If they gave out medals for patience, feral cat socializers would receive them. Even the smallest, little bundle of feline adorableness can be a hissing, scratching demon when taken from a colony. (Never take kittens away from their mom before they are weaned, which is about four weeks.) But a sense of satisfaction awaits those who can tame these diminutive “wildcats” and get them ready for a loving home.
So just how does one take a feral kitten from ferocious to friendly? If the kittens are under eight weeks of age, you won’t have too much difficulty bringing them around. It is more challenging socializing over eight-week old kittens that have not had positive contact with humans. Here are some steps that leading cat advocacy and welfare groups recommend for socializing feral kittens, after you’ve taken them in to a vet to be checked out.
Location: Containment is the name of the game when socializing feral kittens. You want to interact with the kittens in a space that is small and free from hiding places so that they can’t get too far away from you. Small rooms without beds and other furniture work, as do bathrooms. Some feral kitten socializers use very large dog crates that have enough space for a litter box, food and water and bedding and enable them to get right inside with the kittens for handling. However, whatever type of containment you use, give the kittens a few days to feel safe, advises the Feral Cat Coalition. “Visit them frequently and talk to them quietly, but resist touching. Always move slowly.”
Handling: The Community Concern recommends waiting two days before handling kittens. Use leather gloves or place a towel over the kitten. Also best not to come at kitten from the front since your hand coming toward it can frighten it. If the kitten remains calm, grip it by the nape of its neck and either put the kitten in the towel or snuggle it in the towel against you. Stroke the kitten and speak to it gently. Stroking and petting imitates the kitten’s mom grooming it. Make this first physical contact brief.
Build a bond with food: When you give the kittens wet food, (You can keep dry food out all day.) stay with them so they associate the food with you and begin to build trust, says Alley Cat Allies. If they are scared put the wet food on a spoon. Pet their faces, chins and behind their ears while they are eating. But don’t put food on your fingers. Kittens can bite, which not only can be painful; it also reinforces that biting is okay.
Time for play: In addition to building trust with food, you’ll want to play with the kittens to aid the socialization process. Play with the kittens individually using lightweight cat toys or kitty fishing poles. Get down to their level when you do.
Once the kittens are tamed and socialized, they can be placed in permanent homes.
If you have more questions about dealing with feral kittens, contact Whisker Warriors.