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Semi-feral kitten socialization - mixed advice given

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
Hey y'all. Since I have had such a warm welcome here and so much encouragement with the adoption of my three semi-feral kittens, Conor, Paddington and Niamh, I thought I would come here with a question. You all know so much and this site is so helpful, so here goes.

A friend came over for tea yesterday (the kittens were happily upstairs asleep, litter tray nearby to prevent any accidents...they are fine with my husband me, but still spooked by new people, totally understandably). Anyway, this particular friend has been also really helpful through the whole process of us taking in these kittens (who are about 4-5 months old, in case you haven't read my other thread...). She has three cats of her own and she has taken in a lot of ferals on a short term basis (mainly cats, not kittens). I was talking to her about some of my frustrations over the past few days (it has been a bit of a difficult few days for us) and she mentioned how she had managed to 'tame' her ferals in the past. I had read similar advice on the internet before, but wanted to come here to see what you guys think about it. Anyway, she advocates the towel method - corner them, put a towel over them, swaddle them, give them a pet and a treat and then let them go. She said if you do this enough, then they will learn to trust you.

Now, my instinct is the opposite of this. The kittens have come so far along since we have taken them in. Paddington regularly plays with us. Conor is more than happy to sit around the bedroom (their domain) even when we enter the room. Niamh is a bit more difficult, but even she is improving. They are starting to trust us more. I know ferals are difficult, and I am not one of those people who is like 'I must have a cat that will let me pet it and cuddle it!' I am just happy to have taken these little critters in to give them a good life. So, if we employ this method, I am just worried that it will cause them to revert to hiding back under the bed and make them not trust us again. I would prefer to just spend time with them - feed them, play with them. Show them to trust me in that way. They are improving all the time, and I don't want to screw that up.

Having said that, my friend has had lots of success with her method. My husband and I were discussing it, and he said he would go along with whatever I decided. I have never had cats before - I was raised with dogs, so I totally understand that my instinct might be related to how a dog would react in such a situation. My husband has always had cats, but he is not sure which method would be best. I am aware that there could be further mixed advice, but I just wanted to hear from some real-life people rather than just read articles on the internet!

A bit of background though - these kittens are truly semi-feral. They have been coming in our house for about three months now and would stay in most of the night. We decided to formally take them about two weeks ago, as it was cold outside and I realised I was spending a lot of my day worrying how they were doing. After we took them in, one of the kittens escaped, and once she figured out how to get off our roof, she sat outside our door so we could let her back in. They sit calmly in the room with us at all times - only darting away if we get too close or make a sudden movement. There have been no real problems so far and every day they seem to make breakthroughs. So, I guess I just want to know if this towel method (or something similar) would be beneficial or if I should stick to my instincts?

post #2 of 13
My situstion was much the same as yours. I always had dogs all my life and knew nothing about cats. Most of what I learned has been from this site and the advice of those here.

I have 5 adult ferals that I took in because their home/colony was destroyed. They were living in a ditch.

I let them have their own cat safe room then slowly allowed them access to more of the house. I spent time with them and took care of their needs all at set times so they had a regular schedule.

I started playing with a wand toy with feathers on the end close enough so they could see. I didn't try to interact with them. They came to me to play after watching the wand I waved around. This worked great for me.

Now they come to greet me and chirp. They go to the spot where I wave the toy waiting for me to play.

I put treats or a small amount of baby food (no onions) close to me and they come close to get the treats.

Mine are all adults and I am amazed at their progress. I hear it is eaiser with kittens and it sounds like what you are doing is working. Keep it up.

The more experienced will give better detailed advice. I just wanted you to know that I went through the same situation and what you are doing now worked great for us.
post #3 of 13
Thread Starter 
Thanks Skimble! That is really good to know. There is so much advice out there, it is difficult to know what to follow, and it is nice to know that someone else out there is getting things done using the same method that I feel most comfortable friend also suggested putting them totally on a set schedule for food - I let them self-feed during the day (dry food, which I make sure is always full and available) and then provide them with wet food for dinner between 6-7pm. For us right now this is the best, as there are three of them. They are used to having to just chow it all down as quickly as possible, so I was worried that one of the less bold kittens might miss out and not be properly nourished. This way, they are always able to access food. What do you guys think? My friend and other websites say that you should only feed them when you are in the room so they associate food with you = good stuff. But, with three of them, I don't want anyone to go without. I always sit with them during dinner (partly to make sure everyone gets some but also to have them get more used to me), but would a scheduled morning feed/evening feed/late evening feed be better? I know Laurie mentioned allowing them to self-regulate earlier, which is the advice I took, but again - so much out there!

Speaking of schedules - Paddy has come down for his dinner. Keeps looking at me as I type, so I should probably go serve them up! He is not to happy to be eating his dry food right now (wanting that wet stuff...).
post #4 of 13
The way you are feeding now is how I have also fed mine.

They are given dry to free feed during the day. That way they don't have to worry about there not being food. I give them wet in the evenings and put their dishes in several places around the room so each will have access to food. I also leave another dish of dry out for the night.

I let them associate me with food by using special treats or kitty milk. I use the baby food for this as well. Therefore they associate the special treat food with me. They watch you put food out for them and your scent is on the serving dish, so you are already associated with providing food on a regular basis.

I am sitll learning. What you are doing sounds like it is working for you and for them. I have also learned that we must be confident in what we are doing for them as they can sense our emotions.

Those with more experience will come along.
post #5 of 13
You have feral kitties trapped in your house??

Why don't you let them come and go as they please, if they come to you anyway? They'll do fine outdoors when they want to be there, and will come to you more and more if you let them do what they want. I once adopted a feral kitten, and within a very short time of being allowed in the house with this method, he became incredibly cuddly and gentle with little desire to leave the house. However, he is an incredibly fit ferocious beast when outdoors to this day.

I would think if you're having trust issues with your kitties, it's more likely from trapping them indoors! IMHO, cats should never have to 'escape'...
post #6 of 13
I would tend to disagree with your friends advice about forcing yourself on them. Cats will usually adapt better to you on their schedule, not on yours. Mine were all born feral, and while some needed no socialization at all, others were more challenging to me. Here's some basic advice that you will see repeated by other folks that work with feral cats on a regular basis. These tips also work for semi-ferals or cats that are under stress:

Get them on a rigid feeding schedule. Cats love routine and adapt themselves around that routine. You earn trust when you establish a schedule with them.

Never approach a cat and let them come to you. Obviously there might be times when there is a medical emergency where you need to ignore this advice.

Never tower over a cat. Get on their level by sitting on the floor when with them. Cats are intimidate by animals in a higher place than them (think of lions sitting on rocks overseeing their prey).

If you make eye contact, slowly blink your eyes at them. A slow blink is a sign of greeting in a cat colony. A stare is a sign of intimidation.

If you want to draw them to you, use wand toys (I find the ones with feathers work the best).

Use other socialized cats as their mentors. If they become friendly with a cat that likes to cuddle with you, they realize that you are not an evil human when they see their friend cuddled in your lap.

Treats and wet food gain you respect. Find flavors that they like and make sure they realize that you are the bearer of that good food. I've known people that will feed a feral cat from a spoon to get them to associated their hands to good things.

If you typically have a noisy house, or have boisterous visitors, keep some level of noise in your home so that it becomes normal to them. We have loud friends. We often keep the stereo going on the loud side so that loud noise is normal. When visitors come, they are less apt to run and hide.
post #7 of 13
I've had mixed experience with ferals. Go Go in my signature was a feral kitten that I brought into the apartment when she was about 3 months old. She let me pick her right up where she was sleeping on the sidewalk! She was sick with an upper respiratory infection, but was right as rain in about 10 days.

She's always been okay with me, and very sweet and affectionate. However, she prefers me to be sitting quietly, or better yet, laying down. Then she comes and purrs and licks me, etc.

She's still very shy of everyone else, however. She hides under the couch as soon as there's a knock on the door and doesn't come out until it's been quiet a long time. Even when my daughter stayed here for two months last summer she would only stay out long enough to stare at her for about 30 seconds or so, then duck under the couch again.

Then I had a girl, Daisy, that I brought in about the same age. I put her on the internet, but no one showed interest until she was almost a year old. She was very shy, too. She usually hid from strangers. When they came to see her, she did come in the room, but only to dash across the floor to the safety of the couch!

When they took her home, she changed, abruptly. That very night she came and slept in the ladie's bed. (It was a couple of schoolteachers, but the man lives far enough that he only stays with the woman on weekends.) She said that Daisy was purring very loudly and laid right by her on the bed. She became very friendly, playful and affectionate with both of them. She sleeps on Papa's chest! She comes out when they have visitors, but she's not friendly with them.

I treated them both the same -- after a week or so in the bathroom, I gave them run of my little 2-room apartment with food available 24/7. I don't remember if they got wet food as kittens. They interacted with my permanant cat, Graycie, and Daisy had Go Go, too. I love just watching them, and observing them. Each one has their own personality and character and develops in their own way, in their own time.

Good luck to you with your three little ones. I think it does help them to see another cat being affectionate and loved by you.
post #8 of 13
Thread Starter 
Just wanted to take a minute to update. The husband and I have decided the best method is the one we feel most comfortable with. And it seems to be working. Why is that always the case - the minute I post about some sort of 'problem' it seems to take care of itself?

Paddington is just getting more and more playful. Last night, I gave them a treat, which they loved. And then we played. I got down the favourite toy (a stick with a string) and Paddington was hopping all around. We decided to see if he would retrieve the toy from our laps and sure enough, he jumped straight up and rolled around on our laps. This seemed to be his preferred place, actually - no other kittens to get in the way! But, this has also had the benefit of encouraging the other kittens to become more comfortable with us. Niamh- the difficult one - even played for a bit (at a distance, but still - this is the first time). Conor enjoyed watching and batting Paddy away whenever he came close. Since last night, Niamh has been much less skittish and has no problem sitting out in the open for her naps like the others. A big relief and feels like a major breakthrough. Thanks so much for all the tips/advice - I will employ them (there are a lot I had been using already, like being on their level) and hope for more breakthroughs in the future!

You have feral kitties trapped in your house??

Why don't you let them come and go as they please, if they come to you anyway? They'll do fine outdoors when they want to be there, and will come to you more and more if you let them do what they want. I once adopted a feral kitten, and within a very short time of being allowed in the house with this method, he became incredibly cuddly and gentle with little desire to leave the house. However, he is an incredibly fit ferocious beast when outdoors to this day.

I would think if you're having trust issues with your kitties, it's more likely from trapping them indoors! IMHO, cats should never have to 'escape'...
I just wanted to respond to this because I understand where you are coming from, but for us, our situation is what we feel is best for us and the kittens. I have discussed the whole thing in more depth in a previous thread, including their lineage and how they are semi-tame cats. Anyway, I know the debate about keeping cats indoors vs letting them roam outside as they please is a hot topic and a debate I don't particularly want to get into, but I do appreciate your comment and believe me, it is something that we considered. We just had to decide what was best for all of us, and this seems to be working out pretty well.
post #9 of 13
i'm pretty sure that towel method is for the ferals who are one step away from being wild animals, and your kittens are already semi-housecats, so keep doing what you're doing.

the towel thing sounds like a way to break a wild bronco, which may work for the hard cases but if you have time and patience, you can continue creating an environment they feel more and more comfortable.

that said, i had 3 semi-feral kittens and 2 of them adjusted nicely on their own, while the 3rd still hasn't 'gotten it,' and continues to regard us humans with suspicion. sometimes i want to wrap him up in a towel but that's mostly out of frustration
post #10 of 13
Wendy, I'm so pleased to hear the great update!

There are two distinct theories in socializing ferals. One is to force yourself on them, the other is to let them come around in their own time. Those of the first school usually crate the kitties and have some kind of process they go through - I don't know what it is. But the towel method of socializing would seem to be along this line of socialization training.

Most of us here advocate patience and just letting the kitties come around in their own time - with, of course, the many tips and thoughts to help them become more trusting more quickly.

As soon as we were able, we would pick up our kitties. For like a second - and then set them back down. Hopefully before they got to the point where they struggled. Having treats ready is a good idea when you're ready to start this. We wanted to make sure that if we had to crate them and get them to a vet, that we could do it. We're still working on picking them up and holding them - five years later. We can pick any of them up at any point and walk around with them, and they don't struggle. Several I can hold and pet for several minutes (and they purr like crazy) before they start to indicate they want down.

But when you do get to the point that you can handle them, I do think it's a good idea to pick them up - even if just for an instant - and set them back down. Then slowly lengthen the time - from 3 second to 7 second, to 15 seconds, etc. And we do pick each of them up every day.

Just an FYI: Our Spooky was originally adopted by someone else. They obviously tried to get a hold of her by throwing something over her. Now, this was a different case, because these people had no idea what they were doing, and were inadvertantly abusing the cats (there were two of them). But it took Spooky over a year to stop being scared every time we made the bed, and two Winter seasons before she wasn't scared of a Winter coat.

Obviously what your friend is doing is different - and it works for her.

So never having done it - I don't really know whether or not to advocate it.

But it sounds to me like things are going just fine.

post #11 of 13
Thread Starter 
Thanks Laurie and Jimmy! I think we definitely fall more into the 'let them come around' camp. It is just what I feel most comfortable with, and since I am the one at home with them the most, I think that is best for us. Our main reason for wanting to get them used to us fairly soon is that our vet asked us to - obviously, he said he would have no problem treating them but if they are slightly more tame, it might be a bit easier on him! Totally understandable!

We have only had them for two weeks today, and the patience thing is working. They are coming around, so we are going to stick with it. Niamh, amazingly, played last night. She came out and actively participated - though Paddy is still the most boisterous. I moved the wand toy (homemade) close to me and she even came over to get itn (about six inches away from my thigh). My husband had a work dinner last night, so it was just the four of us, and all three kittens came downstairs and just hung out with me while I watched tv. Major improvement. Niamh sat on the trunk next the sofa - where I was! It was only for a few minutes, but she is definitely getting more comfortable. Once the husband got home, they all three came downstairs again and he was amazed - in the past, only Paddy has comfortably come down. I managed to pet Paddy last night (twice!) without him running away.

I guess the most important thing is just for us to do what we feel is best. I totally understand that people can't speak about methods they haven't used, but it is good to have confirmation that what we are doing is another path.
post #12 of 13
I don't remember what it was like for the vet when he saw them before - but at ALL stages, no matter what our ferals were like with us - even the truly feral ferals that were just being trapped, neutered/spayed and then released - were all quite timid at the vets. Tuxedo, now that he's comfortable with us and everyone, can be a terror at the vet.

to you for doing so well with the kitties!

post #13 of 13
I'm new here and no one knows anything about me. I have had a cat as long as I can remember and I have tamed several feral cats over the years. The best thing I could do was to lock them up in my bathroom. Talk and interact with them every day and after a while they all will come around. Patience is the key word. Everything depends on it.
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