Taming feral kittens
Thinking of adopting a feral kitten or two?
You are thinking about adopting a feral kitten but not too sure as you find the whole prospect rather daunting? Hopefully this true story will help you make up your mind.
A feral kitten is one that is born in the wild and has had no human contact. The main difference between a feral and a domesticated cat is a fear of humans.
Taming a feral kitten will be one of the most rewarding challenges that you will take on, however it will also be frustrating at times and will initially require a fair amount of patience, time and perseverance.
This is the story of my 2 kittens whom I adopted from HAWS mid November 2005, after having fallen in love with their photograph on the HAWS website. George and Millie were trapped at 8 weeks old in Southall, and spent their first three weeks at a foster carer’s home before coming to me at 11 weeks. They were both very feral when I adopted them, having only seen a handful of humans in their short lives.
The first two weeks
During the first two weeks George and Millie were confined to a pen (supplied by HAWS) in which there was their bed, toys, litter and food bowls. The pen was placed on the floor in the living room so that the kittens could get used to seeing and hearing us entering in and out of the room.
The first week was the hardest and most frustrating, especially when Millie escaped from her pen three times in the first week! It took three adults and several hours to get her back in that first time! It was very disheartening not to be able to touch my two beautiful bundles of fur, who would shy away in a corner of their pen trembling whenever I approached them. The little rascals, however the minute my back was turned, would start playing and eating their food! With perseverance, and constantly talking to them and reassuring them, things soon began to improve. By the end of the first week I was able to touch them whilst they were eating.
The second week was easier in that they got more used to me and started associating me with yummy tasting food. I progressed from being able to touch them at the beginning of the week to stroking them at the end. It was also at this time that I started hand feeding them with pieces of chicken, at first with a spoon and then with my fingers; and no, they never bit my fingers! They were now becoming more confident in playing whenever I was present in the room. I would advise you to start stroking their backs first by placing their food bowls at the back of the pen, as they see your hand approaching their face as a threat. By the end of the second week there was definite progress, not only were they greeting me at the door of the pen with their little tails up in anticipation of tasty food but also I was able to stroke them confidently and lift them for a few seconds. They were also much more confident playing when present in the room, to the point they started throwing things around in their pen! George became a little monkey and started climbing and hanging from the top of the pen!
One may think it is cruel to leave them in their pen for so long, however, as the HAWS foster carer said to me, you have to be cruel to be kind. Do not be tempted to release the kittens too soon, as once released they will hide and continue their feral lifestyle in your home and will not settle.
The third week
The third week, once confident with me stroking and hand feeding them, was the time to let the kittens out of the pen so they could start investigating the living room. It is advisable to let them out in the room where you have your pen so they will be more familiar with their surroundings. Initially they were out of their pen for short periods (4-5 hours), but the hours increased every few days until they were out all day and penned over night. As expected, the kittens hid, especially when I walked into the room. However, Millie and George like all other kittens are very playful and inquisitive so it was not long before they came out to play. It is important to continue stroking and hand feeding them as much as you can when they are out of their pen. I would do this when playing with them or when they were lying on the sofa. Soon I was able to lift them, bring to my chest and kiss them. It was in the second week of their freedom that I got my first purr from Millie and then a few days later from George. That certainly was a momentous day! I jumped on the phone to tell the news to all my nearest and dearest! They probably thought I’d gone mad! But I did not care, hearing Millie and George respond and purr when I stroked them confirmed that perhaps I was doing the right things and that I had turned a crucial corner in the taming process.
After hearing their first purrs things progressed quiet nicely. By Christmas time (i.e. 3-4 weeks after being released into the living room and 6 weeks after getting them), George came to have a cuddle on my lap; this was later followed by Millie. I now have two bundles of fur lying on my lap at the same time! The kittens, at this stage, were out of their pen 24 hours; I left the pen door open so they could retreat back in there if they wished. They ate their food and used their litter initially in the pen and after the third week these were placed in the living room and the pen removed.
Week 5 and beyond
It was not until early January 2006 (by this time the kittens had been in the living room 5 weeks) that they had total freedom of the home. I purposefully left it until they were very confident with me so as to make the transition easier. Interestingly, this was not as straightforward as I anticipated, as they were reluctant to leave the living room, which had now become their comfort zone. The would run away if I attempted to stroke or lift them. This insecurity lasted approximately 2 weeks; Millie took the longest to adjust. By the end of January, they were eating in the kitchen with my other cat.
Were there times when I thought I could never tame them? Yes several, especially in the first few weeks. I must confess I nearly gave up when Millie escaped for the third time in the first week, late at night after I had been out on the town and all I wanted to do was to go to bed! I guess I just lacked confidence, mainly because I did not think they were responding. It is only on reflection I realize that they were actually doing very well. With support and encouragement from family, friends and the HAWS foster carer I got through it!
Any regrets? None what so ever. After not quite 4 months I have not only two beautiful kittens, but also the are both affectionate, confident and now much more sociable tame kittens.
Would I do it again? Yes absolutely, so much so that I have offered my services to HAWS in helping other feral kittens/cats.
How are the kittens with other people?
Well initially they would hide (Millie sometimes still does) but George soon began to enjoy the admiring words he was receiving and is now Mr Sociable!
In a nut shell, taming a kitten is not for the faint hearted, however anyone with a certain amount of time, patience and perseverance can do it. So go for it and good luck!
Please note that the time frame described in this story is applicable only to my kittens. This can vary from kitten to kitten. I understand from HAWS, that the older the cat is at adoption (greater than 12 weeks) the longer the taming process is.
To adopt feral kittens please use our online application form.