Taming Feral Kittens

The process of taming kittens can take from two to six weeks (longer for some exceptionally skittish kittens) depending on their age and state of wildness. Individuals can differ greatly in temperament even within the same litter. Some may tame up immediately and some may take quite a long time. Any person attempting to tame kittens should be totally committed and patient. The taming process is certainly worthwhile. You are saving lives and producing affectionate loving companions.

The steps involved in the taming process are:

  1. Containment (I) in a cage or large pet carrier

  2. Periodic and brief handling with a protective towel

  3. Containment (II) in a small room

  4. Exposure to other humans

  5. Placement in suitable adoptive homes

Containment I

A feral kitten may hiss and spit at humans. They are usually terrified of humans. The kitten that acts the most ferocious is just the most scared, but it is capable of giving you a nasty scratch or bite and will probably try to escape if given the chance. Remember that to the kitten you may be a predator; the kitten may think it is fighting for its life. All bites are serious. If bitten, seek medical attention and quarantine the kitten.

Feral kittens should be checked out by a veterinarian and tested for diseases contagious to other cats before you bring them home. Keep them isolated from your other cats, wash your hands, and wear a smock (or change clothes between handling visits) to protect against the spread of disease from the kittens to pets or from pets to kitten.

If a trap was used to capture the kitten, transfer the kitten to a cage or a pet carrier large enough for a small litter box, food, water, and bedding. (Some people use worn clothing as the kittens’ bedding to get them used to the smell of humans.) Place it in a small room away from family pets and children. For the first two days, do not attempt handling. The kittens must learn to feel safe. Visit them frequently and talk to them quietly, but resist touching. Always move slowly. It is always best to only allow food when you are present so the kitten associates you with food, which he likes!

Handling

After two days, select the least aggressive kitten, place a towel over it, and pick it up in the towel. If the kitten stays calm, pet it gently on the head from behind. Never approach from the front. A hand coming at the kittens frightens them which may cause them to hiss or bite.

If the kitten remains calm, grip it securely by the nape of the neck, put the towel on your lap and set it on the towel. Stroke the kitten’s body while speaking in soft, reassuring tones, then release. Make this first physical contact brief. Go through this process with each kitten. After all have been handled, give them a special treat. Baby food or Hills “a/d” brand canned food off a spoon is always a great ice-breaker. Repeat this process as frequently as possible.

Brushing with a soft pet brush imitates the action of the mother grooming the kittens and will help the kitten start to transfer its need for parental love to you. It is also extremely important for the health of the kittens to remove fleas as soon as possible. Kittens become anemic from flea infestation and can easily fall prey to illnesses in this condition. Combing with a flea comb also helps the bonding process.

Play with the kittens using “kitty tease” toys (a tiny piece of cloth tied to a string which is tied to a small stick) or lightweight cat toys. Don’t leave the “kitty tease” toys alone with the kittens as kittens will often swallow string, which can be fatal.

Containment II

Within a week, the kittens should have made considerable progress. Each kitten will develop at a different rate. By now, they should have access to the room and can be placed in the cage only if necessary.

If there is one that is not becoming tame, place it in a separate cage in another room, away from the others. This will allow you to work with it more frequently and will increase its dependence on a human. It will also prevent perpetuation of wildness in the litter mates. All members of some litters must be isolated as not to reinforce wildness in the group.

Exposure

When the kittens no longer respond by biting and scratching, encourage friends to handle them as often as possible. It is very important that they socialize with other humans. Feral cats tend to bond with one human, so they best adjust to a new home if they are socialized with other humans before being adopted out.

Placement

Kittens can be adopted out at eight weeks or so if tamed and socialized to humans.

When screening prospective “parents,” remember that the most suitable home is a calm environment so the kittens will feel secure. The ideal home is one which will keep their pet indoors and will take two kittens together (actually easier to care for and more fun to watch) or that will have an adult home during the day.

Be sure that you inform the adoptive family that the kitten must be neutered or spayed. This can be done as early as eight weeks of age. You may want to neuter it yourself and ask the new owner to reimburse you. Many forms and contracts exist for doing this. It is important to make sure this cat you tamed does not have babies, or you may find yourself trying to find a family for its kittens.

Feral Kitten