Socialization of Feral Kittens


How old is My Kitty?   What are Ferals?  Caring for Ferals. 

Lost or abandoned domestic female cats teach their offspring to be "feral." Feral cats are elusive, often nocturnal, and usually fearful of humans. Like most wild animals, they will not attack if unprovoked, but will defend themselves if threatened or cornered. Their strongest instinct is to run. If they feel trapped and escape is blocked, they will bite or scratch. Never try to catch a feral by hand. Always use a humane trap.

Any person attempting to tame kittens should be totally committed and patient. The taming process is certainly worthwhile. You are saving lives and producing affectionate loving companions. The keyword is patience, that is something that cannot be stressed enough. Almost any feral can be socialized to some degree. Some may never be cuddly lap cats, just as some may become completely domestic. Commitment, time, patience and love will tell the tale.

Feral kittens should not be taken from their mothers before they are four weeks old if this is possible. Five to eight weeks, being optimum. "How long will it take?" Ideally, with everything going for you, plus a bit of luck, with a kitten five to eight weeks old, two to four weeks.

The socialization of ferals can be divided into five stages.
(This is assuming you already have the kitten)!

    1. Confinement -
Remember - this kitten now sees you as threat. It is terrified almost to the point of shock in some cases. Feral kittens should be checked out by a veterinarian and tested for diseases contagious to other cats as soon as they are handleable. Keep them isolated from your pet cats, wash your hands, and wear a smock (or change clothes between handling visits) to protect against the spread of disease from the kittens to pets.

If a trap was used to capture the kitten, transfer the kitten to a cage/kennel large enough for a small litter box and bedding for the kitten. This kennel should be kept in a quiet room, where there is not a lot of traffic of any kind. You want the kitten to calm down. You must also provide water and food. For the next three to four days, visit the kitten often. Sit on the floor, talk very softly, and do not touch the kitten.

    2. Handling -
After two or three days, place a towel over the kitten, and pick it up in the towel. If the kitten stays calm, pet it gently on the head from behind. Never approach from the front. A hand coming at the kitten frightens them, which may cause them to hiss or bite. If the kitten remains calm, grip it securely by the nape of the neck; put the towel on your lap and set it on the towel. Stroke the kitten's body while speaking in soft, reassuring tones, then release. Make this first physical contact brief. Now for a treat, like baby food off a spoon. This has won over many feral kittens. Repeat this process as frequently as possible.

Brushing with a soft pet brush imitates the action of the mother grooming the kittens and will help the kitten start to transfer its needs to you. It is also extremely important for the health of the kitten to remove fleas as soon as possible. Flea combs work great. Kittens become anemic from flea infestation and can easily fall prey to illnesses in this condition. Kittens can be bathed with a mild dish soap (avoid wetting the head).

Never stare at a kitten for prolonged period they may take this as aggression. Try to be on the same level as they are on the floor. You look like a giant when you are standing. You might try a toy now—kittens enjoy plush mice and ping pong balls. Remember you want the kitten to bond with you.

    3. Restrict to a Small Room -
Within five to seven days, the kittens should have settled in, gotten past the terror stage, and started to bond with you. Every kitten is different, some come around quickly, and some are shyer. Nothing is in stone when dealing with a cat. Now you need to start building up the trust level. You do this by letting the kitten out of the cage. You will need to confine the kitten to a small room, this will allow him some freedom, and he won't feel so trapped. Remember that before you do this, you will need to kitten proof the room. This is like baby proofing. Make sure it is escape proof, look for climbing hazards, cords that can be chewed on, those types of things.

    4. Exposure -
As soon as the kitten is no longer responding to you by biting, scratching or hissing, it is time to start to expose him to other humans. Feral cats tend to bond with one human. This is fine if you are going to keep the kitten. If you want to adopt the kitten out, it's time to make new friends. Do this slowly, one new human at a time. Don't have a party or you'll undo all the good you have done.

    5. A Forever Home -
Make a plan for finding a forever home for the kitten. There are lots of rescues agencies that help with adoptions.

Kittens should begin the vaccination process at six weeks. Kittens may be spayed/neutered when they are 2 pounds (8 weeks). Remember that you want to stop the cycle of breeding, so having the kitten spayed/neutered in an important part of the process.

Some people make up applications, or contracts for the process of adopting out a cat. You may also want to inspect the home in which the kitten will live. You might consider asking for a donation for the kitten. People who get a kitten free, may not value the kitten as much as they should or they may want a free kitten to sell to a lab. Be careful, you are the only protection the kitten has against a bad owner or worse. Kittens can be placed at eight weeks, if they have become socialized.

When screening perspective new homes you should look for several things. Feral kittens may do better in a calm, secure environment, where there are no small children. The ideal home would be one in which you could place two kittens together and they would be indoors only cats.
How old is My Kitty?