Feral cats are wild cats, cats that have been abandoned by their humans, cats that have lost their way or cats that have been born in the wild and do not know any other life. Feral cat colonies usually get their start with one pregnant cat that has a litter and the litter grows and it has its own litters and it grows and grows. There is much to be said about feral cat colonies but we are discussing at this time taming and raising a feral kitten or kittens.
A pregnant feral cat will have its kittens in a fairly remote and hopefully safe place. Unless a human accidentally stumbles across the spot where the kittens are hiding it will be a while before anyone will see them and sometimes it will too late to try and catch them in an effort to rehabilitate them.
The best age to try and catch feral kittens is when they are about 4 to 6 weeks old. At this age they are not extremely active and mom has not taught them everything they need to know about living in the wild. They have had their mother’s milk, which is the best nutrition a kitten can have and have ingested the important antibodies that only a mother cat can give.
Trying to catch the older feral kittens will require a pet carrier or a humane trap. We have had good luck using several of our carriers in our attempts to catch older kittens by bribing them with food inside the carriers.
This only works if you are nearby and can pounce on the carrier the moment the kitten or kittens get in side and you can shut the door. The older the kittens the harder they are to handle and we suggest thick gloves and long sleeves. Kitten bites can be very painful and should be treated right away. Medical attention is suggested and the biting cat kept away from the others.
Not having any human contact a feral kitten will hiss and spit at you, as they are scared. The wildest one is probably the most scared. Our purpose in catching the feral kittens we knew about was to take them to a shelter where they would be fostered out, hand raised and socialized with the intent of finding good homes for them. The same method of using the carriers with a food bribe can be used to catch the older feral cats in order to have them spayed or neutered and returned to the colony.
If you have found the kittens, caught them and intend to raise them yourself the next intelligent thing to do is cart the kittens off to the vet and have them checked over. However, this might be like playing Russian roulette as you have very scared kittens that are seemingly fighting for their lives. Sometimes it is best to wait before taking them, as long as the kittens are isolated from any other pets and they show no visible signs of illness.
Undoubtedly you were aware of where the kittens were and had been planning to capture them as soon as they were older. In the event that you do not want to subject yourself and the kittens to the trauma of a vet visit right after you have captured them here are some suggestions.
* The kittens need peace and quiet for a few days with literally no handling. If you have not taken them to the vet for a check up and you have other animals in the house, you need to protect them from any diseases or infections the kittens may have. The new kittens need to be isolated from all of your household pets until the vet says they are healthy and you have tamed them.
* Always wash your hands after handling any of the food or water containers and any thing else you may have handled in the room where the kittens are being kept. It’s a good idea to keep an old shirt that you can slip on over your clothes when you are in the room with the kittens.
* For the first few days the kittens should be kept in a large crate or even a cardboard box with a small litter pan and their food. We found that using the bathtub in our guest bathroom was a great place to keep kittens and/or puppies. Layer the tub with an old blanket or towels to keep the little ones warm and put the litter box at one end and their food and water at the other.
* During the first few days visit the kittens often, talk softly, but do not handle them. To feed the kittens dilute cow’s milk with water (50/50) and mix a small amount of canned kitten food (not cat food) into the milk and place in a saucer or other flat dish.
Your vet can also tell you what to feed the kittens if you call the clinic. Iams makes a kitten food and packages it in a can. Since the new thing now is foil packages the only place we can find the canned version is at Pets Mart. We would not try to feed the new kittens dry kitten food unless it is soaked very well in milk and is really soggy. Even though we said not to handle the kittens for a few days after capture; you may have to put their noses in the food dish so they know what it is.
If you find that you may have to hand feed one or two of the kittens wrap them in a towel with their tummy lying in the palm of your hand. I found that feeding with an eyedropper was the easiest for me. Always feed to the side of their mouth and not directly in the front as you would normally think to do. By feeding from the side you are less likely to choke the kitten with too much milk. If you have to hand feed a kitten we suggest feeding only milk until the kitten gets the hang of eating out of the dish. It is always a good idea to check with your vet for his/her recommendations on feeding your litter.
After two days it is a good idea to start the handling process. Go slowly at first, some soft pets and a low voice. Don’t be surprised if you get a few hisses or spitting from one or all of them. Start with the calmest one first and work your way through the litter. If one of the kittens seems very high-strung single that one out for extra pets and loves. If the kittens are fighting you when you try to pick them up wrap each kitten one at a time loosely in a small towel while you are holding them.
Feral kittens and cats are really not good around children. Children are loud, they run and jump and in general are rambunctious. Loud noises and sudden movements will scare most feral cats and kittens. Fleas are more than likely a serious problem and it is important to remove as many as possible at once. A flea comb is a great way to remove the fleas. You can softly comb the kitten during the handling process.
It is not recommended, but we have on several occasions bathed the kittens in warm water the moment we got them home in order to get a head start on removing fleas. It is important to keep the kittens warm and to dry them as quickly as possible (do not use a hair dryer).
Do not look directly into the eyes of a kitten or a feral cat, the direct look or stare is considered an act of aggression by the kitten or cat. I have read that you should avert your eyes often and frequently lower your head in an effort to appear submissive.
Within 4 or 5 days the kittens should be ready to start playing with you. A piece of cloth tied to a string and dragged along the floor is a good cat and mouse exercise along with small lightweight catnip toys. By now you should be seeing that the kittens are making progress and are socializing a little better with you. This might be a good time to move them out of the bathroom or whatever you confined them and let them loose in a spare room. Remove any cords and other dangerous hazards.
Once the hissing and biting has stopped and the kittens are calm this is the time to bring other people in (one at a time) to handle the kittens also. This will get them used to other people. Do not let any small or young children in to handle the kittens.
By the time they are 7 to 8 weeks old and if you haven’t already taken them to your vet now would be a good time to do so. Between 8 to 10 weeks if the kittens are now socialized they can be adopted out. However, we STRONGLY advise you not to send the kittens to a home where there are young children. Cats in general are not happy around confusion and loud noise and feral kittens no matter how well socialized have an inbred fear of such things and will not handle it well.
Feral cats and kittens need a quiet household with as little confusion as possible. If possible, place two kittens together especially if the new parent works all day. Please do all that you can to make certain that the new parent or parents will see that the kittens are either spayed or neutered as quickly as possible. This can be done as early as eight weeks of age.
Raising an orphan kitten;
I have had the privilege of raising two orphan kittens at different times. My first experience was with Miss Tiger; she is now 8 years old. One morning I heard some very loud crying in our garage. I started searching for the creature that was making this racket and I found tiny ball of gray and white fur. In a remote corner of our garage sat a very unhappy and hungry baby kitten. Her eyes were barely open and she appeared to be about 2 -2 1/2 weeks old. She could stand and was covered with more fleas than you could count.
The first thing I did (which is not recommended) was give her a bath in warm water to get rid of some of the fleas as quickly as possible. Needless to say this did not go over very well. However when that was done I wrapped her in a nice warm towel and fed her some warm milk diluted with water by means of an eyedropper. She fell fast asleep in our cat carrier and I scurried off to the pet store to pick up some special milk made for motherless kittens and a flea comb to capture the rest of those nasty critters. I have to admit she did have another bath to get rid of the rest.
Having raised two orphan puppies, two orphan squirrels and several wild baby birds, I felt like old pro at this. I, being the female portion of our family quickly took over the role of mother once again. It is important to say right here that I do not always do things the way the books say you should. If I were following the rules (and you should) the first thing I should have done was carry Miss Kitty to the vet and have her examined as we have other cats. I didn’t, but I did quarantine her in the guest bathroom away from our other cats.
I made a warm nest in the bathtub, hot water bottle and all. However, a box would have made an equally nice home for her, too. As she was too young for food and a litter box I did not add those things. It is important to remember that young kittens need to be kept warm. Living in Florida we seldom have the problem of cold weather, but it is necessary to provide warmth just as you would for a young baby. As we had a group of feral cats living in the neighborhood we were certain she was one of the group and for whatever reason, her mother chose to give us custody.
Taking care of a very young kitten is a time consuming job and requires dedication which means getting up during the night to feed the kitten and to get it to go to the bathroom. I had decided that due to the kitten’s approximate age I would try and put her on a 3-hour schedule. I felt if she were hungry before than I would certainly hear her complaining. I feed my baby animals with an eyedropper, for whatever reason I have never been able to master feeding them with a nursing bottle.
I have read that using an eye dropper can cause problems like getting fluid in their lungs, which I managed to do with the first baby squirrel we had. A quick trip to the vet and some instruction saved the day. It is important that you contact your vet and get all the valuable hints and help that the clinic can give you.
Using the eyedropper for feeding, but using an animal baby bottle to gauge the amount milk I was actually feeding her worked out fine. When using the dropper I would insert it in the side of her mouth and try to get her to suck the milk into her mouth. Sometimes that didn’t work and I would have to slowly squeeze some milk into her mouth. It really is a matter of establishing the rhythm with each individual kitten.
No one said it was easy and it does take a goodly amount of time. I found that burping the kitten after eating is also a good idea. Just hold the kitten close to you in the same manner as you would a baby and pat its back. Your vet will give you the correct amounts to feed your kitten as it ages. Besides feeding, the next most important job is making the kitten’s plumbing work. This requires a little patience, perseverance and determination to make it work. Without a functioning plumbing system I could lose our kitten.
For me the easiest way to get the kitten’s plumbing to work was using a q-tip that I dampened with warm water and then slowly rubbed it on the lower portion of the kitten’s tummy. If you think about it as the mother’s tongue licking that portion of the tummy you can get a better idea of what you are doing. It is sometimes necessary to softly rub the anal area to get it to remember what it is supposed to be doing.
Getting our kitten to urinate was fairly easy, but getting her bowels to move was a struggle for a while. There was a time or two when I knew she was constipated as her tummy was bloated and she was crying. I just kept rubbing softly and after what seemed like an eternity it happened. I don’t know who was happier the kitten or me.
When you are in the process of making the kitten produce urine or move its bowels it is wise to have paper towels in your lap to catch the overflow. It is important to keep all elimination areas clean just as a mother cat would. A wash cloth dampened in warm water and rubbed lightly over the entire body of the kitten will give the effect of the mother cat washing the kitten and help make it secure.
Our kitten was a feral kitten, but because we found it at such a young age we did not have any of the normal “wild cat” reactions to our handling it. It is very important to handle your kitten and to have other people around it so it is not afraid of everybody. I started feeding Miss Tiger (we finally agreed on a name) some solid food at about 4 ½ weeks old. I mixed her milk with some Iam’s canned kitten food in a saucer. It took many tries of sticking her little nose to the dish to finally get the reaction I was looking for.
While you are in the process of weaning be certain to keep doing bottle or in my case eyedropper feeding until the kitten gets the hang of eating on its own. Once Miss Tiger started eating, we started litter training and with her it was easy. She seemed to know what the litter was for after just a couple times of me putting her in the box. Now to make a long story short, yes, she finally got to the vet. She was pronounced very healthy and got her shots and when it was the right time (9 weeks) we got her spayed.
We wanted her as a house cat, but once she saw the boys outside, she was eager to get outside and she figured out how to get out the cat door. We have had Miss Tiger for 8 years now, she is a beautiful lady, but there is a feral side to her. She does not like to be held and will allow you to hold and pet her for a minute or two. She prefers to be outside and will come in only if the weather is bad. Our garage is a separate building and she prefers to be there.
She loved our Mr. Whiskers, but does not like Smokey and he doesn’t like her and she takes great joy in frustrating our Mr. Boots, who is a 14 year old feral cat that is scared of his own shadow and could be a whole new book. The following year on the exact same date (October 4th) our neighbor’s dog found 2 kittens in their compost pile. Knowing I raised Miss Tiger they brought the little ones over to me. As far as we could tell they were only a few days old, if that. The kittens were both males and the size from tip to tail of a teaspoon.
One was the exact color and markings of Miss Tiger and it only had 3 legs, the other was a smoky white color with an obvious lump on its tail. Unfortunately the 3-legged one was extremely weak and we could not save it. The off colored white kitten was struggling, but with constant care and very frequent small feedings managed to hang on. These kittens were feral kittens, but due to the age and the fact the surviving one never knew his mother he did not show any feral characteristics.
This kitten went to the vet right away and we found out the lump on its tail was a tumor. The tumor required surgery and we thought he might lose his tail, but it stands tall to this day and he seems very proud of it. At this time I was working at our local university and was able to take the kitten to work every day in order to feed it and take care of its necessary elimination chores.
Keeping a kitten warm and cozy with today’s air conditioning in a place of business required a bit of doing. I followed the same procedure of feeding the kitten as I had done with Miss Tiger, except with “Smokey” it was more frequent due to his young age and circumstances.
We had decided that Smokey’s mom and Miss Tiger’s mom was the same cat. The 3-legged kitten matched Miss Tiger’s markings almost perfectly and Smokey and Miss Tiger have the same white tip on their tails (their mom has it too.) Just for the record I did catch this busy mom and had her spayed and another neighbor adopted her (actually the cat adopted the neighbor and is semi-tame.)
I did manage to capture all the rest of the feral colony and the kittens were fostered, socialized and found good homes. The adults were spayed and neutered and found homes that would adapt to their needs in our neighborhood. Continuing on with the saga of Smokey, the cat, he was growing beautifully and loved by everyone at school. However, he had one problem he could not stand on his back legs. He was walking using his front legs and dragging his back legs.
Our vet could not find any particular thing wrong and we were in no way in a financial situation to take Smokey to a specialist. Our alternative was to outfit Smokey with a set of back wheels that are available for cats and dogs when he got older. However, a professor at school and a cat lover had a book on natural methods to use in raising healthy cats. I found a recipe for a nutritious vitamin supplement in the book, I copied it and I decided to try it on Smokey.
I truly have no way of proving that it was this recipe that helped repair whatever was wrong with Smokey’s back legs, but he gradually began to stand using his back legs. Today he can walk and run, but his ability to jump is limited to about 2 ½ feet (about couch or bed height.)
Feeding Smokey has been a challenge. He decided when I was trying to wean him that he was not going to eat kitten food or anything that remotely resembled it. He would cry for his bottle. When I started using the supplement I had to resort to a bottle as I mixed the supplement with a mixture of baby sweet potatoes and lamb. I cut the nipple so that the concentrated mixture could flow through it. I still used the side of the mouth feeding technique. He would eat tiny bits of cooked chicken and he loved raw beef.
I am sorry to say that to this day (he is now 7 years old) he still gets a bottle with a ground up vitamin pill mixed with baby sweet potatoes and some Iams kitten food in it. He eats only raw beef several times a day and shredded cheddar cheese occasionally. I have tried all types of cat food and he refuses to even do more than smell it. I have followed our vet’s advice and did not feed him what he likes for days. Offering him only cat food that he refused to even consider. He was determined to starve and as a result became quite sick as his body used up all the nutrients it had in it.
Needless to say Smokey eats what he wants and I am so happy to feed him his vitamin filled bottle every day. This cat is a joy. He truly is extremely affectionate and behaves in so many ways like a small dog. The feral breeding is still there, as he does not like to be held for any length of time and is afraid of loud noises, children and unknown people.
I realize that that statement can be true of most cats feral or not. I hope that in a small way we have enlightened you on the possibilities of raising a feral kitten or an orphan kitten. It does take a lot of time and patience, it is rather like raising a baby human except a lot easier in the long run. Remember your vet is always there to help you and to answer any questions you may have.
The Internet is a great source of information on any problem you may have with a pet, but when in doubt, call your vet. Use the sources available and enjoy life with a warm fuzzy being whether it be a dog, cat or whatever else that is warm and fuzzy.