4.15.2011

#26 Why is taming kittens so successful when they are 4-8 weeks old?



Here are some of the biological reasons that make kittens emotionally predisposed to accepting humans so readily at this age:

During the weaning period from 4-8 weeks, kittens start the transition from complete dependence on mom to being completely independent. Some have likened the impact of this stage to the transformation of a Caterpillar to a Butterfly. Nature converges many things to make the readiness to quickly learn a completely new way of life from mom very strong at this point. For one thing, at this age, mother's milk is no longer enough nutrition to support the kitten's rapid growth. The kittens are anxious to accept a new source of food energy that can meet the demands of their growing bodies. Using food to tame kittens (as demonstrated in the Urban Cat League video TOUGH LOVE) is very effective at this age when they are craving nutrition and mentally open to new things. Taming to humans obviously wasn't part of nature's plan for this period in a kitten's life, but this is when that is most successfully accomplished.

It's during this weaning period that Mom would normally start bringing prey to the kittens to introduce a new energy source and start to teach them to hunt for themselves. Nature encourages this process by making mom increasingly intolerant of nursing, thereby increasing hunger in the kittens, adding an eagerness to learn to hunt. While nursing, moms have been steadily losing weight, using up their body stores. Nature needs her to stop nursing and caring for the kittens to regain her condition to be ready for the next breeding cycle. The growing teeth of the kittens, and their claws kneading her belly add a lot to make mom more interested in teaching them to hunt than continue nursing. Along with hormonal changes in mom, all of these influences come together for a very efficient transition to the kitten's independence. If you want to tame kittens for indoor life and/or adoption, this age at 4-8 weeks is your crucial window of opportunity.

To further impress the importance of this timing, science has shown that while kittens are very ready to learn and change habits at this age, they are also very stubborn to later change or give up any impressions formed at this age. It is important to create the good association with humans before they have learned otherwise. Once a fear of humans is ingrained, it is very hard to change their young minds after the fact.

It is also around 6 weeks when the kittens start leaving the den, that a new communication with mom develops as part of the learning process. Mom growls when there is danger and the litter scatters and hides until mom signals that the danger has passed. If humans are a perceived danger for mom, the kittens will be learning that directly from her. They can re-learn differently with the prompt introduction of a counter incentive of food and nurturing from humans, but they aren't easily convinced to change their minds after this second month of life has passed.

The period between 4-8 weeks is when nature has biologically predisposed kittens to learn and absorb basic life lessons at warp speed. Whichever teacher gets there first gets to have the strongest influence on their opinions for a lifetime.

Cats are very adaptable and will change their opinions over time but nature has stacked he deck against any "Johnny come lately" lessons in the joys of a life with humans.

Start the taming early, be consistent and get it done as young as possible!!! Otherwise be prepared to be very patient and forget any time line. It can be done, but there are no guarantees as to how long it might take to gain an older cat's trust.
Best, Mike

3.20.2011

#25 Medicating Feral Cats and Kittens


Question: I had been making fantastic progress with a feral cat I had rescued from the street but then I had to give him some really vile tasting medicine for giardia. Is there something less traumatic we could have done? Two of us holding him down and pilling him was nearly impossible but we did it since he wasn't aggressive. Now he won't come anywhere near us. What should we have done?

Answer: I had this same experience early on when I started taming cats and it is very frustrating. Over time I've compiled a list of the easiest ways I've found for medicating ferals. Most of the common ailments that need treatment are included. Here's the direct link to that list on the socialization page of our website: urbancatleague.org :

http://www.urbancatleague.org/SocialKittensMedicating.htm

It will take time to get back to the comfort zone and trust you had worked so hard for with the cat, but you will get back to it in time. Give him some space and start with play at a distance and treats one at a time by hand or tossed to him. With time, cats are very resilient and he'll realize you are his friends again. Similarly, sometimes 2 cats that haven't gotten along will forgive and forget and suddenly will be friends. You'll be forgiven, you'll just have to wait it out. Be non-challant about it and don't over compensate with gushing attention, or that will make him nervous too. Best, Mike

3.13.2011

#24 Always TRAP feral kittens, don't CHASE 'EM DOWN and BAG 'em!


Question: Why do you recommend trapping feral kittens even when one can chase them down and grab them?

Answer: Chasing down feral kittens is always a bad idea even when successful. The stress and anxiety for the kittens usually takes weeks to overcome. I imagine their instinct must convince the kittens that the person chasing them is set upon eating them. When that same person tries to pet them, and hold them, and nurture then, I'll take that bet as to how successful they will be.

Trapping removes a human presence
from the terrifying experience of being separated from their mother and the home they know. The human can then actually take a positive role when we offer food and reunite them with their siblings. The less they associate humans with their trauma, the faster we can gain their trust and tame them for adoption.

Here's my ideal scenario for a successful trapping of mom and kittens. BEFORE STARTING ANY TRAPPING, I feed the mom and kittens for several days from a trap I secure open with a cable-tie to make sure no one gets trapped before I'm ready. I put a big bowl of food in the back of the trap and a trail of food from front to back. The objective is to make sure even the shyest kittens and mom are not afraid to go into the trap BEFORE you start trapping. Trust me, doing this will save you hours and days of trap-watching. If you can't leave a trap out safely, try it even for the short time you are there feeding each day. Pad-lock the trap open and to a fence if there is any risk of the trap being stolen or tampered with. Hide it under a bush if you can safely leave it for all the cats to get confident going into it without hesitation.

Normally, moms trot out their litters to the feeding station at about 6 weeks old. If you saw when mom got skinny you can set up the trap (tied open) about six weeks later and start "training" mom to go into it even before she brings the kittens along too. Nursing moms are extremely hungry and sometimes, it is only when nursing that you can hope to trap a very wary female.

You probably won't see all the kittens the first day or two. There are usually a couple very shy ones that won't dare to follow mom the first day or two. Once mom and ALL the kittens have been seen going into the trap to eat without hesitation, ONLY THEN are you ready to start the trapping project.

I always try to trap mom first and get her safely out of the picture with no kitten witnesses. Moms usually leave the den in mid-afternoon to look for food while the litter is still sleeping. This is the perfect time to set the trap for her and whisk her away to a basement or garage, covering the trap with a sheet to keep her as calm as possible. (read blog # 17 about making sure the vet is experienced enough in spaying a lactating female)

I trap Mom in the conventional way, setting the trip plate but with the kittens, I switch to the bottle and string technique shown in the 2nd picture below. This way I can be sure a second or third kitten is not in the way of the door or gets caught when the door comes down. You may even get lucky and get 2 or 3 kittens at a time as they crowd into the back of the trap around the dish of food.

GET THE SHYEST KITTENS FIRST. Don't be in a hurry and greedily trap the first and bravest kittens to go into the trap. Learn how many there are before you start trapping and keep track of which ones are the last to come to the party. Dusk is the usual time for kittens to leave the den and come to the feeding station where you've "trained" them to go into the trap. The shy ones will "freak" if they witness the braver ones getting trapped. When you start to trap the kittens, let the brave ones eat and go if necessary to wait for the shy ones. You'll always get another chance with the brave ones. The shy ones are the smart ones and they won't give you a second chance for some time if you blow it the first time. They are used to mom being away for periods of time without worrying so don't worry about that. Wait until the shyest one, or hopefully two are in the trap eating together to pull the string for the first time. Even if a couple of the braver ones witness this, they'll come back soon enough but not vice versa. The shy/smart ones will high-tail it back to the den and not come out for a day or more. Get them first and you'll be done with everyone in short order. Even if the brave ones have eaten and gone, they won't hesitate coming back the next day and eagerly loading into the
trap. Don't be in a hurry. Wait until you get the shy one(s) first with no other shy witnesses if at all possible.

Even when I've given this advice, I often get the call asking, "what do I do now, I trapped all except but the shyest kitten and she won't go near the trap for 3 days now?

In that case, I put mom in a trap and put that trap inside a larger trap or under a drop trap. (A small cat trap fits inside the bigger raccoon traps) The kitten will often come out to see the mom and can be trapped using the bottle and string shown in the other photo, or the pull string shown for the drop trap.Notice that the string is taught and ready to be pulled. This way it will not distract the cat in the trap as the string is pulled. They can be out and gone before you even get the string straight and taught. You can order this drop trap from Ashot Karamian at aak14@yahoo.com
(he also has several winter shelter designs on the shelter page of urbancatleague.org)

In the reverse situation, when mom isn't trapped first and won't go near the trap, here is what I do. Again the bottle and string are necessary because putting another trap inside a trap renders the trip plate unusable. Tie off the string taught for the same reason described below. Some people tie the string to the bottom of the bottle for less of a visual distraction. Hopefully the kitten will call out to mom. For the photos, the trap is out in the open, but trapping may work better in a secluded area or
with the end of the trap covered so mom will need to go into the trap to approach the kitten. Pictured here is a way to use the Pull-String Technique without the bottle. Set the trap door open with a pin tied to a string instead of the bottle. This is a top view for "techies," if you want to get fancy.



As with all things feral some adaptation to the individual cats temperament may be necessary.
Six weeks old is ok to separate mom and kittens. Start the kittens right away with socialization for adoption and TNR mom and return her for continued outdoor care. Don't forget to have her ear-tipped!

1.03.2011

# 23 My favorite Taming Pen still ON SALE! January 2014

A little extra comfort goes a LONG way to gaining a cats trust on the first days indoors. Whether it's a feral cat you're adopting indoors from the back yard or a litter of kittens you plan to tame for adoption, this pen is great during what I call the "cooling off" period. Also, for a sick feral cat under observation or treatment, stress is a major deterrent to recovery and this pen allows space away from litter and food for the cat to relax and convalesce.  For small projects, this is a great pen!
Perfectly healthy cats are well know to break with illness from stress of confinement after trapping, and living too close to their food and litter box in a small cage during holding and recovery is very stressful for them.  This is well documented in shelters where they have reduced URI cases by expanding the cage space available to the cats to be away from their food and litter.  The doors of this ProSelect pen are large enough to load in a cat from a trap or carrier and a large litter box passes in and out easily for cleaning. With the deluxe divider shelves available below, the cat can be contained in the upper or lower level if necessary during cleaning.  Then allowed full run of the pen after cleaning.

This Pro Select pen has uses for many different situations and is the one I use to help tame ferals, treat sick ferals and hold borderline ferals for observation. It's usually on sale for $99 through PetEdge.com. PetEdge.com Item # ZW003
Dimensions 35 1/2" X 22 1/4" X 48" Also comes in Pink and Purple
It comes with optional wheels so you can wheel the kittens around to the place where they will get the most exposure to the sights and sounds of indoor life. I roll it into a small room or up to the bathroom door for taming sessions at feeding time. The rest of the time I wheel them out into the active household so they aren't in "solitary confinement" when I'm not actively working with them. I've discussed this technique in several of the other blog entries but it's a great combination being able to work with them hands-on in a small space AND bring them out into the household inbetween. The doors are large enough to get a litter box in and out easily.  For sick or convalescing cats, the pen can be covered partly or completely with a sheet to reassure a cat that needs more peace and quiet.

There are extra shelves you can order to add lots of space to keep the bed, food and litter separate for a great quality of life while in the pen.
A laser light is a great help for leading them into the pen to close them in, but usually at feeding time they just hop in on their own if you make it a habit of feeding them in the pen. Even when they are doing really well and almost ready for adoption, I continue to feed in the pen with the door open so I can close them in and/or get my hands on them without the stress of chasing them around. We have several of these and even loan them out to adopters for the first couple weeks so they can bond with the cats before turning them loose into the new home. It's a good transition because we can bring the litterbox, beds and smell they are used to along with them to the new home. This works when the adopters can't put them in a bathroom for the first few days to bond with them before turning them loose. I put it together alone but always welcome help of a second person to make it easier.
I buy the fleece covers for the shelves. It's tight but they also fit over the divider shelves.
Item # ZW84195     PROSELECT FLEECE CAT PERCH COVER 
http://www.petedge.com/product/ProSelect-Fleece-Cat-Perch-Cover/44478.uts
ProSelect Deluxe Cat Cage Platform

Cats love the hammocks which are very cheap. ZW3012 Cats prefer the hammock suspended tightly from the sides of the pen, not droopy. It swags down with their weight but it is much easier for them to get into the more tightly it is hung. On PetEdge.com, the file is: https://www.petedge.com/zpetedgemain/catalog/productDetail.jsf?wec-appid=PEDM_WEBSHOP_TR&page=72A214C22827430A9795247F1BF064D6&closeLiveSearchOverlay=TRUE&itemKey=005056A633791ED2B58664B6D0850FB3&menuLinkSelected=none&wec-locale=en_US


The wheels are sturdy but replacements can be ordered if necessary.  ProSelect® Cat Cage Casters Item ZW84191

10.03.2010

# 22 Success story Diary

Below is a very satisfying account of the taming of two feral kittens named Stormy and Cash. I had the pleasure of an ongoing exchange with the socializers, Mark and Susan over several weeks and months as the kittens progressed from wild banshees to happy indoor cats of leisure. It's a pretty long entry but will be interesting to people who need some encouragement. This story is filled with enough hair-raising miss-steps to convince anyone that even with lots of mistakes you can still get kittens tamed. With patience and perseverance even the shyest kittens can be tamed, even if everything runs amok a few times. The first picture is of the boy's mom, Amelia who was spayed and ear-tipped. She is cared for outdoors complete with her own shelter and occasional catnip which she is shown rolling in. First the most recent update:
Mike,

I wanted to give you an update about Cash and Stormy, the two feral kittens we socialized this summer with your help. When I last spoke with you, both cats were out of the bathroom, but we had worries about how they would get along with our older cats and neither cat seemed to seek out petting. Stormy, in particular settled in first and freely traveled

about the house taking a linking to Sam, our big eight year old male. Cash was much more shy at first however, he gradually took to crying and leading us back to my office (their bedroom), where he’d let us pet him.

Today, both cats enjoy being petted. Stormy enjoys being petted when he fells sleepy or

happens to be in the mood. Cash has turned into a real love bug. He likes to sit on my lap and nuzzle into my elbow

while I pet him or sit next to Susan on the couch. Both cats get along with our older male, Sammy, who even seems

protective of them. Sammy sometimes tries to play with the kittens, but he is so much larger than them, that the kittens flee when Sammy gets too playful. Our older female tolerates them, but doesn't want the kittens to get too close.

Mark and Susan

I was thrilled to hear this fantastic report but, here’s a flashback to the beginning. It's an in depth account with all the steps along the way that Mark and Susan went through, before the boys were so well adjusted. It should give encouragement to people in doubt who are still struggling with wild kittens that aren't progressing.

Gerber magic and the Socialization of Cash and Stormy

Amelia, Cash and Stormy’s mother, is a black cat with golden eyes that reminded us very much of Midnight – our recently deceased “Little Guy.” We began putting out food for her on the ground in our back yard close to where the steps

descend from the deck. She soon began to come around regularly, and we developed a bit of a long distance relationship. Eventually, we moved her food on to our deck, and Amelia came for regular feeding. She would look through our sliding door, patiently and politely waiting for us to feed her. She would not retreat very far when we came outside to feed her, but she did give a gentle hiss whenever we approached too close.

We were told that she used our neighbor’s pool filter housing as a nest, but we did not see her kittens until the day before we left for a vacation to Maine on June 11th. After returning from vacation, we decided to trap and neuter all of the cats.

June 23, we captured Cash in the trap. He was frightened and fitful in the trap. We covered the cage with the Neat Sheet to calm him while we drove to the Vet, who were willing to neuter, test, and treat feral kittens on a moment’s notice. It was tense and emotional drive for us to an unfamiliar vet, since we were unsure whether we were doing the right thing to the kitten or not. Inaddition, Susan thought Cash was acting like a very friendly cat, and she put her finger into the cage to stroke him, only to have her finger bitten. Because of the bite, the vet requires us to quarantine him for ten days to be sure he does not have rabies.

When we set Cash’s cage on the floor in the vet’s office and took off the neat sheet, Cash decided it was time for action. He noticed the back of the humane trap was not totally secure, and he started to wriggle out of the trap. The whole vet’s office sprang into action, getting a blanket, while I grabbed Cash by the scruff of his neck. When they wrapped him in the blanket, the vet immediately called for “half a cc” of sedative, and we did not see Cash again until later that afternoon.

When we picked him up, Cash was clearly still somewhat sedated. His pupils were fluctuating in size about once a second. We drove Cash home and brought him into our basement exercise room. We set up water and food for him, unplugged appliances and exercise machines, and did our best to set up things to be suitable for a kitten. Then we made the mistake of releasing Cash from his carrier.

Cash spent most of the day hiding in various places. After we folded up the treadmill, he alternately hid in his carrier, on the black base of the treadmill, and behind another carrier we placed in the room. He ate little or nothing, and could not be drawn out to eat.

June 25th. In the morning, I went down to the basement to begin the process of socialization in earnest. Much to my surprise Cash was nowhere to be found. I checked his carrier, disassembled the treadmill, looked behind every object, and lifted every blanket and pillow. There seemed only one possibility: During our vacation, the pipes in our second floor shower burst. The water went through our range hood on the first floor, but also found its way to the basement, ruining a number of tiles in the dropped ceiling. We removed the tiles, leaving several gaps in the ceiling. Cash must have climbed to the top of the folded up treadmill and jumped about four feet through one of these holes, thus escaping into the ceiling. So, we moved as many ceiling tiles as we could, but we still did not find Cash. At this point we had visions of Cash getting trapped and starving in one of the walls. We were horrified that we may have killed our little kitten, but we did not know what to do. Susan begins corresponding with Mike Phillips at the Urban Cat League, who proves an invaluable sage in all our future socialization efforts.

We set up our humane trap in the basement, armed with tuna and sardines, in the hope that we might lure him back into the basement when he became hungry. I went on the Internet and looked for thermal scanners that we might use to find Junior in the wall. In fact, I even called a New Jersey company that makes such devices for industry and the defense department, to see if I could rent one. (They said it was unlikely that the kitten would generate enough heat to be detected.) About the point that we were going to start knocking holes in drywall, Susan heard a

few cries coming from the basement. When we went downstairs, the crying stopped, but Susan heard little feet running above her head in the dropped ceiling. This let us localize Cash, and I moved a few more ceiling tiles and used a flashlight to illuminate the rafters. This time, I saw Cash huddled between two rafters in the corner of the ceiling.

So, I put on fireplace gloves and grabbed Cash by the scruff. He held on to his position like iron, but I eventually managed to lift him. He then struggled like a banshee, but somehow I managed to hold on and put him into the carrier that Susan was holding.

We concluded that the finished basement room was not a good place to socialize a kitten (Mike also pointed this out). While we left Cash in the carrier, we quickly set out to kitten proof a bathroom. We removed just about everything, used bungee cords and immobilizing rods to secure the doors on the vanity, set up a cat box, and put out water. Then we released Cash into the bathroom.

June 26th. We had few sightings of Cash this day. He hid away in his carrier or behind the litter box. He had little, if anything to eat, and would not approach either of us at all. I spent several hours reading The Titan’s Curse to him in as soothing a voice as I could. Susan also talked soothingly to him.

June 27th. I had a good session with Cash in the morning. Getting him to eat a little and come out a bit from behind the litter box. But when I went into the bathroom in the early afternoon, I once again was horrified to discover Cash missing. I looked everywhere I could think, but no Cash was to be found. Eventually, I considered a new possibility. I opened the drawers to the vanity and one of them felt a little heavy. So, I got out a flashlight and discovered Cash hidden in the shadows in the back of the drawer. He had managed to open the drawer and hidden in there. We went out and bought a few drawer locks designed to foil toddlers, and I installed one in the

second vanity drawer; however, Cash stayed in the drawer until after midnight. Susan had heard a noise and sent me down to check on it. When I opened the bathroom door, I saw Cash was no longer in the drawer. So, I spent until 1:30 AM installing a baby proof lock on the drawer. Cash once again was foiled.

July 28th. Cash made great progress today. He started to eat food within sight. I gave him a small amount of food at a time, and moved the bowl closer to me each time I set it down. He would eat the provided food and retreat behind the litter box each time I added new food to the bowl. By the time we finished our session, the bowl was about four inches from my leg. He was also willing to eat chicken baby food off of a long spoon.

July 29th. Another good day for Cash. He was willing to eat food set on my lap that required him to put both front paws on my leg. He also progressed from eating baby food off a spoon to licking it off my finger. The first time he did so, he nipped my finger a few times, but soon learned to lick instead after I gently said “No nipping!” Cutest of all, of his own volition, Cash rushed up to my foot and gave it a sniff, before scaring himself with his own boldness and running away.

July 30th Approached and sniffed Susan. He also ate with his paws on Susan’s lap and off her thumb. Was willing to eat with all four paws on my lap, but bolted immediately when I had the temerity to touch his head.

July 1st. Captured Stormy. Unlike Cash, Stormy was not as volatile in the cage, but quietly rode to the vet. Part of this has to do with Stormy’s bold, but even-tempered, disposition and part of it having to do with our greater skill in dealing with the process. For example, we covered his cage and kept the cover on when we transported him into the vet’s office.

Of Amelia’s four kittens, three were black and one was grey. On our second attempt we luckily caught the grey one, saving us the problem of keeping straight two seemingly identical black kittens. We’ve always loved Russian Blue cats, and Stormy closely resembles the breed, although like his brother, Stormy has a white patch on his neck.

Needless to say, Stormy stayed in his carrier that night. Little was seen of him, and he ate nothing that day. Cash continued his progress, earlier in the day, but generally hung out with his friend, Stormy, after the two were reunited. As before, Cash would come into our laps, but would shy from being touched.

July 2nd. Stormy and Cash are inseparable, except when it comes to feeding time. Cash is willing to come forward to eat, although he seemed even more touch avoidant. It was hard to give food to Stormy, because Cash would swoop in and take it before Stormy had the chance to get any. I gave Stormy a bit of food behind the litter box. Later in the day, Stormy actually came out and had a bit of food within my sight. In the evening, Stormy was bold enough to eat food out of a dish within a few inches of Susan’s leg. Stormy is progressing much more rapidly than Cash did perhaps because of his desperation to beat Cash to the food, and perhaps because of his bold personality.

The most interesting event occurred late in the day when I went in for another attempt at socialization. By now, the bathroom was very stuffy and was starting to smell like a barn. I decided to open the window, thinking that the kittens would flee if I approached them. Both kittens immediately jumped into the window and started calling for their mother through the screen. To avoid having Amelia be disturbed by hearing this, I got up and approached the window. As predicted, Cash fled the window, but Stormy did not!

In fact, he had climbed up the screen, and had wedged himself in a defensive position between the screen and the window. So, I called out to Susan “Susan, I think we have a situation here.” Susan grabbed a spoon and some chicken baby food, while I went down to the basement to retrieve the fireplace gloves (which were there from the Cash-in- the-ceiling incident). Stormy refused to be tempted down by the baby food, and he was crying out for the world to hear (including Amelia). We were afraid to lift the window, because it sill might crush his head. Finally, it occurred to me that the windows tip in from the top to allow for easy cleaning. When we did this, Stormy had no place to hide, and I scruffed him and placed him on their cat tree (in the tub) while Susan closed the window. To his credit, Stormy took this all calmly.

July 3rd. It was a frustrating day for Cash, because he would run away every time I tried to pet him. However, Stormy made great progress. He was willing to eat food off of our laps with his front paws on our legs. He also progressed to eating chicken baby food off of our fingers.

July 4th. Once again, Cash is acting skittish when touched; however, he is starting to look up into our eyes, which is said to be a good sign. We, of course, squint immediately at him when he does this, because cats squint at each other (or at their human companions) when they wish to express affection. When with cats, it is best to speak cat.

Stormy continued his progress. He was willing to get entirely on our laps to eat chicken baby food off our fingers.

July 5th. Two good morning sessions. I managed to draw both cats on my lap. I dipped both my index and middle fingers of my right hand in baby food and was able to draw both Cash and Stormy on my lap at the same time. They felt comfortable on my lap for the first time, and Cash even put his paw on my belly. Cash also is looking up into my eyes a great deal. Both cats are sniffing me between licks. I petted Cash quite a few times, although he would run away after each pet for the most part. Yet, he would come right back. At one point, I was able to pet him six times in a row before he left. I also petted Stormy a bit. He was generally less reactive to this than Cash was at first, but still didn’t like it. One time, I petted Stormy four times in a row. When he realized what had happened, he left my lap hissing. Yet, he too came right back for more food.

Susan followed up this session with another one that included lots of gazing from Cash and some petting. Both cats were happy to leap up into her lap to eat. In the evening, we had yet another breakthrough. Cash and Stormy were both on my lap licking chicken baby food off my fingers. But shortly into this, Cash stopped running away when I petted him. In fact, I petted Cash all the way through consuming the entire jar of baby food. After a short while I began to hear purring. Short bursts at first and then more sustained. When I ran out of food, Cash did not immediately run away, but let me pet him for 15 to 30 more seconds before sauntering off with a nice stretch. Cash repeated this performance for Susan later in the evening. He even let her pet his head and scratch his ear. Stormy looked on as if he were wondering if his brother was crazy. But Cash didn’t care, he just purred and accepted this new-found pleasure.

July 6th. Cash now allows himself to be continuously petted, while being fed. Susan petted him while eating regular food as well as chicken baby food. Early in the day, Stormy allowed a few pets in a row, but later in the day, Stormy allowed Susan to continuously pet him during chicken baby food eating. Also late in the day, I brought in a few catnip infused toys, and Cash took to the catnip right away. He ripped one of the balls apart and hugged and batted around a more solid ball. When he batted the ball close to me, I waited for him to stick his head out beyond the litter box and rolled the ball in front of him. He would then chase the ball. I followed this up with some play with a furry cat wand. Meanwhile, Stormy finds this all a bit upsetting and jumps up to the windowsill crying. He then jumps on top of the medicine cabinet and watches me play with Cash. Eventually, he can bear no more and jumps down to play with the wand. At this point, Stormy, the bold one, takes over the play, grabbing a little ball at the end of the wand. All this play is very gentle and slow at this point, but it was good seeing our kittens act a bit more like kittens, rather than refugees.

July 7th. Once again, had a good petting session with both cats lapping up chicken baby food. Cash clearly loves the pets, purring from the start. Stormy accepts the pets, but doesn’t seem enthusiastic. The one bit of progress that I made is that I started to pet Cash’s belly in preparation of eventual lift training. At the end of the session, I removed their cat tree, in the hope that we might get them to sleep in their carrier. This would allow us to take them into the cage for the first time later on. Susan repeated the belly rubs in the early afternoon. Cash was even purring after the feeding session was done while he was taking a bath. Clearly, Cash is adapting very well to domestication; Stormy, however, is still complaining at the window, and took a long time to approach Susan for food.

July 8th. I managed to put a little pressure on Cash’s belly during the chicken baby food feeding. The big event was to begin to initiate play. We purchased a few new balls and a laser pointer. Cash really liked the laser pointer, following the light and trying to bat at it. He also liked to whack the balls if the laser light was pointed at it. Stormy seemed to be more taken by the furry wand toy. It was good to see them play, although they still don’t want to approach me except for feeding.

July 9th. I shifted Cash around on my leg several time by giving him a slight, half-inch lift. Stormy remains aloof and is yet to purr. We shifted the feeding times a bit. There is a big feeding in the morning, followed by a play session in the early afternoon, and the second feeding is now in the late afternoon. The idea is that they will be more hungry for the second feeding and that they might be hungry enough after the play session to be willing to enter the carrier, if we place food in it. This might make moving them to the cage possible in a few days.

In the evening, Cash and Stormy would allow me to adjust their position on my leg while eating chicken baby food. I would reach under Cash’s belly and lift and move him a little. I did the same thing to Stormy, a couple of times reaching under his belly and sometimes grabbing his bottom to move him closer to me. At the end, while Stormy focused on the empty food can and bottle, I grabbed him around the middle and lifted him down to them. He struggled just a little, but then focused on the cans. I followed this up with a little laser pointer play. I hope I didn’t push him too far, but it is important to press their boundaries a bit.

July 10th & July 11th. Two days with little forward progress. Cash seems even more skittish and shies away from our laps. We can rub their bellies and adjust them a bit while feeding baby food.

July 12th. We decided to introduce them to the cage to help mix up things a bit. We put the cage in front of the bathroom door and used cardboard to block out above and below the cage. I sat in the bathroom and opened both the bathroom and cage doors. As I sat quietly, Stormy went on top of the toilet and the medicine cabinet and peered warily at the cage. Neither cat approached it on his own. After twenty minutes of this, I decided to bring out the big guns – chicken baby food. I placed the food in a dish and gradually moved the dish in front of the cage. Both cats ate the food and then Stormy poked his head inside the cage. At this point, they heard some noise Susan made and bolted back to their safe spot behind the toilet. Neither approached the cage again after that. Other than that no progress.

July 13th. We decide to mix things up a bit. I go in for the morning feeding session with two bowls. I fill each with ½ a can of Fancy Feast and place them a foot or two apart in front of the bathtub (so they can’t get on the other side of the bowl from me). I then announce that we are going to play switch-the-bowl. After they start eating, I then proceed to shift them back and forth between the bowls. They don’t seem to mind because they are very hungry. In fact, we play switch-the-bowl through a second can of Fancy Feast. Following this, I feed baby food to each of them one kitten at a time, instead of both at once. To get the food they needed to let me pick them up and hold them to my chest while eating. Cash adapts very quickly, and soon settles in to eat quite a bit of chicken baby food. Stormy is less pleased, although I do manage to pick him up and fed him four or five times. Stormy holds himself away from me with a paw and panics when he looks up and sees how close my face is. After this, we have one of the best play sessions ever, although Stormy alternates between furious play and wanting to get out the window. Susan uses the same technique later in the day, and is even able to kiss Cash on the head.

(At this point it is advisable to bring the kittens out into the household to get used to the sights and sounds of normal indoor life. A cattery on wheels is ideal for this and can allow for working in the bathroom on the floor with the kittens and bringing them out into the household for continued exposure and learning the rest of the day even when you aren’t working with them. Mike)

July 14th. Susan and I continue to play switch-the-dish, followed by holding the kittens to our chests. Switch-the-dish worked well and Cash even begins to purr during the cuddling sessions. During cage training, I decide to put the chicken baby food on the far end of the cage; so that, the kittens would need to go all of the way in to get any food. It took almost an hour of patient waiting, but eventually they are willing to enter the cage. Cash is bold enough to enter the cage and explore all of its features. He tried two of the platforms and even jumped into both of the hammocks. Stormy remains cagey about the prospect of visiting this new environment; so, Cash got all of the baby food. Susan observes the kittens participate in furious play later in the day. They are starting to relax enough to act like kittens.

July 15th. In the morning, I witness a few cute things. While I was holding Cash and feeding him baby food (Cash was so comfortable that I could just hold him through the whole jar), Stormy was on my leg hoping to catch a lick or two. At one point Stormy looks up into my eyes and decides to walk up my chest and touch noses with me. I take this for a good sign, since cats who are friendly to each other often do this to each other. More amusing, after Stormy had a poop, Cash jumped into the litter box and proceeded to help Stormy bury it. Susan invented a game in which she calls the Tunnel-of-Fun. She folded the fake lamb’s wool bed to make a tunnel, and the two kittens would take turns entering the tunnel. Once, while Stormy was in the tunnel, Cash jumped on top of the bed to ambush his brother.

July 16th. Since we were making little progress attracting Stormy into the cage, I decided to try something new. I stood on my knees and offered Stormy some chicken baby food on my finger. When he approached I scooped him up. This was a step toward being able to pick the kittens up and stand (one of the last steps of socialization). It also allowed me to place Stormy in the cage in front of a dish of baby food. I repeated this four or five times. Although Stormy left the cage after finishing the food each time, he seemed to be in less of a hurry to leave as time went on. I may use this technique to put both of them in the cage and close the door in the near future.

July 17th. We are now able to readily pick up both of the kittens from a kneeling position and cuddle them. In the evening, she even picked up Cash from a standing position. This worked great until Cash saw himself in the bathroom mirror, at which point he panicked. Susan had a great play session in the evening, including lots of tunnel-of-fun play. She also found that the kittens enjoyed chasing a bouncing ball. She petted both of the cats during the play sessions.

July 18th. Had a great morning. Both cats let me pick them up from a standing position. I avoided the panic by facing away from the mirror. Both of the kittens let me pet them without getting any food right after the baby food session and during play. Cash even arched his back in seeming enjoyment of the pets. At this point they both have passed all of the steps in the socialization process laid out by Mike at the Urban Cat League. So, it seems that they are ready for the next phase, which is familiarizing them with our house, household noises, and the other cats.

So, about 2:30 we decide to go for it. I put two bowls of Fancy Feast in the cage, and we rolled the cage in front of the bathroom door. I then offered each of them some chicken baby food on my finger, scooped them up, and put them in the cage in front of the food. After a few escapes, I managed to close the cage door on them. We then rolled them out into the kitchen, and placed the cage in a spot that is between the fish tank and a window that looks out onto our bird feeder.

The experiment did not have a very successful beginning. Both of the kittens began to wail as they did in their first days in the bathroom. Stormy tried to chew his way through the cage bars, and Cash huddled behind the little litter box in the cage. Nor was the experiment particularly successful in terms of introducing them to our other cats. Sam, who is about nineteen pound or six times bigger than the kittens, looked frightened. I think he saw the kittens, but they did not see him. I tried to pet Sam, but all he did was run away up stairs. Lilah was nowhere to be seen.

Susan and I took turns sitting at the kitchen table working at the computer (which I am doing even as I type this). We also spoke reassuring words to the kittens and occasionally gave them a bit of chicken baby food to reward them. With time, they appear to be relaxing a little, and have noticed the birds. Stormy eventually decided to relax in the hammock, while Cash retreated to behind the litter box. After two hours or so, we wheeled them back to the bathroom, and they swiftly left the cage for their safe environment as soon as we opened the cage door. Once back in the bathroom, they were open to being picked up and petted. So, I guess they were no worse for the wear.

In fact, Susan noticed that both of the kittens, particularly Stormy, were hanging out close to the bathroom door when she went in to visit them in the evening. They seem extremely curious about the outside world when the door is open.

July 19th. While doing my morning feeding, I heard Stormy audibly purr while I was holding him and feeding him chicken baby food. His purr was not as loud as Cash’s, but it was good to hear it. I fed both of them from a standing position three or four times. While I was feeding Cash, Stormy tried to climb my robe. I tried to gently convince him that I am not a mountain.

We got both of them into the cage about noon. This wasn’t easy, since they both understand the cage now, and didn’t want any part of it. So, when I put one in and turned to get the other, the first one would run out of the cage. In the end, I put Cash in the cage, shut the door, picked up Stormy, and shoved him into Cash to get them both in.

We gave Sammy a little deli chicken after the kittens had settled in. When the kittens gave a little cry, he came over to check them out. Sammy was very good. He slowly approached the kittens with his tail mostly up. The kittens gravitated toward him, but when Sammy got to close, Stormy proceeded to growl at him. Sam went away, but I later saw him lying under the kitchen table within a few feet of the kittens. When I entered

the room, Sam left, but as first meetings go, I guess things are working out pretty well. Lilah is nowhere to be seen. She didn’t even come down for her deli meat snack, which she would normally do when she hears me making a sandwich. I’m not sure how to introduce her to the kittens, but we need to do this before we can turn the kittens loose in the house.

July 20th. Stormy’s purr is becoming more regular and audible. Both kittens allow us to pet them during play sessions. Cash enjoyed scaling the scratching post and batting at the laser mouse light. On the other hand, I could not convince Cash to enter the cage today. I captured Stormy and put him in the cage, but when I tried to tempt Cash out with chicken baby food, he wouldn’t let me close enough to pick him up. When I tried to reach for him, he hid behind the toilet. I tried to grab him, but he was too fast for me.

Fortunately, he seemed to be recovered by time Susan’s end of the day feeding session came around.

July 21st. I managed to trick Cash. I kept the bathroom door shut while the cage was set up. I then feed both cats a bit of baby food, picking them both up. Finally, when I was holding Cash, I opened the bathroom and cage doors and stuck him in. He struggled a bit, but it worked. Stormy was still happy to approach me for baby food, and I stuck him into the cage using the upper door. We wheeled the cats out to a new place. This time we took them to the living room where we were watching some television. The cats seemed to enjoy, or at least tolerate baseball, but science fiction made them a little skittish since there were explosions and funny noises. We periodically rewarded the kittens by feeding them a bit of baby food through the bars. Stormy really took to the hammock, and Cash sometimes joined him there. More importantly, Lilah saw the kittens for the first time. Lilah kept her distance and ultimately left the room after a number of double takes. The kittens seemed riveted by her. Sam actually approached the cage in a friendly manner. The kittens were very interested in him, but when he actually moved to sniff Cash, this made Cash panic. He hissed Sammy repeatedly, taking five deep breaths followed by a loud hiss each time. Sam then retreated and left the room. After a bit more than two hours, we wheeled them back to the bathroom and let them out. I then feed them a bit more baby food, held them, and petted them.

July 22nd. I used the same trick to get Cash into the cage again. This time, he really struggled when I picked him up. Even Stormy was hesitant to be picked up. But it worked out in the end. I don’t know how many times we can repeat this. We may need to simply let them loose in the end and let them introduce themselves to our older cats.

In any case, the kittens seemed to settle in more comfortably today. We left them in the cage for between three and four hours, and they even managed to take a few naps. Both Sam and Lilah checked out the kittens. Lilah kept her distance, but Sam approached the cage once. Both kittens were in the hammock when he approached, and I am not sure that Sam saw them at this time. The kittens, however, observed him from their perch. This time Cash was silent, but intrigued. After we wheeled them back to the bathroom, both cats were skittish, but eventually let me pick them up and feed them a bit of baby food. It is odd that them seemed so relaxed in the cage today, but are become increasingly resistant to going into it.

Susan introduced the kittens to two balls that jingle when batted. The kittens loved it. She also incorporated the new balls into the tunnel-of-fun game, and it was a great success.

July 23rd. I congratulated Cash on his one-month anniversary and let him know that we were proud of his progress. As usual, I fed the two cats baby food from a sitting position and then from a standing position. After I let Stormy down one time, he went on top of the vanity to get at the baby food jar. I picked up the jar and continued feeding Cash. Stormy leaned from the vanity onto my robe to horn in. So, I moved several feet away to get some distance from him. To my surprise, Stormy proceeded to leap onto my chest to get to the baby food. Although I was in some pain from his claws, I let both of them down as gently as I could. Mike didn’t call chicken baby food “Crack for Kittens” for nothing. Stormy is clearly addicted.

In the afternoon, I tried to tempt the kittens into the cage. Stormy was only too happy to come out for the chicken baby food, but Cash was unwilling to come out. Cash’s cage phobia is proving problematic.

July 24th. Both kittens are purring simultaneously when fed chicken baby food. And they are playing like little troopers. They enjoy chasing the laser pointer, grab the fluffy wand toy, chase balls – especially those that make noise, have play fights with each other, climb the scratch pole to chase the laser point, etc. They seem to be totally fascinated with our shoe laces, which can be a bit problematic since Stormy sometimes reaches out with his claws during the excitement and nicks a foot. We are able to give them some pets in passing when they are playing, although when they really get excited they sometimes flop and try to fight our hands. They rarely seem to approach us just to be petted, although I sometimes think they approach nearer than they need to and don’t always run away when we pet them.

In the afternoon, I put some Fancy Feast in the cage, and to my surprise, both Cash and Stormy go in to eat it. So, I closed the cage door, and we rolled them into the foyer, where the cats could clearly look both into the dining room where Susan was working on the computer and into the living room. We later rolled them into the kitchen where they could see us prepare food and look into the living room when we watched some television. Sammy approached the cage at one point and the kittens were interested but did not hiss him at all. Lilah continued to keep her distance, but checked the kittens out for a while.

The kittens shook us down for a third can of Fancy Feast during their evening feeding. Susan was almost frightened by their food greed. It is unbelievable how much they can eat. Two little kittens, who must weigh all of seven pounds between them, finished off six cans of Fancy Feast and one and a half containers of chicken baby food. Our two older cats (whose combined weight is something like 32 pounds) share three cans between them in a day, without any baby food.

July 25th. I had another nice feeding/play session in the morning. Both cats seemed more amenable to being petted during the play sessions. Stormy’s escape needs are getting harder to control. When I opened the door in the morning, both kittens stuck their heads out of the door. So, I used my foot to make them back off to let me in the door. Stormy evaded my foot and was about the exit the room, but with some quick work of my own, I managed to contain him. I don’t know how much longer it will be possible to keep them in. The big question is: should we keep them confined in the hope that they will develop affection needs not tied to food before letting them out, or should we let them have their freedom and work on developing these need in the wider house?

In the afternoon, I went into their room without any food. Stormy seemed sleepy; so, I went over and picked him up and rubbed his head for a while. I then started to pet each of them when they came near. Stormy made himself available easily, but it took Cash quite a while to do so. Eventually, Cash came by and I petted him. After a while, Cash even started purring. Perhaps, there is hope for our kittens to become affectionate after all.

We also decided it was time to align the kittens’ feeding schedule to that of our other cats. This means giving them three smaller (one can a piece) meals, rather than two big ones. This should help them fit into the household rhythms better when they are released.

July 26th. All three of us are in accord. It is time to release the kittens. Susan and I both think that the kittens should be released. We also e-mailed Mike at the Urban Cat League with a few final concerns, and he also believes they should be released. We have decided to spend today kitten proofing the house as much as possible and release them tomorrow morning. Whatever we do, I am sure the kittens will find many ways to get in trouble. Let’s hope they don’t hurt themselves.

Early in the day, I was standing and feeding Cash baby food. Stormy thought it was his turn. So, when I reached out to put more baby food on my finger, Stormy leapt straight up to get to grab my arm. Stormy’s baby food needs are getting a little out of hand (so to speak).

Both of us had a few good sessions in which we sat in the bathroom without any food and petted the kittens when they came near. Susan even picked up Cash and held him.

July 27th (D-Day). In the morning, Cash eluded me when I was attempting to get in to the bathroom to feed them breakfast. Fortunately, he was so stunned by his success that I was able to pick him up and put him back in the room. After making sure our older cats received food and affection, we decided to “release the hounds.”

At noon, I opened the door and said “Welcome to your home.” Both cats stepped outside and almost immediately fled back into their bathroom safe haven. As one might have predicted, Stormy was the first to venture forth and explore. He discovered some dry food that we had left for our older cats and looked over his shoulder at us, as if wondering if he was doing anything wrong. Stormy proceeded to explore my office and our laundry room, running back to his bathroom home in between forays. He would take slow, careful steps with sudden bursts of low running to traverse wide expanses. He carefully sniffed and inspected everything he found. Cash spent quite a while in the bathroom before going out. Eventually he came out and stuck close to his brother during his explorations. When the two of them discovered a litter box full of our older cats’ smells, Stormy decided to leave his own mark. Eventually the two of them made it into the kitchen and dining room. As time passed, Cash hunkered down in my office and Stormy continued to explore. In the end, he ventured to every room on the first floor except the living room when we watched television with the older cats.

We decided not to let the kittens roam freely through the evening when they could not be supervised. So, we lured them into the bathroom during the evening feeding and shut the door. This made them very unhappy, and both cats made efforts to scratch at the door to get out. After a brief discussion, we decided they would be happier in my office, which is much larger and more interesting than the bathroom. I used baby food to draw them in to my office, and they seemed much more content in that space.

July 28th. After a nice morning feeding and cuddle session, I opened the door to allow the kittens to roam. Stormy made occasional explorations, including venturing upstairs. Cash, on the other hand, managed to find a way into the office closet and hid away most of the day.

At supper time, Stormy came out when I opened a can of food for the two older cats. He found himself face to face with Sammy, and the two politely nosed each other with no hisses or growls.

In the evening, Stormy was bold enough to enter the living room, where both Sammy and Lilah were residing. Stormy ate some left over food out of Sam’s bowl within three feet of him. Sam was a good boy, and just looked attentively at Stormy. Stormy then went around the perimeter of the room until he came to the cat furniture Lilah was on. He was about to jump up to where she was, when she hissed him loudly, causing Stormy to flee. Sam went in search of Stormy, seemingly concerned with the baby. Clearly, it will be easier to convince Sammy to get along with the kittens than Lilah. Stormy must not have been too traumatized, since soon after that, Stormy returned to the living room for a moment. Following this, both Cash and Stormy played in the kitchen.

We then tried to give a treat to all four cats. Susan went into my office to feed the kittens, while I dished up food for the older cats in the kitchen. Stormy rushed in to the kitchen wanting to be fed there, and Sam was between Stormy and my office. Susan solved the stand off by coming out with a plate of food and leading Stormy to my office. After their snack, both kittens came out to the living room. Susan tried to engage them in play along with Sammy using a feather on a string toy, but the kittens were too frightened to play.

July 29th. Stormy moved freely through the first floor of the house. He seemed to hang around at times when we were doing things. Stormy also fully explored the living room when the older cats weren’t there. He climbed both of the pieces of cat furniture including the tall “cat tree,” although he had some difficulty in figuring out how to get down. He discovered that he could use the back of our couch as a highway. He also came nose to nose with Sammy at suppertime. (Susan may have heard Stormy hiss a bit though.) In the evening, Stormy tried to take some food from Sammy, but Sammy just looked at him firmly and Stormy backed down. Cash spent a great deal of time with Stormy in the kitchen today, showing some signs that he is getting more adventurous

and expanding his range. Cash was really enjoying a new game that Susan invented that involved throwing balls inside a hole that is in the cat furniture in my office. I also found that he liked to jump after toys thrown on top of his cat furniture.

We made sure that both cats receive cuddles and pets during baby food sessions, both at the beginning and ends of the day.

July 30th. Began the day with petting the kittens during their regular feeding and cuddling them over chicken baby food. After the baby food was done, both kittens allowed me to pet them while they washed themselves. Stormy, in particular, was very open to being petted. After a bit of play, I opened the door to let them explore the house. Oddly, they now flee when I try to pet them, even though I am the same person who was just giving them affection.

Both Cash and Stormy now freely roam into the kitchen to watch the birds at the bird feeder that we have mounted between two windows there. Stormy also wanders the whole first floor. After a noontime chicken snack, Stormy checked out Sam’s bowl with same two feet away. Sammy is such a good cat, and he just watches the kittens. It is clear that Sam wants to be their friend. It is probably just a matter of time before the kittens allow this. Stormy will probably be the first to accept Sam since they have already had many short interactions. In any case, it is time to send off this kitten log as promised.

Epilogue. It is difficult to know when to stop keeping a log like this. Everyday will bring new events in the life of our kittens until the end of their (too short) lives years from now. Yet, the kittens have made great strides over the period reported here. They have transformed from wild animals, frightened to the core, whose only desire was to escape, into playful, loving creatures who are interested in their new world and have met and made some overtures to our older cats. The socialization process is not over. We still await them choosing to seek out our attention and companionship of their own volition, and they still must establish a full relationship with our older cats. However, I believe that with enough patience, kindness, and chicken baby food we will fully win them over in time.

(Thanks to Mark and Susan for this in depth account which will no doubt inspire and encourage many others who will also pass along these steps toward victory. Mike)

6.18.2010

#21 Taming Older Female Kittens

We've got a theme going with this and entries #19-20.
Female Feral Kittens that don't start socialization until 3-4 months old. Read all three if you want better insight into the difference between males and females past the relatively easy 8 week old stage. Here's an exchange with an adopter who has lost ground with the kitten in the picture. She was handleable at the time of adoption but needed continued work. She has regressed to being completely aloof and "untouchable." In addition she's developed some renegade habits which are not pleasing the adopter. Here's the email asking for advice:

hey mike,
it's vanessa that adopted dolly. still having no luck with her. she is so skittish and she climbs on everything. don't know if you have any advice or if you'd be able to take her back. she gets on top of everything and is constantly knocking over my plants and getting into the cupboards. not sure what to do.
thanks, vanessa

Dear Vanessa,
I'm so sad and surprised to hear things still aren't working out. I do have suggestions if you are willing to continue trying and I also have some questions. I'm not sure which of these suggestions will work with your schedule and what you've already tried. Let me know and we can narrow it down.

1. Does she like to sit in a high up spot? Maybe a tall cat tree or shelf somewhere else with a bed would be preferred if you create an alternative. Is the other cat chasing her, or she's chasing bugs like our cats do and go flying across the apartment? Explain more if I'm way off the mark. We have some mild "zap" pads that train cats not to go places. After a few times, they just stay off forever to avoid the risk of getting the zap in that location. It's a mild electric current. We have a large one you could lay across the kitchen counter and that should cure her of going up on the counter which I'm assuming is the half-way point to the cupboards.

2. Dirt and foliage are often an irresistible smell for feral cats and they often rub up against pots out of pleasure and they can knock them over. Is there any way to secure them to stand up to a happy cats weight? Can you provide a small container of cat grass from the pet store? Does she respond to that? A donut of aluminium foil around the plant can deter cats from stepping in pots or digging in plants. Is it small pots getting knocked off or big pots she's digging in?

3. Is she getting along with your other cat at all? Some cat's cat's will prefer cat company to bonding with humans and need to be given an incentive to befriend humans. I'm wondering if your schedule is such that you don't spend much time at home. If you are away several nights per week and only stop in to feed some days, that might be why she's aloof. She may be thinking that you'll be gone soon if she just waits a little while. I'm trying to figure out why she hasn't settled into the family in such a long time.

4. First rule to winning a cat's devotion is to never leave food out when you are gone. I don't want your other cat to be deprived, but I know in the beginning you were going to make her come to you if she wanted to eat, and not let her eat off on her own, just avoiding you completely. Did that never work or were you too busy to stick to it. I'd suggested petting her while she eats for the first month or she doesn't eat. It might take some working back up to that at this point, but it is an easy process if you have the patience and time.

5. If your other cat is a good eater and eats quickly, take up the food when you leave if she hasn't come over and eaten near you. She'll be happy and anxious to see you every time you come home to feed. Shy cats only overcome fears by their survival incentive. They must feel the need to win you over; first by self-interest and only after time for pleasure. Food and interactive play are the only tools we have that they are willing to give in for. We can talk about how to gradually get back to this program if you think it applies to the situation. It can just be with the bowl at your feet while you watch tv, or on the bed. She'll be coming over in no time, but only if it's her only option.

6. Another possibility: Since I know she enjoyed being petted and held when she was being socialized, you could try putting her back in a pen for a month and petting her while she eats. We have nice cat pens to loan if you want to try it. They are comfortable with several shelves to move around.
Let me know if any of this helps or brings up more questions.
All the best, Mike

6.10.2010

#20 Why do older female kittens seem harder to tame than the males??


Question: I'm no expert but I've tamed a few litters of kittens and find that past 8 weeks the females are progressively harder to tame than the males. What do you think? Rosina

Answer: Yes, I agree. I think Mother Nature gets the credit for this phenomenon. Up until 8 weeks, kittens are pretty much defenseless and it is mom's responsibility to make sure they are warm, eat and don't fall prey to predators. Kittens under 8 weeks are programmed by Mother Nature to be fixated on mom, stay near her and do whatever she says. Once they hit 8 weeks, kittens are on a super fast-track to independence. That means, hunting and feeding themselves and getting ready to reproduce. Male kittens seem to get more of a limbo period from Mother Nature since their role in reproduction is pretty minimal, and their child-care role is non-existent. Taming a male kitten even up to 6 months can sometimes be done without much fanfare with consistent hard work.

Here's the info that for me makes ALL the difference between socializing female kittens between 2 months and 4 months: Female kittens can become pregnant as early as 4 months old. Think about it. In the time between two months of age and four months, the female kitten must learn a mind-bending number things. She must become self sufficient hunting and feeding herself. She must be prepared to have a family in the street as a single-parent and all that entails. Finding a safe spot to deliver her kittens where she can protect them and defend them from predators is a very advance level of development. With kittens, she must make a hundred decisions every day how to keep them alive and feed herself plus produce milk for them.

Male kittens are on a much slower track of development and have pretty much of a free ride during this same period of time as long as they learn to hunt for themselves and stay out of the way of the dominant males in the colony.

The key to understanding the challenges of socializing older female kittens comes back to something I've discussed frequently in this blog, the FIGHT or FLIGHT instinct. The "Fight or Flight" instinct goes from pretty much zero at 8 weeks to warp drive in a matter of a few weeks in female kittens. Imagine how much mental development it takes to go from complete dependence on mom to being ready to be a mom yourself in 2 months time.

Female kittens this age really need the "option" to stay away from the socializer and approach of their own choice. Give them space and use their hunger to get them to muster up the courage to come up to you to eat. Cornering them or forcing them in any way to be held or handled will have diminishing returns. You may be able to get away with it with young kittens and older male kittens but the older females are programmed to panic in that situation.
A mom cat who has kittens back in the nest is not going to take any unnecessary chances while out getting a meal. Her priority is making sure those kittens survive. Even though the kitten is only 3-4 months old, Mother Nature has already infused her with the instinct to not take ANY unnecessary chances. Why let those humans touch and pet you when it isn't a matter of life or death. Hunger is pretty much the only thing you have to work with at this age with female kittens. The thing in your favor is that female kittens of this age are very intelligent and once they realize you only mean them well, it's almost instant that they hold strong with the progress you make and move steadily forward. This is all the more reason not to give them any reason to think they can't trust you by forced handling. Of course there are exceptions and individual scenarios but you are right as far as I have observed. Older female kittens are a much bigger challenge than their mushy brothers.

Stella d'Oro, the mom cat in the picture was pregnant at 4 months and gave birth 2 months later in 10F degree weather in a underground drain pipe. Her 3 kittens survived thanks to her resourcefulness until Urban Cat League could help her out. Stella d'Oro is a lovely cat needing an adoption. She loves to be petted and brushed but doesn't like to be picked up. See her on the adoption page of urbancatleague.org