Feral kitten trapped and brought home amidst California fires. (15 replies)
The English department of the college where I teach had started feeding this very pretty, blue-gray kitten over the past couple months. When the wildfires started and we were threatened with having to evacuate, I couldn't leave the little one behind so I requested help from the community, got a live trap, caught it and brought it home. Now I'm worried I might be trying the wrong approach in taming it.
I've had to handle it a couple times (with gloves) which I don't think has lightened its disposition toward me in the least. As per the post found on Petful about taming feral kittens, I've given it a place in the bathroom with a space heater and an upside down box lined with towels as a bed. It seems to be eating healthily enough (kitten chow). I've tried not to force the issue of handling (only on the occasion where I had to apply a flea treatment and extract it from beneath the sink where it had managed to hide--cupboard is sealed now...did it with heavy garden gloves and the little one took several swipes at me) I make sure there's enough food and water and occasionally try offering some of the wet stuff at the end of a spoon...I spend an hour or so per day reading to it (Terry Pratchett, not that that matters)...I've given it a couple toys too--fake mouse and a tuft of feathers hung from the ceiling by fishing line and a small stuffed wolf (about the same size as the kitten). But it always regards me with those big, dilated eyes from inside its little cave that say it'll rip my hand to shreds if I try to touch it. It's been 3 days now.
Am I doing something wrong? Do I just need to be more patient? Is there a chance I might simply have to release it into the wild again? (will definitely do the vet thing first, after these fires have calmed down)
Hi 1st Feral! First of all, let me say how glad I am that you are safe. It is a terrible situation out there in California right now. 🙁
It sounds like you are doing all the right things, you just need to be patient and wait her out. She's only had a few days with you, it sounds like. And the start of it all was very scary with the wildfires and the trapping. She just needs time to adjust. Keep doing what you're doing!
You're not doing anything wrong. I suspect the gloves are not helping it figure out what you are because they would be blocking your scent, and that will, yes, delay it becoming comfortable with handling. But that is a personal choice, and I understand you're probably do that for safety. 3 days is not very long at all for any kitten/cat to adapt to its new environment, especially one who has been outdoors and relatively independent -- I say relatively because it has been coming around to your dwelling for food for a few months.
I suspect that it is not a feral kitten because they are pack animals. If one finds a source of food, others will quickly follow. By quickly, within a matter of hours and 1 cat can quickly become 10. They will vanish (it is very difficult to actually locate the area of their colony) and return at feeding time.
What then is your kitten? My guess is (1) it actually has a home base somewhere in the nearby vicinity. It is an outdoor kitten (possibly indoor/outdoor) that wanders the "neighborhood" exploring, eating, drinking, and socializing. Or (2) it is a displaced kitten. One who somehow was displaced from its mother and/or owner a few months ago that survived and adapted to its outdoor life. That is a stray kitten. How do you know? Is it clean? A kitten or cat who has a home base, or an independent stray kitten OR is feral is clean. I don't mean free of fleas and ticks, I mean, their fur/coat is clean/neat. A newly/recently lost kitten or cat is a physical mess very quickly because they are disorientated and terrified.
You indicate you gave the kitten toys. Does it play with them? If it plays with them it is definitely NOT feral. Feral kittens do not play with "cat toys". They don't know how, they are not taught. Their goal is survival, and playing is detrimental to survival. "Toys" also have no smell. They would have no idea what they are, but would likely ignore them, or if they move, avoid them, or run from them. Stray kittens can also be very awkward with toys because again, living outside their main goal is survival, and they like their feral cousins, survive by their senses.
Feral or stray, can you domesticate them to indoor living? Absolutely. 5 of my 6 cats are/were feral kittens born in my yard which is used as a birthing ground by the feral queen of the colony in my area. Feral kittens/cats are remarkably easy to domesticate. You will read many well-written articles which gives you lengthy details on how to domesticate them. It's interesting, fun, but not really necessary. They are pack animals who have a home base. You are now their pack, if they are young, you are now their mother, your home is their base. You will need to introduce them to toys (which may take a few weeks for them to even look at them), and you may find as I have found, they prefer large ones (the bigger the better i.e. dog toys) that do not shiver, shake, or move. I strongly would not recommend them. They are very dog/puppy like, meaning their explore their world with their mouths. Toys that shake, move, can be interpreted as (1) a threat (2) a challenge and the next thing you know they have attack it to kill or master it, ripping it to pieces and eating it.
Stray kittens/cat can be harder. Much harder. Depending on their age and personality. All cats have their own distinct personality. The fact that the kitten is hiding from you is not only normal, it is in your favor. You and the kitten will be fine. You are being interpreted as possible threat, but your are also being interpreted as an authority. Giving them comfort, food, attention, and love, you will no longer be a threat, but you will remain an authority. That is good. Too friendly on the kitten's part, means no fear. Too quick (can even be immediate) to accept you, approach, etc, means you have a very independent, confident kitten on your hands. If it's a male, they call them alpha cats. An alpha cat is a handful.
My oldest cat (11 years) is an alpha male. Rescued off the subway tracks in NYC when he was 2 months old. I thought it was astounding that he was just marching down the tracks, unmindful of the crowds, the noise. He was rescued simply by people desperately calling "here kitty", which he immediately responded to, trying to scale the wall to get to the platform, high enough for my remarkably brave friend to be able to bend down, and reach him seconds before he was flattened by a subway train roaring in.
He was extraordinarily friendly, very clean, (no fleas), purring, wanting to get in, be in your lap immediately. He ate his food, used his box, etc. A little angel. Wrong. Had I not named him Imhotep, I would have named him Little Caesar. He was wonderful until you tried to tell him "no" "stop that" and he would turn and attack. Not swat, but attack to kill. He was remarkably vicious. Claws out, teeth bared, advancing like a big cat, a wild animal. He was astounding vocal when angry, yelling, screaming, head thrashing back and forth. He would even throw himself down on the floor like a toddler having a temper tantrum, which is exactly what he was having. Twice in his first 2 years he got himself so wound up in his anger that he actually had a seizure. I trained him. It took 2 years. How I trained him was by absolutely not tolerating the behavior; I was the boss. When he acted out (which could be several times a day) I'd tell him and put him in time out, that is, in NY, our bedroom, and close the door. I would tell him, talk to him, and leave him in there alone until he calmed down. That could be 15 minutes, or it could be a few hours. I did this all the time, every time. "Time out" became known as "jail". After a while he got used to it, and I did not have to put him in "jail", I would just tell him, you are going to jail. He would yell, scream, stomp, but he would march himself to "jail" and I would shut the door.
At 11 he is still an alpha cat. He still does not "like" the word "no" and he will complain. But he does not have temper tantrums, he does not attack, and he has not been in jail for 8 years. Which is good because he grew up to be a very large cat. 18 pounds of muscle, like a bull dog kitty. He is very much a lap cat, the vets love him because he is so big and cuddly, and we are very close. He is also very close to the other cats -- 3 5year olds, 2 3year olds. Five years ago he stared at the 3 kittens when I first introduced them after keeping them separated for 3 weeks. I had treats ready to distract him if there was a problem; and there wasn't. My little fuzzy miniature Mahogany who weighed less then a pound at 14 weeks, and was the size of a sparrow quickly took care of any potential problem. I put down a treat for Imhotep to eat. He picked it up, and Mahogany darted under his belly, reach up, took it right out of his mouth and ate it herself. He stared at her dumbfounded -- I swear the expression of his face was priceless, and they have been inseparable ever since. De-sexed, they are absolute mates. They are constantly together, sleep together, cuddle, hold, and groom each other all day, every day. In the meantime, little mini Mahogany -- who I was told by the first vet I took the kittens to, was far too small to survive, had the condition called "failure to thrive" and top of it the rare fatal illness AIP and it would be best it I just put her down, then and there. I said "uh, huh, don't believe you, not going to do that, and we'll -- grew up to be a massive female, 15 pounds. A munchkin (ie her legs are very short, so she is very short) she/her body is larger than Imhotep's, as akin to his alpha male hangup, she is an absolute drama queen.
One last thing, I know this post is so long, if you decide to release the kitten back into the environment -- which I can understand, and was often tempted with Imhotep particularly in the beginning -- and you know or learn for a fact that is actually a feral kitten from a feral colony rather than a stray, please do not desex it. I know that is a highly controversial thing for me to say, but I am saying it anyway. I feel very strongly about this. Feral cats have a roll. If you fix the kitten and it is a female you have destroyed her role in her community whether we, as humans, like their role or not. Additionally, intact cats do not know what a fixed cat is. That is, they don't know it's a cat, and can, and very likely will kill her (or him) seeing them as a threat.
Also, if it is a female, and it is a "pet", when the animal is fixed the vet will tell you it takes "10 days" for her to heal because de-sexing a female is major surgery, which it is. The vet will tell you to keep her isolated from any other pet you may have, no running, jumping, playing, all to ensure she heals without issue. OK. If it is a feral cat, however, they are fixed and immediately let loose back into the wild/their environment. I'm sorry, is there medical/scientific data that supports little miss pet kitty takes 10 days to heal + list of dos and donts, but little miss feral kitty takes 0 time? I mean, her little tummy won't rip open out there in the woods? She won't get an infection in the muck and the mire? Because why? She's magic? She's not. She's a helpless creature. Leave her alone.
In my opinion, de-sexing a feral cat is cruel and inhuman. It is designed for our needs and preferences (that is, fewer cats roaming around) not the cat's. We don't de-sex our squirrels and birds, and what have you out there but for some reason we love to interfere in the natural cat world. Leave it alone. Unless you're going to adopt one, please leave it alone
Thanks for the replies, both of you! I think I might have just needed some reassurance. After having read GeriD's very informative response I think I can fairly safely say that this little one is probably not a feral after all. No friends came to join it at the food dispenser that was placed out by the English department but its coat was only a -little- bit ragged. I remember being impressed with how well-groomed it seemed to be when I first saw it a couple days before the fires started. So, I'd say "clean" (I also, at the urging of a friend who used to raise cats professionally, inspected its feces for visible signs of worms...with latex gloves...and a...eughh...toothpick...no visible signs of worms and, as far as this untrained eye could see everything looked...errmmm...healthy?)
One of the other professors informed me that when it had first shown up a couple months back, it was with a mother and sibling. Neither has been seen for some time (though I've left the food and water dispensers out in the, albeit unlikely, event that his sibling is out there and we've only been seeing one at a time). Also it seems quite ignorant of what toys are for. Thankfully, I don't think I've been adding to its stress with the toys I've provided as none of them vibrate or move. So I'm reasonably confident, after GeriD's lesson, that I'm dealing with a stray.
I introduced my cat, Zeph (short for Zephyrus), to the kitten last night. Actually, the little one looks like a miniature version of Zeph (probably a contributing factor to why I couldn't leave it behind). I was there to monitor the situation closely. Zeph's had all his shots so I was reasonably sure he'd be safe. The response was remarkable: the kitten had never come out of its little box while I was there. When it saw Zeph, it almost immediately poked its head out and ended up halfway out of the box, clearly very interested and not at all hostile. They touched noses a couple times before Zeph hissed once (receiving prompt admonishment and removal from the room) and the kitten withdrew into the box again. I think it's a good sign that the kitten might get along well with Zeph and I hope the reverse can be true; I lost Zeph's playmate, Eve, a year ago to kidney failure and he's been difficult to keep stimulated ever since. Zeph's a scaredy-cat anyway; he always distrusts my brother for the first few days whenever he comes to visit before warming up to him again, so I have high hopes that he'll adjust.
Anyway, the whole scene was a little bit heart-breaking since I imagined that perhaps the kitten took Zeph to be one of its lost family. I spent the next hour lying on the floor, blinking slowly at the kitten and reading until the saucer-eyes started to droop and doze.
In any case, thank you both GeriD and Melissa Smith for your responses and encouragement (and the entertaining stories)! I'm attaching a couple pictures just so you can see what I mean about a "mini Zeph." The one of the kitten is a few days old, immediately after I'd released it in bathroom and just before I set up its little box (also shown). Obviously the one on the back of the chair is Zeph.
Incidentally, I think you make a compelling case regarding the de-sexing of cats, GeriD. I don't plan on releasing this little one; not after reading these responses. But if it ends up that that has to be the way, I'll definitely remember your argument!
Oh, my! They are identical! So cute, and handsome, too, Zeph, yes, you are. From the pics the kitten looks like a baby. 3 maybe 4 months? Unless its a tiny one, I don't think it's much older than that. Do you know if its a boy or girl yet? Can you see its teeth when it opens its mouth? Baby teeth look like baby teeth, softer, small, fewer. I'm asking about teeth because its in its teething stage definitely. Adult teeth coming in, some already in. Teething can make their mouths a little sore so if it seems a little cranky, or fusses a little with its food, don't be concerned. If it persists wet the kibble a little so its softer.
Their response to each other is excellent. Mini Zeph probably does think Zeph is family. Kittens love big soft cats, they really do. Mommy, even if Zeph is a boy.
I love that you read to it. Cats understand language, they do. Your voice is calming to it. Great job! So wonderful of you to take it in and care for it. I hope you do keep it, I really do. It is a stray definitely. Separated from its mom somehow for some reason. Heartbreaking. If she were available she would be there -- that young of a kitten? She would be there, calling for it until she found it.
Let me know how everyone's doing.
Hello again! Thanks for the kind comments! I'm sure Zeph would appreciate them if he wasn't...well...you know...a cat!
The little one let me pet it today! I'm riding a bit of a fuzz buzz right now. I wasn't, perhaps, as patient as I ought to have been. It didn't come to me. I'd rested my hand near it a few times and gotten it sniff or two. I decided to risk touching it and was rewarded. It kept a wary eye on me but from all other indications, seemed to enjoy it! Pressed its little neck against my fingers when I scratched. I gave it a bit of a brushing after that with one of those soft, rubber, static brushes; fur was feeling a bit coarse and ragged down the back.
Geri, your assessment of its age is pretty much in line with what I've been told. I'm afraid I'm so ginger about handling it right now that I haven't felt confident to do the kind of handling that would allow me to check its sex. It's a very quiet kitten. When it does vocalize, it's a tiny little chirp. I can't see its teeth. I've never seen it yawn (but then it's pretty dark in that little box). It does seem to prefer the wet food, though I'd imagined there could be any number of reasons for that.
As for its mother, I'd only joined the department for a couple days before this disaster hit (which, incidentally, finally seems to be winding down). They told me that they used to see a mother and sibling but hadn't for quite some time. I left the food and water dispensers outside the department where the kitten had made its home and have checked them on multiple occasions. Something was definitely eating the food but I've not yet caught sight. Considering my second check-up revealed the water dispenser as being very dirty, I'm guessing I'm dealing not with mother and/or sibling but with a raccoon. :\
On the one hand, I'm rather relieved that I it appears I don't have to try and trap more cats. On the other I feel awful for the little one when I imagine what might've happened to separate it from its family. 🙁
Anyway, all in all, progress seems to be very good!
Thanks again for all your help!
Hi! You're doing so great. Glad that you've patted/stroked it. That's the fun/best part! Love, pure love. Re the fur, did look a little dry to me in the pics. Along the back is classic, on down towards the hind quarter, back end.That's hunger. You might even see a touch of rust coloration on the tips/ends of the hair. It's been on its own for a bit. In your first post you indicated you were feeding it kitten food. Keep that up. Better nutrients/higher vitamin count, which is what it needs right now. The soft food is great if you have it available.
Also glad to hear that nightmarish disaster is starting to wind down. I cannot even imagine. Little kitty made out all right though; it met you. I love cats, and I love happy endings.
Best to all of you. Stay safe.
1stFeral, that's awesome news! I am not going to lie I wish I could pet both your cats LOL. You are doing an amazing job with your kitten! I too am glad to hear that things are starting to wind down. I heard today that a firefighter was lost fighting the wildfires; and there's been such a tragic loss of life and property. My heart goes out to you all.
Update! He's a drooler (reasonably sure it's a "he" now...copped a feel when he started responding to touch). Not a profuse drooler, but still, get the motor revved (and it's a pretty impressive motor) and a minute or two later, he starts to drip.
He dozed for a few minutes tonight with his chin resting on my fingers.
The fur seems to be getting a bit better. That said, he doesn't seem to be eating as much...and his little tummy is doing some very audible calisthenics. He doesn't appear uncomfortable but I know cats can be quite stoic when it comes to discomfort. I've been feeding him a can of wet food every morning, first by spoon and then by fingertip, but it's not the kitten chow and so probably not as nutrient-dense. His stool appears to be softer. Less well-formed than before (could just be the result of wet food). Still I'm a little concerned.
Still won't let me hold him but doesn't attack when I try. Just gets a bit panicky and those claws are a significant consideration when one thinks about trying to hold on. My hand is now a veritable hieroglyphic of these attempts.
Totally worth it though!
Thank you for the kind words and encouragement. I've got it -much- better than many. The fire only threatened me and my community. Worst inconvenience I had to deal with was a couple days without power or mobile service. Lots of people are enduring much worse. 🙁
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