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Feral kittens 95% to being perfect housecats...but the last 5% is killing me. Advice?

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
(man this turned out to be long! very sorry, just desperately in need of advice!)

Earlier this year, I started feeding a feral cat in my yard. Soon figured out she had two nursing kittens, not quite old enough to wean. The cat was very wary of people; the kittens were completely wild. My plan was to slowly tame the mother and then start working on the kittens - but she disappeared.

I bought kitten food and started the months-long process of getting the kittens to trust me. They were too young to catch their own food, so I quickly became their sole food source. This helped a lot in the socialization process, but it still took forever.

Now they’re good house cats for the most part. They understand “NO†and stay off the furniture, counters. etc. They (mostly) don’t beg for treats, are affectionate and snuggly, and, best of all, almost sleep through the night. They are not fully indoor cats - they spend most of the daylight hours playing in the yard. They are let in at random times during the day, and when it’s dark.

In the beginning, they were hesitant to come into the house. Then they’d come in if I left the door open, but wouldn’t allow anyone to get between them and the door. Then, I could close the door if I was quick, but it would cause a major freakout with scratching at the door crack. Finally, we had a few weeks of calm acceptance, where they would trot confidently inside and eat, play, or sleep, and wouldn’t care about the door being shut. When they wanted out, they’d skulk around the door, maybe make a few peeps about it, nothing frantic or annoying.

This does not apply to their overnight time though. Everything starts out fine, we have calm dinner, playtime, and cuddling, and then go to bed. When they first started spending nights indoors, at 6 or 7 am there’d be a lot of traumatized yowling and clawing at the door. This is not the same thing as the “midnight crazies†all my previous tame-from-birth kittens have had. They don’t play, run laps, or attack me - they just freak out about that door being shut.

I interpreted this as just another step in their adjustment to housecat life that we would have to work through. Up until a week ago, their night behavior seemed to be progressing the same way their daytime behavior had, with a general calming down. They still wake up at 6 or 7, but there’s been a reduction in crying and they hardly ever claw at the door under any circumstance.

So that’s all good, and was continuing to get better. However, while one of the cats has continued to relax, one of them has suddenly gotten more anxious. When I shut her into the house now, she immediately starts yowling like her heart will break. She doesn’t scratch at the door, but will cry and cry. She follows me around the house and tries to lead me back to the door. Eventually she’ll settle down, but it takes a LOT of crying (10-30 minutes) before she’ll get to that point.

So what’s going on here? Is it just anxiety? She used to be fine with the closed door. What could make her regress?

I can’t decide whether this is separation anxiety, as she’s totally fine with being on her own for most of the day. However, when she’s inside, she can’t stand to be in a room by herself. How do I get her to become more independent?

How should I respond to the yowling? I’ve done a lot of reading on this, and some people say I should soothe the kitty, some say I should treat the yowling as any other bad behavior and give a sharp NO, some say to ignore her. I would LOVE to put in earplugs and go back to sleep, but I’m concerned about sleeping through things like smoke alarms and burglars.

I hate to punish her for a “bad behavior†when I know it’s just about fear. It seems like yelling at her would only make it worse, and my goal is not just to quash a behavior, but to grow an emotionally stable cat. I’ve been splitting the difference between ignoring her and occasionally calling her back to the bedroom. After a while, this works, and she’ll settle back to sleep.

However, to do so, she usually wants to knead some part of my body. I trim her nails but it’s still painful after 20 minutes. This is something she does when she’s very happy or very afraid - it’s a comfort. Which I hate to deprive her of, but damn, I have bruises on my shoulders and I can’t stand it anymore. Last night I refused to let her knead me when she came back to bed, and was treated to a full two hours of the cycle: run to kitchen, cry, come back to bed, frantically search for any exposed flesh, cry, run back to kitchen. I can’t think of any other ways to soothe her other than petting and soft talk, which do calm her down and make her purr, but only in the very short run - and then she’s up again, with a broken heart over the damn door.

My boyfriend and I both work from home, so she has sporadic human contact througout the day, as well as hours of lovin at night before bedtime. This cat is not in any way starved for attention. Working from home allows me to put her through several “tolerate the damn house†training sessions every day, when I shut her inside and try various ways to distract her or calm her down. It doesn’t seem to be getting any better, and it’s been over a week. It will take as long as it takes, I know - I just don’t know that I’m doing this the right way.

How can I get to the point where I can leave the cats inside alone, when we’re gone? The weather’s getting colder, and sooner or later we are going to have to go to the store after dark.

Leaving them outside at night is not an option. Cold weather and raccoons. We have no room which will work as a “cat room,†and I think that would be a disaster anyway.

Any insight or references will be helpful. I’m having a hard time even coming up with phrases to google, as this isn’t exactly “midnight crazies†or separation anxiety.
post #2 of 6
I just returned from a 6 day vacation, and my former feral TommyScott displayed the exact behavior last night. My year old grandson is visiting, and the yowling to go back outside was waking him up throughout the night. I finally relented, cuz I was approaching over 50 hours of being awake, so I will be following what works for you.
As for the excessive kneading, try to find a small, micro-bead pillow that you hold, for the kitty to knead on. It will save your skin. Rub a little catnip on it, and present it to her every time she wants to knead.
As for why they want out, not sure - my feral is neutered (he was a TNR), but all my cats seem to want to be out and about at night, lately; maybe it's time for breeding
post #3 of 6
by the way, WELCOME TO TCS!!
post #4 of 6
How old is this kitten? Could she be in heat?
post #5 of 6
Thank you for rescuing these kitties! As the poster above suggested, if you haven't had the cats spayed/neutered, they need to be. Please use the link in my signature line to help you located low-cost spay/neuter services if you need them.

If that isn't the problem... then... I really don't have advice, I'm sorry! Our kitties are indoors only. When we rescue, we bring them inside permanently and foster them until a new home can be found - and those adopting them have to agree to have them inside only.

Older ferals we do relocate to farms as barn mousers. But again, that doesn't help with your indoor-outdoor problem.

And as to the kneading - I would work on transferring her need to knead to something other than you! The catnip idea on a beanie baby type thing is a great idea.
post #6 of 6
I am going through the same thing, sort of. One stray kitten comes into my house, and loves to be around me, (not independant) It's 2 siblings seem like they want to come in (scratch to come inside) but when I open the door they sit there and do nothing. When I close the door, they scratch to come in again. They watch their friendly sibling come in my house, and when it comes in I give it a special treat, as if to say ("thanks for coming in and being friendly here's your special yummy treat and toys in return") It's seems the siblings observe this, and are starting to become more people friendly observing their sibling have fun in my house. By setting up a cat scratcher,toys, and canned food right by the door, I slowly taught him or her that if you come in just a bit, the reward will be waiting for you right here, and within a matter of a week, he or she invites him or herself in now, no treats or toys needed!

I also found that cats you rescue from your own yard urge to go outside after you adopt them because they remember that used to be their home, so mabye they miss it a little?
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