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Next step in socializing a feral cat

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
I'm relatively new to caring for cats. A group of us in our neighborhood trapped several feral cats / kittens, chipped in to have them spayed / fixed and released them back in our neighborhood. Long story short, they all were adopted by neighbors, and we have 3 of them. Two were kittens and fairly quick to get comfortable with us. The third is the mother of the two - named Nyxie - and she was pretty wild. We've been working with her for about 18 months and she's now living in the house full time, and now starting to come looking for scratches and affection.

Here's my question. We went out of town for 2 days and had a neighbor come in to feed and spend time with the cats. Nyxie was just terrified and somewhat reverted to her wild behavior, flying through the house looking for somewhere to hide. She never did come out to eat when the neighbor came. Took about 36 hours for her to relax again once we got home. How do I take the next step and get her to be social with other people? I could really use some advice.
post #2 of 9
Do you have a family coming to stay with you anytime soon? They should start out ignoring the cat, jst getting their smell around. Let her see the other person dealing with the the kittens.
Or a friend or neighbor who could come over for a few minutes everyday? Even a neighborhood child, who can be trusted to follow directions.
post #3 of 9
What a wonderful thing you all did!

They key to that is just having people over. Our cats are all feral rescues and totally used to flee whenever anyone came over. Gary's mom was the first to stay with us - she stayed for 10 days. After day 3, some of them started coming out. By the end of her stay, a couple of them would rub up against her.

She came about 8 months later. Only one of them hid for three days - the rest seemed to remember her.

After that visit, only the one would hide when people come over. It's six years later, and he still does. If they're still there during dinner time, he will come out to eat dinner, but then he'll flee again.

She may always be scared of strangers invading her territory. But the only way to see is having strangers in her territory. The more often you do it, the more likely it is she'll figure out she doesn't need to be threatened by it.

The above suggestions are all great!

post #4 of 9
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the advice. We don't have any scheduled family visits at the moment, but it makes perfect sense. Just expose her to more people. I'm not sure that I can have the neighbor come in regularly since Nyxie hides - I think she would just to hide in her courtyard for a few hours until the person left. But I'll encourage my in-laws to come stay for a while and with luck, Nyxie will decide it's worth coming out to eat!

Just breaks my heart to see her so scared again after she's come so far. We've waited over a year for her to decide it's OK to come looking for affection, so I guess we can wait another year or so for her to adjust to other people. We'll just have to make out-of-town visits short so she doesn't go hungry.

Thanks for the feedback. Any additional ideas more than welcome...Miss Nyxie and I would be grateful...
post #5 of 9
Well, maybe it's a good idea to set up a nice hidey/safe space for her if she doesn't have a regular spot. Cats tend to love boxes - maybe put one somewhere on its side with a flap down in a room the visitors wouldn't be in.

...She probably came out to eat after the scary stranger left.

BTW - have you tried Feliway or Bach's Flower Essences? Feliway is a synthetic hormone that mimics the friendly markers in cats' cheeks. We find that if we use it all the time they develop a kind of immunity to it - like with catnip. But if we use it for two weeks and then don't use it for two weeks, it can really help. Perhaps you should use it only before someone comes over - like the day before - or before you leave on vacation.

As to the Bach's Flower Essences, either they work or they don't - but there's no way to tell beforehand. I'd recommend the Rescue Remedy.

Both are available here: though I know the Feliway can be purchased for less other places.

The other thing you can do is to put on classical music or harp musing when guests are visiting, or when you're out of town. Feral cats tend to find harp music very calming, though a calm, quiet classical can do almost as well.

Also, for future reference, it's best to tell the cat sitter not to look for or try to chase down Nyxie (though I'm sure that didn't happen) - BUT if she's around, simply ignore her and definitely do not look at her in the eye and do not reach out to her. Both of these are interpreted as aggressive.

...and I know it seems silly to have people over as she'll just hide. But the more you have people over, the better chance she has to learn that she doesn't need to hide. And there will be that one magic time when it's time for dinner, and she'll walk through the room with the stranger to go eat.

post #6 of 9
Our Lily is a real scaredy cat as well, although for some reason when we're away she gets SUPER snuggly with whoever is taking care of them (that's a fairly recent thing). I think it helps that she knows their voices - one is a neighbour who she hears us talking to, and who talks to her through the window, and one is a friend who drops by regularly.

Anwyay, so one thing we did to help her get more comfortable around visitors was to get her favourite treats out, shake the bag to get her out, throw a treat to her, then hold a treat in their hand so she'd eat it out of their hand (or at least get close enough to almost eat out of their hand!).

It seems to have worked well, and she will actually come out when we have people over, once they've been at our house for more than an hour or so - once she's sure they're not there to kill her
post #7 of 9
Thread Starter 
More great ideas! We'll definitely try the essences and the music. The treats are a great idea as well, but I'm not sure she'd even come near a stranger at this point. She bolts to her favorite spots - under our bed or out in the courtyard (my husband enclosed it with a pergola top and wire so the cats could go "out" but stay enclosed and safe). No getting her out of either when she's scared (we don't normally try but did once when we had a mobile vet come to see her. Paid the trip charge and the vet never could get close to her. Now we just leave her alone when she goes into either place - assuming those are her little sanctuaries.

I have a dinner club that comes over fairly often with one cat-lover in the group. Maybe she'll be my test-subject for getting a new person in Nyxie's life.

Thanks all for the suggestions. I just hate seeing her terrified - hoping those days are behind her. (When it's just us at home, she's now the clown of the family - plays with EVERYTHING - but never distructive.)
post #8 of 9
Aw, she sounds like a sweetheart. I hope you're able to help her conquer this fear.

post #9 of 9
Hi Everyone, I am new to this but am enjoying reading all of the posts. I, too, have a rescued feral. I have had her for about a year and a half. She loves to be petted and touched, I almost cried the first time she let me touch her. It took a year!! I was so worried when we went on vacation, and sure enough when we returned, it took a few days for her to be relaxed and comfortable with me again. She even went out of the litter box a few times. Now she is back to her old self again, happy laying in the sun and hanging out with the other cats in the house. She does also respond very well to harp music. A CD by Diane Schneider is wonderful, all of my cats sit and relax to her music. I am sure things will be back to normal for you soon.
Best of luck!!
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