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Feral Kitten Plays Dead when Handled

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
Hi,

I just acquired a feral kitten who I have named Pixie. I think she is about 6 weeks old (but it’s an estimate and if you tell me she is older I’ll believe you). By way of background, I’ve only had her for one week. She hides under my bed when I am in the room but plays with toys I’ve leave out all night long.

I’ve raised five very friendly cats, but never a feral one so this is shaping up to be quite challenging.

I’ve been reading a ton of information online and there seems to be a general disagreement about whether to handle the kitten regularly despite her protests (ears back, hissing, spitting, and growling) OR to let her become accustomed to me and approach me for petting.

I left her alone (no touching) for the first few days I had her home so she could get use to my presence and my bedroom. Sunday I herded her into the bathroom and we had a gentle but insistent handling session. The following night (after another day spent under the bed) she gathered up all her toys and put them under the bed with her. Although her behavior makes me laugh, I’m scared I somehow set her back.

Also, she has an unusual habit that I haven’t read about: When I do handle her she resists (I didn’t know a kitten could growl and spit like that!) and then go limp like she is dead. When I lay her in my lap she just stays in whatever position I put her in. This doesn’t seem at all normal to me – based on how hard she fights in the beginning it seems like she should run away. Any advice? Is this normal?

Should I leave her alone and just keep showing her that I am leaving food for her? Should I keep handling her and ignore the spitting, growling, and playing dead?

I’m open to any and all advice!

Thank you!
post #2 of 12
I would leave her alone but I would sit in the room reading or something. Have food near you and eventually she will come to you. She needs to know you are safe and she can trust you. I think handling her before she is ready is telling her you are not safe or trust worthy.
post #3 of 12
The playing dead is an act of submission, which means that when you handle her, she considers herself your prey.

So winning her trust will mean that you need to provide her with her own territory and recognize that she sees you as a predator when you enter that territory. Don't make direct eye contact as that is considered a direct challenge.

What you CAN do, is spend time around her without engaging her in any way, so she learns that you mean her no harm. Make sure she knows you are the provider of treats, toys, and food. Little by little as she comes closer to you, you can extend a hand with a toy but once again, ideally you will do it without looking at her and preferably when you are on the telephone with someone else talking about something else- where she knows she is not the center of attention.

This is a kitten so it may take less time to win her over. If you begin play sessions, she may get lost in the play and run over your body while chasing something. This is not to be interpreted as acceptance of you, but it is increased trust in that she has closer proximity to you.

Good luck and bless you for taking in this little kitty. When you do win her trust it will be a reward to you like no other.
post #4 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by CalGirl View Post

I’ve raised five very friendly cats, but never a feral one so this is shaping up to be quite challenging.

I’ve been reading a ton of information online and there seems to be a general disagreement about whether to handle the kitten regularly despite her protests (ears back, hissing, spitting, and growling) OR to let her become accustomed to me and approach me for petting.

....

Also, she has an unusual habit that I haven’t read about: When I do handle her she resists (I didn’t know a kitten could growl and spit like that!) and then go limp like she is dead. When I lay her in my lap she just stays in whatever position I put her in. This doesn’t seem at all normal to me – based on how hard she fights in the beginning it seems like she should run away. Any advice? Is this normal?
Do you have still with you some of the friendly homecats?

A positivie example of a homecat do much to make it easier.
Preferably if they become pals. Much easier!

But also if it sees your friendly interaging with the homecat helps some.


Here pretending dead I presume is part of her feral background. It is the best chance to not be detected, or be leaven alone, if you are completely still.
It MAY possibly be some sort of epilepsy-attack caused by the stress - but much more probable is it is a camouflage behaviour.

Do as the other advices you. Time will be working for you.

ps. Her really playing is a good sign. Ferals generally not play. Not at once in any case. And not afraid cats either.
post #5 of 12
Thread Starter 
Thank you so much for the advice! When I brought her home I had no idea what was in store. She seems far more fragile that any other kitten I’ve had.

It makes me sad that she sees herself as my prey! I will leave her alone and go back to my behavior prior to Sunday. I will leave her treats, talk to her without looking at her, and sit on the floor reading or playing solitaire on the computer.

Unfortunately, right now there are no other cats in my home. Sadly, my Shadow died in December and it’s taken a few months of mourning to get over the loss. Bringing Pixie home was an impulse. She looked so darn pitiful in the cage at the Nursery!

I’d love to get another cat (I am accustomed to having two or three) but I thought I should wait to see how Pixie adjusts first. Do you think I should get another one now? Another kitten or an older, friendlier cat?
post #6 of 12
StefanZ gave you good advice indeed about adding a cat.

Cats that behave the way you describe your Pixie tend to get along better with other cats than with people. That doesn't mean Pixie will not bond to you; it just means she really feels at home with other cats (very likely).

Since Pixie does not sound like a dominant cat, you may want to look for another laid back cat. I say this without knowing much about your kitty. I think age is less important than making sure you have the right personality. Having said that, since Pixie is a kitten, you'd still probably want a kitty who is playful, so maybe not much older a teenager, and old enough to be sure you know the personality of the cat you are adding.

Coincidentally, my husband and I took in a feral kitten named Pixie too. She was returned to our adoption group because of her extreme fear. We gave her her own small room where she could feel safe, and we took turns sleeping in there overnight, but never rushing her. In time she came to trust us through us playing with her (toys, and stick with string on it) and leaving the TV on, establishing a routine.

We then did what StefanZ suggested, letting her mingle with our cats. In our case we already had 3 cats and we hadn't decided right away if we would keep Pixie or if another home could be found. We discovered that she loved our cats, and that our cats accepted her because she was so timid and submissive and hence not a threat. So we bit the bullet and decided our girl had had enough stress, and this should be her forever home.

The only thing was that once Pixie became friends with our cats, it took us a bit longer for her to bond to us. But she did come around and also she became instantly more comfortable around our cats, so it was worth it.

Good luck with your little baby! As I said, the reward when she does bond to you is just incredible >
post #7 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by CalGirl View Post
Do you think I should get another one now? Another kitten or an older, friendlier cat?
Yes, friendly, a little older kitten, or a grown up, very friendly cat - that is a question which of these.

Here are a couple of buts. The cat being new dont feel safe, thus perhaps fights for his share in the revire, not being nice to Pixie...
And shehe is new to you, so Pixie dont sees the warm happy interaction between you and the other cat.

Pixie is very young. It would be very good if she had some older cat to help to educate her in how to be CAT.


I think best would be a grown up, neutered, social, very friendly cat used to kittens. Perhaps already before knowing to be the friendly "uncle" or extramom. Female or male.
A cat friendly with people (quickly bonding/coming close to you), and friendly with other cats, especially kittens. Thus quickly becoming friend with Pixie.

If you cant get such a cat, an little older friendly kitten could be good I think. As a sibling is almost as good as fostermom / fosterdad / wellwishing uncle.


(Thanks, BarB! )
post #8 of 12
When you hold her, try feeding her with something yummy on your fingers. Something that she just absolutely can not resist. Let her associate your holding her with food. Since she is young, this might work.

And each cat is different. As a rule with older feral, it best to leave them alone and let them adjust but with a kitten I personally would do the food association thing. I have tamed many feral babies and always with positive results...

But each cat is different. I also would try sitting with her in the closed bath room since that is usually a small room. Toss goodies to her to eat. I have done that as well. It might actually take several days for her to eat one with you sitting there. Slowly, toss them closer and closer to you AFTER she begins to actually eat them with you there. Her trust needs to come from her. You cannot force trust. But the quickest way when one is young is food association thing..... At first when she is eating, be close but only be a presence there. Avoid, at first, direct eye contact. Allow her feel relaxed enough to eat with you there. Each day, once she will eat with you in the area, slowly make sure your body is closer to her, but only a few inches closer.. Let her see you put her food down each day. She needs to associate you with food. And do it on a schedule so she knows when you are going to feed her. A schedule is important with a feral baby. Talk quietly and have a relaxed posture and avoid sudden movement.

One other thing, playing dead is a survival instinct probably taught to her. This will cease when she trusts you... The first purr is pricelss.

If you get another cat, get a female, that is extremely extremely people orientated. One that just purrs and rubbs on your legs... The reason for this is because if you get two ferals, or even a semi feral with her, together it is harder to gain trust of either cat. They stay with the "feral mentality"... The older feral will reenforce her already feral tendencies.

But a very tame female with a loving personality would probably help her. Choose the female wisely.... Because you new baby will learn alot from this other cat.

The baby will learn to mimic her. In the bathroom scenerio I described above, an older very tame female would come right to your hand to eat. As you would toss the baby food, the female would go to it. She would teach her it was ok... Just make a really good choice in the second cat you choose.

Ferals are a great adventure and one that I love..... I have often said, there is nothing quite like the love and trust of a feral..

And one last thing.............get a feather... When she is under the bed, dangle it with you on top so you can't see you...

Good luck!
post #9 of 12
Thread Starter 
First, I wanted to thank you all for you suggestions and input. Taming a feral cat is even more challenging than it sounds!

It’s been a very very slow process but after six long weeks, Pixie willingly let me pet her for the first time last night! I think it has more to do with the fact that I introduced her to Black Magic – a 5 year old, very people friendly male cat that I recently adopted from the shelter – than anything I did. If they were humans, I would swear he took her aside and told her that I wouldn’t hurt her. She is still very skittish but if I sit still long enough she will plop herself down next to me for a bit of attention. She also comes out of her “room†to observe other guests. She doesn’t approach other people, but I think it’s positive that she doesn’t stay under the bed all the time.

I am ecstatic! I have one very loving cat and I am on my way to being friends with a second one.

Thank you again for all your support!
post #10 of 12
I'm so glad to hear that about your baby! And I love that you got another cat, and a wonderful boy cat at that!
post #11 of 12
I have never tamed a feral kitten, cat yet. Socialized yes, but not tamed there is a big difference. Her going limp shows you she is in fear of you. You are bigger than she is, therefore you are a predator. Remove the threat by laying on the floor in the room where she is. Lie very still and position yummy treats around you. Let her come and investigate the smells frozen fish works really good for this experiment. Let her climb on you, sniff you, eat by you and don't move. Do this several times a day. Also when you are in the room with her, remove your shoes if your feet are stinky. She will adjust to your smell a lot quicker. I wouldn't advise getting another cat or kitten for her, not yet. Let her learn that you can be trusted and don't add any surprises on her. Go in her room at scheduled times, do the same things in the room when you go in so she can depend on you. Don't just leave food down all the time, give her 30 minutes to eat dry, then take it up, give her 20 minutes with wet. Keep fresh water out at all times.
post #12 of 12
Chicken baby food, gerber, step one. On a fingertip. Irresistable.

That's how I started bonding with my Ferris, shortly after I adopted him. He was born to a feral momcat out in the woods, and for the first three months I had him, he seemed to hate me, LOL.

But that baby food - it can be the key to a kitty's heart. Through her tummy.
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