#4 Should I give a feral kitten a box to hide in?
Hi! I am in the process of taming an approx. 9 week old feral kitten and I have been told that it is good to provide the kitten with a box so that it has some place that it can retreat to and feel safe. This seems logical. In part three of your videos on taming feral kittens, you talk about using a bathroom where the kittens can not hide from you so that you are not pulling them out from anywhere to handle them. This also seems logical. Is there a hard and fast rule on this? I am one week into socializing her, and she definitely spends a lot of time out of sight-- but not always. She will hang out on top of the box sometimes. Honestly, she might be scooting into the box as I come in- I'm not sure. About 5 times a day I will remove her from the cage (and if necessary, gently bring her out of the box) and hold her on my lap for a lengthy petting session. She will hiss and growl as I reach for her, but she has really learned to enjoy the petting and will even purr! Would you advise me to remove her box, or would you say that there are certain cases with certain kittens where a box can provide needed security? Thank you for any advice. I have no doubts that she is going to be a GREAT kitten and a long term member of my home. Krista Dear Krista: Since you plan to keep the kitten, and not rush to find an adoption, you have the luxury of taking your time with a more organic path to gain trust and confidence. The box is fine since you can easily get close to the cat in the box and not be reaching in under a bed or behind a couch at arms length without being able to even see the kitten. If it were me, I would avoid ever reaching in an pulling her out. I'd space out the feeding sessions apart to the point where she is hungry enough to come out on her own to eat when you come into the room. Giving her the choice to stay in the box or come out on her own to meet you will build the permanent trust and confidence to become a relaxed member of the household. Even when they start to purr and/or eat after being pulled out of hiding, they were denied the opportunity to "choose" to come out to get something they want (food). Letting her choose builds the confidence to not run when someone enters the room and stay still to be picked up when you are towering over her out in the household. If she won't come out of the box when you enter and put down the food, wait a little bit. You can give her a taste off your finger to entice her, but don't give her a free ride, or let her hold you hostage at that stage. Try a toy on a string to lure her out or anything else that she likes but if she won't come out after awhile, pick up ALL the food and go away for an hour. Keep coming back until she is hungry enough to come out on her own to eat. Don't stare at her but just put the food down by your side and sit facing in profile, not staring at her every move. Don't bend down staring into the box like a predator saying sweet things to her. All she will see is a potential predator waiting to pounce if she dares to come out. When she does come out, ignore her completely the first couple times and don't even look at her until she really gets eating. Then you can talk to her casually, and work up to touching, petting, picking up, etc. It may seem counter intuitive since you already have her purring and happy when held but you need to back up to overcome the instinct to not come out of hiding when a potential predator is looming outside the den. Hunger is the only thing to short circuit this instinct and then she will assimilate it and no longer consider you a potential threat. Cats are both predator and prey so they have a very strong "fight or flight" instinct. It needs to be disassembled in a step by step and methodical way for a permanent effect. Don't leave food behind when you aren't in the room until this behavior is overcome and she will soon be running out to meet you when you arrive at mealtimes. At 9 weeks, they should be fed at least 3 times per day but she will be fine waiting 12 hours a couple of days between meals if it take that to get her to come out to eat. A day or two hungry won't have any lasting harm but it is important for you to overcome this hurdle while she is still young and adaptable. She'll be fine not eating for a day or two if it takes that long. Once she's overcome the fear to come out, it will be permanent progress and she'll come out right away the next time. I don't often get to give advice to someone who has the luxury of time because they plan to keep the cat they are socializing. Sometimes people are confused that we think all kittens should get "Tough-Love" treatment. Nothing could be farther from the truth if you have the time for a more organic road to gaining their trust. As a further guide to people in your situation, we have on the socialization page of our website a diary written by one of our volunteers Katharine. She adopted two feral kittens and just let them socialize very slowly with no "fast-track" techniques or any formal socialization work at all. In time they became "normal" lap cats all on their own. This is the preferred method but with so many kittens to get adopted we've had to invent all the antics you saw in our video. Petfinder.com makes the box pictured at the top of the blog. It can be converted to a carrier so a cat can go to an adoption with its own bed to make the transition smoother. They sell them in bulk to shelters or as few as 5 at a time. All the best, Mike