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Need help with 3 ferals!

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
I took in 3 feral cats a few days ago, a mother and two kittens approx 3-4 months old. I have two obnoxious dogs who will lick them for hours, plus two other cats, so I put the 3 of them into a small bathroom. They're extremely scared of me and have been hiding in a cardboard box I turned over, but I definitely see some progress. My current cats have a fascination with one of my makeup brushes (no idea what its made from), so I introduced it to the kittens. And after smelling it for a few minutes, they actually put their paw on it... so I started moving it around, and they were playing! Of course, they didn't actually get up, but it was nice to see them batting it around and chewing it a little. Then, I put a couple pieces of food right next to their paws, and they ate it! Its a big improvement over the "statue" mode they were in a few days ago. I finally coaxed both of them to eat from the dish I brought in. They were hesitant to do so in front of me, but the food got the better of them. Of course, if I leave and come back to the bathroom a little later, its back to square one, but I have confidence they'll be okay. I'm not sure the Feliway is working, but I'm still spraying it in the room and on their blankets. The mother is a problem though... I can pet her, but she hisses a little bit and is really scared. She tries to find anywhere to hide from me. All 3 are very docile, fortunately. From the first day I've been able to pet them without biting or scratching, but I can tell they're very frightened. Also, when I'm home, I put a baby gate in front of the bathroom door. I know I need to be patient with them, but is there anything else I can do? Would separating them help?

post #2 of 15
YAY to you for rescuing these cats!

We have LOTS of ideas to help!

That said - you are absolutely right. Time is the major factor, and patience is your friend. Turn off any thoughts of a clock.

I wouldn't separate them. The mom will learn from the kittens doing well with you.

OK. Keep them in their own room for now. Spend as much time in there as you can - doing anything - but spend a lot of the time in there ignoring them. In socializing, what you are doing is earning a cat's (or multiple cats ) trust. They don't know why they're there, they don't know what you want, and they're scared. Or scare easily. So the first thing they have to learn is that you don't want anything at all from them, and you're there to give them food, water - and - because they are already kind of OK with pets, they're not ferals. Strays-gone-feral, maybe, but they're already learning love is good and play is fun, so you're leaps and bounds beyond where most people (here) start. Or - maybe you adopted them and they were fostered? Either way, the way you handle socializing them is the same.

Oh - because there are three of them, if you can comfortably fit three litterboxes in the room, I'd do that. If space is tight, I'd still have two - but scoop frequently.

They SHOULD have places to hide from you. And letting them be safe in their safe space is going to help a lot in the trust factor.

Food and toys are your friends.

They will be more comfortable checking you out when you're not moving around, and movement may send them fleeing.

But all of these and things you can do to help build the trust are discussed in this thread. It's only three pages (so far), and it starts out discussing socialization from a crate - but the kitten got moved into a room, so it's very much like the situation you have on your hands now.

The summary of all the advice in that other thread is: ignore them a lot. Do a bunch of things on a schedule - routine REALLY helps - though just spending random time in the room doing other stuff will help too. Don't look them in the eyes, don't try to reach out at them too much at first - go for food as a motivator, toys as a motivator, and use stinky t-shirts you've gotten really sweated up to help them come to associate you with good things.

BTW - I would stop spraying the feliway on their bedding. I'd just stick to spraying it on the walls and furniture, and not anywhere near the litter boxes. You may also want to put a scratcher in there for them.

Do you have a slightly larger room you can confine them to? That would help, because it's going to be best to keep them separated for a while.

And, of course, we love updates, and feel free to keep asking away.

post #3 of 15
Thread Starter 
Thanks Laurie! I've been planning on moving them to a larger room, but still need to kitty-proof my bedrooms... I'm just concerned because all of my bedrooms have beds and other pieces of furniture they can climb under/in/on top of, and I know I'll have trouble finding them.... and then I'm worried that if they hear me coming, they'll hide and never come out. I have a pretty busy schedule, so I don't have a lot of time to sit in the room with them.

I know the kittens haven't had any human contact before, but I'm not sure about the mother. My friend has been leaving food in her backyard for the mother for about a year and hasn't been able to touch her, and unfortunately didn't get her spayed. I took all 3 in after they were trapped and spayed/neutered last week. Fortunately, the cats are pretty comfortable around other cats, since my friend has been feeding several, but they're extremely afraid of the dogs, even though my dogs have tried to lick them and sit on the other side of the door waiting.

The kittens have definitely come a long way in the last week. They'll eat and play with toys in front of me, as long as I'm sitting a foot or so away from them, and after a little coaxing and a whiff of can food, they're starting to eat out of my hand. The problem is I think the mother is getting even more protective... she won't come out of her cardboard box I tipped over, and she's hissing a lot more than she used to, especially when the kittens go back to her after playing with me. Do you think I should separate the mother?

Here's their pictures:

Kitten #1:

Kitten #2:

post #4 of 15
With the kittens that old, it might be a good idea to separate them from the mom.

If she was a stray, she may come around more quickly. But if she's a feral, given her age, she may take a lot of time to socialize. She may literally hide under a bed (if you move her to a larger room) for months. The kitties sound like they'll adjust pretty quickly though.

Given that you don't have a lot of time to spend with them - what about putting them in a bedroom that you can sleep in sometimes? A sleeping person is a great way to help them get comfortable with you.

...and if they do hide behind/under beds or furniture, you actually shouldn't go looking for them. That usually sets things back a bit. Especially with the kitties, food and toys will be great lures.

post #5 of 15
Beautifull Kitties you got there Sunny! It sounds like you are making good progress with them eating out of your hand and all.
Btw whats the differnece between a feral and a stray?
post #6 of 15
Originally Posted by ROBDOG View Post
Beautifull Kitties you got there Sunny! It sounds like you are making good progress with them eating out of your hand and all.
Btw whats the differnece between a feral and a stray?
Sometimes not much!

A feral refers to a cat that was born in "the wild" and has had no real human contact. Strays are cats that were at some point someone's pet - but they got lost, ran away, got abandoned - who knows what happened. These cats can revert to feral behavior (being scared of or leery of people) - sometimes quite quickly. But if that kitty remains in the wild, and has kittens born outside of the human environment - those are feral kittens. The kittens of those cats are REALLY feral cats. They can still make great pets. All of our pets were most likely multi-generational ferals. Socializing them is just a matter of patience.

Strays that haven't gone feral are the ones you can feed and get close to them while they eat, and within a fairly short period of time will probably come to enjoy being petted by you &etc. (that is, if they weren't abused by people). A feral will bolt if you come anywhere near. If you're feeding feral kittens from when they're first eating food other than what mom provides, a kitten feral will come to let you get near them while eating, probably after a month or so if their moms don't teach them to bolt - but their moms will not.

The real difference is in rescuing them and socializing them. For a stray-gone-feral, it's an issue of "re-socializing" - which means that that period of fear can melt away sometimes quite quickly. With a feral - even at the age of 12 weeks - gaining their trust and socializing them can be a challenge. It's almost impossible to socialize a feral older than three years old - but if it's a stray, kitty may still come around to make a great pet.

post #7 of 15
Thanks very much Laurie you really know your stuff!
Sunny do you not worry about whether the kitties will claw at your furniture and wreck the material? I'm a complete rookie with cats so i don't know if they really do or not or whether that's just older cats or ferals but it's just what I've heard.
post #8 of 15
Beautiful kitties! Good luck with them!
post #9 of 15
Originally Posted by ROBDOG View Post
Thanks very much Laurie you really know your stuff!
Sunny do you not worry about whether the kitties will claw at your furniture and wreck the material? I'm a complete rookie with cats so i don't know if they really do or not or whether that's just older cats or ferals but it's just what I've heard.
All cats need to use their claws, but there are LOTS of ways to get them to scratch on stuff besides the furniture. There are so many products out there for them - scratching posts, mats - a good attractive log will work if you're into that kind of thing - cat trees, catnip is available in a spray to help encourage them to use the "right" things - placement of those mats, pads, and posts can be important. If there is scratching on furniture, throw blankets help, temporarily putting aluminum foil on the back or arms of a couch will prevent it - and if left up for a month, they'll develop the habit of scratching on appropriate things..... They like to scratch and stretch when they wake up, so putting mats or posts next to where they sleep really helps....

I can provide lots of links to discussion in the Behavior Forum about scratching stuff (there's a big huge thread going on right now in the Health Forum about declawing) if you'd like.


post #10 of 15
As i say I'm such a rookie when it comes to this kind of thing I'm here to learn everything and teach nothing. Yeh sorry Sunny for wandering into your thread and asking random questions. Is there no thread that's like a question and answer thread for just completely random questions about kitties rather than having to start a thread to find out?
post #11 of 15
Well, you can either just ask your questions like you have been here - most people don't mind a hi-jacked thread.

Or you can start a new one.

Or you can just ask questions in the original one you started. Many do that.

Or you can go to the other forums - like behavior, care, or health - and ask questions of you own in a related issue thread - or start your own thread there.

post #12 of 15
Now Sunny - back to your kitties! How're things going?

post #13 of 15
Thread Starter 
Sorry it took so long to reply- I've been busy! I didn't want to take in 3 more cats, so I found a family member willing to take one. I thought it would be best to keep the kittens together, so I guess I'm keeping both of them (although I've been trying to find homes for them), but I gave the mother away.

The mother has been been hiding in a closet for the past 5 days. Its going to take a long time before she comes around, but its a quiet house, and everyone is very loving and caring, so I think its a great place for her.

For the past couple days, I've started to leave the door of the bathroom open while I'm home. The little boy kitten was afraid at first, but now he's having a blast. He's jumping, playing, running up to my cats and growling at them, and whacking my dogs in their faces and playing with their tails. Unfortunately, he's still extremely scared of me, and if he sees me, he runs in the other direction. But I can tell he's definitely interested... he spies on me from around the corner of another room, then darts back to a hiding place if I move or get up. I accidentally scared him this morning when I walked past the bathroom door-- he saw me and freaked out, so I shut the door for a bit because he was using the box. 10 minutes later he was crying to come out. So I opened the door and he shot out like a bullet and started running around like a crazy man. He's certainly getting used to his freedom. The little girl is a lot more scared. I thought her brother would help her come out of her shell, but it doesn't seem like it. She's hiding in back of a cabinet in my dining room and won't come out.
post #14 of 15
I'm so glad baby boy is having fun!

BTW - what did you name them?

As to the little girl - just spend as much time as you can near her, reading out loud while sitting on the floor is good. If you sew or knit - or have laundry to fold - anything.

Also, get a couple of t-shirts really good and sweaty. Put their food dish on one, and put treats out near her on the other.

But basically - just letting her be scared and hide is probably the best thing. Try to entice her from time to time with plain meat baby food on a spoon, or with a wand toy. I know your heart aches knowing that she could be so loved and happy - but she has to figure that out in her own time.

post #15 of 15
i hope they warm up!
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