Hermoine the calico, Harry Potter the friendliest of the tigers, Dumbledore the gorgeous silver/gray, Neville the shy tiger with white blaze and socks, Hagrid the really wild tiger... I actually miss them and the time I spent with them each day. Glad they are all in good homes and that momma is fixed!


                          • Original Poster

                            Update of ferals

                            Happy to report the kittens are coming along wonderfully. Three of the females are super friendly and love to be held and cuddled. The male is getting better and better and will let us pet him with no hissing. He loves to have his belly rubbed. The fourth female is more of a challenge and still hisses and growls but doesn't try to bite or scratch.

                            Today was a busy day with lots of friends and kids coming to see them and everyone did great, even the standoffish female. I definitely have a home for one, if not two of them and they all go for spay/neuter surgery this week. Thanks for all the great advice!
                            If I wanted to hear the pitter-patter of little feet, I'd put shoes on my cats.


                            • #15
                              That is GREAT news! Give yourself a pat on the back - I know how stressful it can be to have responsibility for ferals.