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New to Ferals - Help!

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
I've never had pet cats, so know nothing about them. We're new to a farming community, and there are apparently many strays from the barn cat population that have become feral families. A female is raising her five kittens in the woods behind our mobile home. I'm allergic to cats and was befriended by a one-year old stray last year - but she must have been around people at some point because we found out from the vet when we took her to get shots and spayed that she's a pure bred maine coon cat and had already been spayed! It took several months for her to trust us. Our home is too small to have her as a pet - but she appears to love being an outdoor cat. She generally comes by only when she wants pets and food - or a place out of a snowstorm or rain. We keep her clean and bug-free, and she has come to love being groomed. Do I try to do the same thing with the new family of ferals out back? The ferals living behind our home just turned up, and I don't know enough about cats to know what to do. We'd seen the mother around here - she is VERY skittish and wouldn't even come back to sniff food thrown to her. But we noticed what turned out to be her kittens playing around here. We've been taking up food and water (she always lets them eat first and stares us down as we walk up to their burrow). Should we/when should we/how should we catch her to take her to the vet to be spayed? Should we try to socialize the kittens to find them homes (probably hard to do around here there are so many strays)? Or should we just be benevolent friends, providing food and clean water? Or should we trap all of them to take them all to a vet? Or is best for them in the long run if we leave them alone, forced to defend for themselves? A little late for that - the kittens are becoming used to us - two of them will take food out of our hands. Do we stop? And if not, how do we teach them the love of being petted? Do we try to keep them bug free? I'd adopt them all if I had a home that could accomodate them, but that is not an option. Any suggestions? I want to do what's best for them (and boy are they cute!). Thanks for Help!
post #2 of 11
What a kind-hearted person you are for worrying so over a creature that most people (with the exception of people on this board) think are a nuisance and should be eradicated.

I have 14 cats, all were ferals at one time. To socialize a feral takes a lot of time and a lot of patience. It requires you to understand their terms and accept them instead of asking them to be an instant lap kitty, purr bug companion. But, once you gain their trust it is an awesome feeling. You can force this socialization along quicker by using confinement in a cage, but I personally don't subscribe to that method. To take a feral and trap it humanely and release the cat into a closed room is one thing, but to put it immediately into a small cage would traumatize it and work to a disadvantage. I have done this method, but only in cases of really ill ferals that needed vet care yesterday.

If you are unable to handle cats without severe allergic reactions, then perhaps the best thing to do is to trap the momcat and get her spayed once the kits are old enough (12 weeks and up) And then just re-release her into the woods, providing her with food and water and even making some sort of shelter for her. I have a big hollow log that I placed a board on one end to block off, stuffed it with hay and it has been a wonderful home for ferals over the years.

If someone near you wants the challenge of socializing the kittens then you can get kitten traps (humane ones) and trap the babies again when they are old enough, because trapping them while they are nursing is not a good option unless you know you can get them all and mom too. The ones that come close to take food out of your hand, you can try and grab, but you have to be quick and you have to have protection because once the scruff of the neck is grabbed that kitten will turn into a hellion with claws. But it can be done.

You need a place to keep the kittens until they can be shown you mean them no harm.

Don't stop giving them food. try and keep to a schedule and routine so they "expect" you to show up. This helps with the trust factor. Feel free to email or PM me through this board on this. I have been dealing with ferals for many years and have a lot of tricks up my sleeve to share. Good luck!
post #3 of 11
Thread Starter 
Thanks for your help! Feral Mom is very watchful, and has apparently started taking them out on excursions. I have no need to rush the socialization process. They all seem very healthy and they do have a fairly large burrow complex as home (it must have been made by a groundhog or something). Since mommy is reluctant to trust us, it'll probably be best to wait until the kittens are weaned to get her spayed. I guess we'll continue to make sure she (and her family) has food and water until then (and after then too!), and then we'll just release her back to her home in the woods. In the meantime, should try to get flea collars for the family, or use those drops, etc. to help them fight the flea/tick problem. ?? We're trying to "socialize" the kitties by sitting near them while they eat. We take up fresh water each morning before work, and we take up more water and the food each evening after work, so we accidentally did the right thing by being regular. Unless it's been raining, we often sit on an upside down milk crate near where we put the food, which is next to one of the openings of their burrow. We inched the box closer and closer, and now we can reach down to touch them when they eat. Only two of them don't run away - and the rest come back to continue eating if we leave them alone, although mommy will only eat when we're at least 50 feet or so away. I don't know how we'll trap mom, and I know emotionally it'll be tough for all of us, because the poor thing seems so scared already. Any thoughts as to where can we purchase a humane trap? Is that something that would be in the shop on this site? Thanks for your help - I love my new friends!
post #4 of 11
So let me break down your questions for you.....

when (how old) can the kittens be spayed/neutered?

They usually should be done at 5-6 months old. But check with your local vet, depending on your area the vets may have other rules about this procedure.

What I don't know is if we should try to get flea collars for the family, or use those drops, etc. to help them fight the flea/tick problem.

Please don't put flea collars on these guys. Chances are strong that they not only have fleas, maybe lice, and more than likely worms, but the best thing to do is after they are trapped or "grabbed" to take them into the vet for standard testing and letting the vet prescribe the right treatment for them.

I can share with you how I capture feral kitties that come out to eat. I call it the hissy grab and it takes patience and strong arms. But basically once they accept me as being close, I begin to lay down on the ground on my belly next to their dish. This decreases the threat I pose to them by making me on their level. Once they get used to this, I raise my arm up in front of me so it hangs over the dish. Once that is accepted, and the kitten is eating, I swing down quickly grab the scuff roll over on my back and get to my feet and put kitty in a carrier nearby. I have caught a lot of babies this way, but the best way to trap them would be if you can get them to go in a carrier and just shut the door- it is less stressful for you. Mom is going to be difficult and probably have to be trapped. Your local animal shelter should have cat traps for rental. You can buy them, but they are spendy.
post #5 of 11
I can't offer any advice, just wanted to say I think you're great for trying so hard to help this feline family.

Hissy, I had heard about the famous "hissy grab" but had never heard it described. WOW!! I would love to see you in action! It must have taken years to perfect. You are truly a patient woman.
post #6 of 11
I just love ferals and so many people just don't understand them or accept them.
post #7 of 11
Thread Starter 
I understand your love for ferals. Once you love cats to begin with, don't you have to love the strays and ferals? The cats and kittens are so blameless in what's happened to them. My heart leaps out to them. I never really liked cats - I loved that dogs so easily loved me back. But the reward of being loved by a fiercely independent almost wild animal is unparalleled. The hungry stray, Rocki, (a beautiful Maine Coon) that started all of this for us often feeds herself. She comes by sometimes only to be groomed and spend an hour or so in my lap purring - then she's wants to be off on her way, conducting guard duty in her territory, I guess.

Thank you for helping answer all my questions about what to do with them, but I find I have another (!) Should I trap the kittens now and take them to a vet, or should I wait until they're weaned first? Thanks again for all.
post #8 of 11
It is a good idea for the kittens to be at least 12 weeks old before being seperated from mom. She may or may not be nursing them now, but she is teaching them the ropes. The longer they stay with her, the better because she will teach them to bury their waste, to hunt, to climb trees to get away from predators and other essential skills they will need. Not being there to be able to gauge how old this family is, it is hard to say. Just by looking you can't always tell how old kittens are. If you know around when they were born you can guess and go from there.

Here is a pile of some of my ferals
post #9 of 11
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the picture - they're beautiful! I'll take pictures, but won't be able to get them up for a week or so (not a digital camera). The kitties (two black & white, one like a tiger pattern but gray with white feet, one like a tiger pattern but gray and orange with black feet, and one large orange and white) were teeny and wobbly when they first turned up, and we're pretty sure mommy's den for them when born was the burrow they run to when spooked. They're climbing trees now, and mommy has definately brought at least partially live mice - several times that we've seen. So they might be a month old. She takes them on excursions, because when I keep an eye on them over the weekends they disappear for hours at a time in the morning and afternoon. They're always here early morning and evening. We'll wait until after Labor Day to take them in. By then they'll probably be very used to us and it shouldn't be much trouble to grab (thanks for the advice!) or trap them - except mommy, who we'll have to see how it goes. Thanks for your help . I bet the kitties thank you too. I love having "permission" to take care of them! My mother (who also knows nothing about cats) was concerned that we were potentially hurting them by getting them used to people and making them dependent upon us.
post #10 of 11
Oh no you are not hurting them in the least! You are their angel! The kitttens sound so cute- I can't wait to see these pictures, and you are right, mom is taking them out to show them how to survive, because she does not yet know her wild days are coming to an end. Good luck with the family!
post #11 of 11
Thread Starter 
I look forward to loving my feral family, and I will get them spayed/neutered and provide them with all the healthcare they need. The stray that adopted us (Rocki) loves her mice, so gets tapeworm often. I expect no less from the family. But what happens when I have to travel for vacation or business? I haven't been gone for more than 3 - 4 days in many years, but it might happen. Will they be able to fend for themselves? We live in an area that has gated access, and the owners of the property hate the cats. (Probably why they don't take proper care of the barn cats resulting in the strays/ferals around here).
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