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Help with feral/semi-feral cat

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
I need advice. My husband and I moved to this new home about a year ago. Ever since we moved in and even some before--we were feeding this little stray/feral cat. Over the last year--she has come to our house at least once a day if not more. She roams around our neighborhood but stays within 5 or 6 houses of ours. We started in the winter time raising our garage that is heated and cooled about 4 to 5 inches for "Patches" to get in and sleep and eat. Now we have started feeding her permanently in the garage. About 2 weeks ago, we spotted Patches in our neighbors garden. We thought she was trapped in there since the neighbor has the garden blocked off and protected from any kind of animal with rabbit wire etc. So we kept checking to see if we could get her out of the garden--when my husband went with a flashlight later that night--there was Patches with 3 little kittens.

Well, we took her food and water over to where she was hiding them. After she knew we saw them, she moved them the next day while we were at work. Long story short--she moved them 5 times in the next 5 days and each time we found them!! Couldn't believe it. And I might add they were excellent hiding places. Patches really knows what she is doing. Anyway, in one spot we thought we could catch her, we put a trap. We withheld her food and put it in the cage--she pretty much scoffed at us as she is ultra survival wise--

Anyway, last Sunday we decided we were going to find the kittens one more time and put them in our garage where Patches comes to eat. She had been hanging around and lounging around our house all day so we knew they we were very close. We found the kittens, put them in a cage. Showed them to Patches. She went into the garage (with a little trickery on our part) and we were able to put the garage dooor down with her inside with the kittens. She wasn't happy but she has done pretty well. She stays very very calm but sits under my husbands bass boat as cover when we enter and are in tending to the kittens.

Patches has always let us get within a few feet of her but never closer and if we move toward her she trots a few feet further away. Before we trapped her in the garage, if we pulled up and called her name, she would walk over and sit down about 5 feet or so away and wait for us to fix her some food or just stay around but never ever will let us get any closer.

I thought after we got her in the garage she would warm up to us a little more since she is familiar with us and does trust us. We have fed her for a year and is often waiting on us when we get home--just hanging out by the house.

We are handling the kittens daily and she watches us intently. We know cannot raise the gargage because she will escape. We can only enter the garage from inside the house. She already has tried to get out of the window once when she got spooked---otherwise, she is eating better than ever, using the litterbox and totally hanging out in the air conditioned garage. However, I know she longs to be outside. That is her life. We figure the kittens are about 3.5 weeks old now--they have been inside the garage for a week now. We are going to get them very used to humans and when old enough take Patches and kittens in to be checked out, given shots and spayed and neutered--especially Patches.

But here are the issues:

1) Patches gets further from us now in the garage than when we fed her before--I guess b/c she sees there is no escape--I have read and read about socialization. But she seems worse than before we caught her. Any ideas on getting her to warm up to us a little more? I want her to know she is welcome here and we will care for her and even let her in the house once she has her shots. But she wants no part of us really. She watches us, makes eye contact but ......that is it.

So any suggestions to get her to like us better. We are hoping she will see us pet and play with the kittens and maybe thing--that isn't too bad.

2) We have no clue how we are going to get her in a cage when it is time to take her to the vet--she is ultra smart and not curious or one to explore. She doesn't care about treats--she is very coy and dis-interested --she will wait you out.

We have about 3 to 4 weeks to figure this out--any thoughts? I don't want to totally have her distrust us after we trap her again.

3) Once we get her spayed and bring her home--I hope she has warmed up to us some. But what is the general opinion--will she come back when we release her? Our garage has always been a safe/food/shelter zone for her as well as our entire yard and house area--now when we release her will she see all this as somewhere she never wants to be again,since she was held hostage for 5 to 6 weeks against her will?

I am afraid we have killed any trust we had built up with her where she had gotten to the point if she saw us and we called her name (yes she knows her name b/c we always talk to her using it), she will come to us or at least within about 4 or 5 feet.

So will she hate us forever and run the other direction as fast as she can when we bring her home from the vet?

4) after she is spayed--how long should we keep her up before we let her go--will we keep her with the kittens or separate--we will be finding homes for the kittens.

I know this is ultra long but I wanted to give as many details for all you folks on here to get the full picture. Any thoughts or suggestions you have are greatly appreciated.
post #2 of 17
You have a semi-feral mom cat with babies. She would be wary of anyone right about now. Once she is spayed, she will relax a lot more and chances are you will have a lot more success in socializing her once that is done. After the spay, I would keep her confined in your garage (or house) for at least a few days if not a full week or more. She should be given time to heal, her hormones will need to settle down, and by keeping her there, it will reinforce that you are the bringer of food. You will not have lost her trust. She'll be so grateful to be away from the scary vet and back to familiar territory that she may hide, but she won't relate her experience to you. You will be the one to rescue her from the scary vet.

When you mentioned that you were trying to trap her, can I assume that you have a humane trap on hand? You could trap her in the garage. Strap the opening of the trap open with a plastic tie and feed her in the trap for a couple of days before you bring her in. Put newspapers or something in the bottom so the wires don't bother her feet. Feed her at the same time everyday close to your appointment time. If stinky canned food doesn't entice her, try Kentucky Fried Chicken - original formula with the skin/bones removed. Cats love it for some reason.

And ask the vet for some flexibility - if you can't get her trapped on the day of her appointment, you will need to reschedule. I simply know my vet's surgery days and try to trap those days. I just call my vet in advance and ask if they could fit in a spay.

Trying to socialize her right now isn't optimal and won't be easy. Gain her trust by handling her kittens and showing her that you are helping her to take care of them. Sit on the floor and read out loud to her. Put your stinky clothes (e.g. a t-shirt you wore all day) in with the bedding to get her used to your scent. Start sharing your scent and your voice and you can work on other things once she is spayed. And always remember - a cat does things on their schedule, not yours. When she chooses to come around to you, even in very small ways, you will rejoice.

Thank you for taking care of this kitty!!
post #3 of 17
Momofmany gave you lots of good info in her post.

The fact that you have several weeks before you'll be getting momcat spayed works in your favor, as far as successfully trapping her.

Start desensitizing the mom kitty to the trap by putting it in the garage and feeding her in it now. She will most likely be wary of the trap and will need time to become convinced that it's a good thing, and not something that will harm her. Put the food just outside the trap entrance at first. When the cat becomes comfortable with this, put the food just inside the entrance. Continue to move the food gradually further back into the trap, every few days or so until the cat is eating fully inside the trap. Just FYI, Tru-catch traps are terrific because the door closes quietly when the trap is tripped. The door slams down loudly in other traps, scaring the heck out of the cat. Many cats keep eating in the Tru-catch, unaware they've been trapped.

You are doing a wonderful thing for this little family. Thank you for being responsible and getting mama spayed. She is very lucky to have found people with such good hearts!
post #4 of 17
Yes, feeding her in a trap that's not set to trip is a great idea. If you've used it before, wash it with a light bleach solution and then spray it with Feliway - this will make it MUCH more "friendly." !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Amy already gave you great advice! Just spend as much time in there as you can, down at cat level, reading out loud, working on a laptop, sewing, singing.... whatever you can do. Interact with the kittens, use food as a tool..... and just ignore her, focus on working with the kitties, and she'll likely come around.

What a wonderful thing you're doing!

post #5 of 17
Thread Starter 
Thanks so much for responding. Those are good ideas. I know from reading lots on feral/semi feral cats that it is best to have them ideally in a much smaller space for a try at socialization than where Patches and the kittens are but after a week of trying--we were actually very happy to just get the kittens and her in the garage. That felt like a major achievement.

We are not worried about the kittens--they are small enough where we can handle them. We will be able to socialize them. I am just worried about keeping Patches as a friend. She jumps up in the windows in the garage to see out and watch outside where she has roamed the last about 18 months to 2 years. I am afraid when we release her she will hightail away from where we have had her trapped.

We took her safe haven and and turned it into a trap. I know that she feels betrayed.

Great ideas on putting the food near and in the trap. We will work on that. It is a Hav-a-heart trap--we borrowed it from our local animal control.

Thanks for all the advice. I will keep you posted.
post #6 of 17
Thread Starter 
One other question:

I have a 2 year old neutered male cat that I found in a drain pipe in the curb at my old office building. He was covered in fleas, had a respiatory infection, worms you name it--he was about 4 to 5 weeks old. We fed him milk and babied him back to good health. We have never been cat folks in my family--mainly due to bad experiences with friends cats when growing up---anyway, he learned how to be a cat from my yorkie--they would ride to and from work with me everyday together in the dog bed--he still loves to ride in the car. But he is a total inside cat. He wants to be outside--but we live in the country--lots of wildlife that like to eat cats. That is why I am so happy Patches is so smart. Patches had another kitten a few months back that we didn't spot until it was probably 6 to 7 weeks old and it wanted nothing to do with us and we rarely saw it. Only by accident would we see it. Well, then just one day it was gone. That is why we didn't want these same kittens to meet the same fate and didn't want Patches to keep having kittens. So that is why we went into action. It is such a joy to drive up and see little Patches sitting by the garage or waiting in the garage for us to get home.

Anyway, sorry for such a long story but setting this question up. Our cat we rescued 2 years ago, Ranger, acts mean and tough most of the time but he also can be a big wimp. Well, he has gotten out into the garage twice with Patches out there. He goes nuts charging at her and hissing and howling and just carrying on like a mad cat!!! It is horrible. I had to jump between him and Patches--she acted submissive kind of by backing up and staying low on the ground while he was acting like a fool. She then ran and got behind something while I made him back off. I don't want them entangled until I get her shots and get her checked out. She has never had any vet care as far as we know. I know if she has that FHIV--it is not good for them to be around each other. I felt ok making him back off--I trained somewhat like a dog so he responds alot of the time to my voice commands. And he did back off when I got him to stop and listen.

Anyway--finally to the question--why does he act such like a raging maniac when he sees her? Again, we don't have alot of experience with cats. Is it because a cat in his territory or home? That is another reason we have her confined to the garage. Since we cannot catch her--if she gets in the house--we would never find her. We have a pretty large house with lots of hiding places. Plus, I want her checked out first.

But why does he carry on so wildly. In fact, Ranger got outside a week or so ago by accident--I think he was out there an hour or so and was near where Patches had hidden her kittens under our deck stairs(before we caught her in the garage)--but when I realized he was out--I called him and he came running but went bezerk when I tried to put my hands on him--carrying on and screaming and hissing like he did when he saw her tonight. In fact, since I don't know much about cats and he when I found him didn't know he was a cat--I actually trained him to come when I whistle for him--just like a dog. He didn't know any better so he does it. But it still took my husband and I and the yorkie, to corral him up and back into the house. In fact, he ran over to our dog like help me escape from these crazy humans!!!

Anyway, all of you are experts with cat behavior--can you shed any light on this.

Again, sorry for such long posts but I want to give the details.
post #7 of 17
Only posted here a few times and am no expert on ferals. Just wanted to
say be patient. We also fed our feral outside, then inside with a paint can
holding up the garage door. He always came when we called him for dinner
too. This fall we shut him in. PA winters are nasty. It's a heated double
garage (actually a workshop) with a door into our family room. He hid for 2
days and never touched his food. Shutting him in was like starting all over
in the relationship.

He could hear us all the time in the house and we sat on the floor and talked
to him all the time. I got a few swats that drew blood. Last month he
started rubbing against my arm but if I tried to pet him I got swatted, but
with no claws. A few weeks ago he finally let me pet him and purred and
now runs to me to be pet, but doesn't let me until I sit on the floor. It took
almost a year and a half to get this far. Inch by inch and always on his terms.

Not much help here with your other questions but thought my experience
might help you a little. Lots of patience and love. Good luck with your
kitties. You are such a kind person. Elaine
post #8 of 17
I'm new to the feral game but this is what I have noticed.

Even when they hate you, they love you while you are feeding them. I wouldn't do it now, while the kittens are nursing, but if you withhold food from Patches for a meal or two, she'll be all over you the next time you show up with food.

Google "taming feral kittens" There's a site called NYC Rescue (or something like that) with You Tube clips on taming the kittens with food. Their method really worked for me for the initial taming part. My boy kitten tamed up in the blink of an eye. The girls are hot and cold. One of them is still mad at me for taking her to the vet 2 weeks ago. Not scared. Mad.

A week ago I decided to be happy to have 2 tame cats and 2 other cats who play with my tame cats. Now I don't feel so pressured to make friends with the 2 baby girls and they surprise me by occasionally making overtures of affection towards me.

My mom has tamed two grown up ferals in her neighborhood simply by giving them access via the cat door and feeding them inside. Again, the boy tamed up almost immediately, in 3 weeks, but his sister (my kittens' mum), 5 months later, is still unwilling to engage in lap sitting. Petting, however, is tolerable, in exchange for food.

Your tame cat just sounds like he got scared. That under the door play stuff seems to work. Can he reach under the door to the garage and engage Patches in play? Give them a toy that they can pull back and forth under the door.

Hope that's of some help.
post #9 of 17
Yes, he's upset there's another cat in his territory. It's possible she's gone into heat again already, and even though he's neutered, he can smell it and would react to that too.

Cats are almost always all about territory. Some are more accepting of other kitties in their territory than others. One of our seven accepts new cats right away. One of them takes a solid six months to stop hissing and growling - and a full year to be friendly. When you bring a new cat into a home with an existing cat, there are ways to go about it that can mitigate those issues (or eliminate them altogether ) - but he is clearly not happy about her being in his home! I'd just do my best to keep him out of there.

Two more things to consider doing... Buy the Feliway spray and use it around the garage (but not near litter boxes and places she's allowed to scratch). Also, can you set up a CD player or small stereo or something out there? Because ferals react REALLY well (calming influence) to harp music and other classical music. Here are some ideas for you if you can or want to do that:

Link to music in upper right hand corner:

...and I don't think she'll hate you or consider your garage a "bad" place. Every time we release a cat from being spayed or neutered we get so scared when they run from the trap.... but they always come back at feeding time. I think as her "nesting" place for her babies, your garage will be just as "friendly" for her when she's once again allowed to roam. And being spayed will help calm her down.

What you can do is if you're letting them free feed on dry food, if you set a regular feeding schedule for "dinner" or something with a meal of wet food, just keep it up once she's been released - I'd bet she'll keep coming back at "meal time."
post #10 of 17
Thread Starter 
We have progressed a little bit with Patches but no closer to any touching her. We have been playing the radio--news channel--all talk. Don't know if that helps or not.

BUT--all of a sudden Patches quit eating. She hasn't eaten since late yesterday afternooon--Saturday--we also noticed that it seemed like the kittens were really wanting to nurse alot. They are getting older and much more active and still have no interest in food--I have tried to feed them wet and dry/moistened food.

We bought some cat/kitten milk at Publix and put in a bowl--kittens didn't care about it--Patches drank some last night. This morning when I went out to feed Patches or give fresh food and water--she had not touched her food I gave her last night, nor any more of the milk and had thrown up blood in a few places. She has not used the littler box today nor has she eaten. She has moved around some but we don't know if she has fed the kittens or not. They are sleeping, playing, sleeping, playing...

We are going to get different milk--that milk didn't look right to me. So we are getting a bottle and some replacement milk--if Walmart has it. We think they do b/c we live in a rural area. My husband is gone to get it. We are going to bottle feed the kittens ourselves to give Patches a break since she isn't eating and probably not drinking either.

This blood I read can be from many things. I am not new to that b/c I had a Yorkie once who had colitis and other isses that often had blood in her stool. But this was straight blood--or bright red liquid. I think if it were urine she would have gone in the litter box. It had to be this morning b/c I went out to feed her early---around 7.

We can't get our hands on her yet to go to the vet but our time to try that was when we were taking her to get spayed. I am not quite sure what to do. I keep checking on her hoping she will be eating and whatever it was will have passed. If we do trap her to take her to the vet that will only add trauma and I don't think after not eating for a day or two that she could endure the stress of humans, the vet and any surgery.

I am at a loss and it doesn't matter what I give her to eat--she is not interested.
post #11 of 17
Do you have any poisonous chemicals in the garage that she might have gotten into? Antifreeze is very attractive to animals but a deadly poison to them. Even if there was a little bit that dribbled out of the container as you poured it, it could have attracted her and she licked the container.

I know you don't want to hear this, but I think you need to get her to the vet ASAP, emergency vet if possible.

For the kitten formula - look for KMR. If Walmart doesn't have it, a good Farm and Fleet type store usually carries it.
post #12 of 17
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the response--that is what I asked my husband--no chemicals--no antifreeze. I just took up all older food and gave her fresh food--she acts the same as always--just not eating--no other vomit or anything--since before 7 this morning. It was like it was one episode all the spots are grouped together.

She just laid down and let the kittens nurse--but not for long. My husband just got back with a bottle and some milk--the kittens are not interested at all in the bottle. We will have to keep working on that.

We have no emergency vets anywhere nearby--I know that is not good--blood and vomit. It is 4 pm here--all I can do is keep checking on her and hope and pray for her to eat tonight. If she will eat, I will feel better. I also am hopeful because she hasn't continued to vomit and she didn't have any diarrhea.

She ate last about 24 hours ago--she did drink some of the cat/kitten milk we offered her from Publix last night --maybe that made her sick--but the blood is disturbing.

I will call vet at 7:30 in the morning. If she is stressed already due to this--what we would have to do to catch her would likely put her over the edge. I know with my yorkie--alot of her vomit and bloody diarrhea was brought on by stress.

I am just puzzled what happened all of a sudden--she has been doing pretty well other than not wanting us to near her. However, she just laid down with me within 3 feet of her to let the kittens nurse---she got up and moved when I made a wide path to leave the area. But there are moments of letting us get near.
post #13 of 17
Please do not wait until 7:30 in the morning to call the vet. This is an emergency.

Call any vets in the area and leave a message. Many vets that do not advertise being an e-vet will meet you at the office after hours if you leave a message about an emergency. Our non-emergency vet actually leaves his pager number on the message machine and will call back to determine if it's an emergency.

post #14 of 17
Be sure and put something on the floor of the trap - this will protect her tender feet.

I used a thin piece of cardboard - away from all the workings of the trap door.
post #15 of 17
Sorry I didn't see the latest post - I was in the process of posting, but had to stop and do something, meanwhile - the posting about Mommy not eating popped up.

I hope all is well!
post #16 of 17
Just checking in. Hoping all is OK?
post #17 of 17
Any update on Patches ?
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