This tells us what to do in taming wild feral cats and kittens. Feral cats will require a different taming process than kittens (longer and more arduous).
Taming wild feral cats and kittens - Kittens
Feral kittens are easier to tame if carried out within the first 3-9 weeks of life. It seems that shelter volunteers prioritize the kittens that are more likely to be tamed. Kittens over 5 months of age are neutered and returned to the feral colony normally.
After recovering the feral kitten he/she should be placed in a pen or perhaps an unused box room. A suitable cage might be a bit like a cat carry cage but bigger and without a top. The room should be one that feels secure to a frightened animal but where they ideally would see people but in a controlled and gentle manner. This is a very gradual and secure introduction to the human race (what a shock!).
Social contact with the kittens should be gentle and quiet using a quiet and friendly voice. Cats get used to a voice and recognize it as friendly and will warm to it. The tone of a voice is very important in my experience. When out of the room the sound of a radio talk show will speed up the process of familiarization to human activity and presence. I think it fair to say that underpinning the whole process is patience, friendliness and gentleness backed up with good food!
I have always found that it is not a good idea to put one's outstretched fingers towards a strange cat. This can look aggressive and dangerous to a cat and it hurts when your finger tips get nipped! Better to approach (from the front) with the back of the hand which they can smell and get accustomed to. The same would apply to a feral kitten. Alternatively approach from above and behind and stroke the head and upper back. I find cats are more likely to feel OK with stroking if you stay high up on the body (e.g. shoulders, back of head, rather than rump, legs, hind legs etc.).
It may also be a good idea to first start stroking when the cat is distracted i.e. when eating! And using one finger gently at first perhaps. The whole contact thing needs to be very restricted and gently initially building from there.
Caution is the byword. And if we get scratched we shouldn't complain or shout or blame the kitten. It will have been our fault. It is so important to keep things friendly otherwise we just scare them some more and put back the entire process.
Food is useful in the bonding/socializing process. Food should be the kind that a feral cat would normally eat only a more healthy version of it. So it might include the kind of food we throw out as feral cats often raid dustbins and waste areas or restaurant kitchens etc. In other words suburban feral cats live off cooked human food waste such as cooked chicken and fish. Morsels of this kind of food can be fed to the kitten together with a more balanced food (high quality, if affordable, commercial wet food). The cooked human food is being used as a means to bond with the cat. The kitten will begin to look upon us as a cat and mother.
The room should be safe meaning no escape routes or small spaces and openings into which a frightened kitten might try and hide.
In time the kitten can be taken out of the pen (some people don't use a pen - just a secure room) and play and handling can commence. Handling cats properly is important whether they are feral or not. If a cat is mishandled she will feel insecure and uncomfortable and try and jump down. Handling should provide good support to the cat. We can even pick up kitten by the scruff of the neck (carefully) to mimic the actions of a mother cat moving her young to a safe place. Also, some cats do not like going on a human's lap. This applies to any cat feral or domesticated cat. A cat should not be forced to go on our laps is she doesn't like it. It may never happen for that particular cat.
Care obviously needs to be exercised when handling so as to not frighten the kitten and nothing should be forced. If the kitten doesn't want to be picked up, fine. Wait for the next day. It's got to be gradual and at the cat's pace. Returning the kitten to the safe haven of his/her pen will should calm things down if she becomes frightened and feel insecure.
Taming wild feral cats and kittens is not achievable sometimes. This is not a failure on our part. After all domestic cats are essentially tamed wild cats and some want to stay wild. At a certain point in time the kitten will behave like a domestic cat. If the kitten is to be re-homed and therefore have new human parents, the new parents would ideally be involved in the latter stages of the taming process to ease the transference otherwise the cat may become bonded to the cat tamer too much, making re-homing more difficult.
In the process of taming wild feral cats and kittens, changes in environment will upset the cat however (this also applies to any cat). So if we move home or the cat is re-homed it will take a long time to adjust. Cats like routine as it provides a sense of security. This applies to us too.
As to litter training, cats have a natural propensity to use litter as it replicates the kind of material (earth) on which they would normally do the business. And they are clean animals so doing it in the litter pleases the cat. Litter training is therefore relatively straightforward and if not it may be due to stress or an illness (which may be stress related such as Cystitis). This part of taming wild feral cats and kittens should be the least of your problems.
It is presumed that all the necessary steps with respect to cleaning, removing fleas etc. etc. have been carried out. Feral cats will almost certainly have lots of fleas and possibly other parasites (as well as other health issues such as URIs). All these need to be dealt with by skilled people before taming wild feral cats and kittens begins.
Neutered and Spayed Feral cats - photo by Editor B under a creative commons license
Taming wild feral cats and kittens - Feral Cats
When bearing in mind the numbers of feral cats destroyed in shelters every year (in the USA over 2 million...yes a massive number) it would seem that the human race has more or less given up on taming wild feral cats. With the endless supply of cats from unneutered domestic cats, it seems that the only practical solution is to destroy feral cats. This is the state of affairs we find ourselves in through a lack of wide ranging, government led, proactive measures over a long period of time. The point is that in taming wild feral cats and kittens we are trying to turn the clock back for these animals and it may be too late or the wrong thing to do.
The prognosis for the outcome of taming wild feral cats is not that good. As mentioned, it is really too late for some feral cats. These cats are hard wired wild cats. It could be argued that it is cruel to try and tame them. To what purpose are we trying to tame them? To improve their lives is the answer. But taming a feral cat may in fact achieve the opposite as a domesticated environment may be too stressful for the cat. Lets think of all the wild animals in zoos. Most often these animals have significantly shortened lives in captivity. The trouble with feral cats is that they are betwixt and between domestication and true wild animals. They are not truly suited to the wild as we have domesticated them yet the wild in them allows them to behave as wild animals. We created this uncomfortable situation for feral cats.
It is, though, possible to find a place, an environment that is, in effect, between the wild and domesticity, namely on a farm. A farm cat can live near humans and serve humans by being a mouser. A farm cat can chose when to socialize with humans. It would seem to be an ideal compromise and is a throwback to the beginnings of domestication of the true wild cats some 10,000 years ago. This is were some tamed or semi tamed feral cats should live.
However, nor all feral cats are untameable. There is a spectrum of types of feral cat from the fairly recently abandoned cat who has become a stray cat (and beginning to become wild and feral) to the hard core feral cat who has been born in the wild and knows nothing different. Taming wild feral cats and kittens of the former type will obviously offer a much higher chance of success.
Feral cats occupying an old dog house - photo eva101 (creative commons)
Taming wild feral cats and kittens - Shelter or Organised Environment
In should go without saying that the first port of call is a veterinarian to check out heath and neutering. Cleanliness and parasites are next. For the first three days it is generally recognized that a feral cat should be caged and the person doing the taming should allow the cat to become accustomed to him/her by her presence, voice and smell (leaving an article of clothing that has been worn). Interesting bits of food (cooked human food) will encourage the formation of the relationship. Although real cat food should be feed on a more permanent basis. Real cat food is flesh and other bits of an animal which commercial cat food does a rather poor job in replicating.
Some feral cats may recognize a litter tray, while those born feral won't and if they are purely city feral cats may not cover feces. This is not an issue though. It may be wise to initially place earth in the litter tray (potting compost) and then gradually introduce litter (clay litter) in a mix. A feral cat should use the litter but may use soft bedding so initially it may be best to avoid putting soft bedding in the cage. Clearly only we can assess how frightened and defensive the cat is. This may translate to aggression, which should not of course be punished. Precautions may need to be taken like wearing long thick gloves.
Once the feral cat is using a litter the cage can be opened and the long stage familiarization begins. This involves gradually getting to the stage where we can touch the cat. Taming wild feral cats and kittens is a slow gentle process so nothing should be forced. Our simple presence, food and friendly voice and our smell will do the trick in due course. Reaching out to touch should be done with caution and common sense - slowly, gently and low down with the back of the hand or fingers clasped.
Feral cats occupying a cemetery photo by by blmurch
Taming wild feral cats and kittens - Private Environment
It may be the case that we bump into a feral cat who has been raiding our food supplies or waste food. These cats may be not at the extreme end of wild but fully stray cats nonetheless. Initially they will probably run if they see us. But if there is a bit of domestication in them they will respond, I have found, to the sound of a low, quiet and friendly voice. Placing food out will start to create a routine for the cat. This routine will naturally develop to a relationship over time. And the time frame should be relaxed and long. Eventually they will let us touch them but we should always approach very carefully initially, approaching slowly with the back of the hand and at a low level. We are giants and frightening, so we should lower ourselves to their level and become generally less threatening.
A cat will instinctively want to make survival easier and if there is food and warmth (in cold weather) he will return and become friendly. Eventually he will rub against you and purr. Then he is saying, Hi there, I'm back and where's my breakfast? This is after all how the wild cat became domesticated at the beginning.
Taming wild feral cats and kittens to feral cats
Taming wild feral cats and kittens - Source:
- Own experiences
- Adopted from a Sarah Hartwell article
- Top by Feral Indeed! (feral cats after neutering/spaying operations)
- 2nd down by matthewfromtoronto (feral cat on the Palos Verdes peninsula 2006