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

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the info!

    My wife and I are in the process of trying to help a 4-5 month old feral Female and a 1 year old (approx.) stray that was separated from it's family for quite some time now.

    We have the female isolated in the master bedroom (as we own 3 cats of our own) and plan to have her given her shots and fixed tomorrow. She's been staying under the bed for the most part, but eating and using the litterbox (with a mix of potting soil)...but for the moment she won't come out and allow any personal interaction.

    And she won't be happy when we have to basically scare her out from under the bed in the morning and attempt to corral her into the car carrier.

    We're hoping that once we get her back that we can again begin working on building her trust levels up.

    Then we plan on doing the same for the Grey Male.

    Should be an interesting few weeks ahead ;)

    Regards

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  2. I am so pleased to have found your blog! My husband and I have successfully socialized two male feral kittens just utilizing common sense and the limited information available on the web several years ago. Not so fortunate with our female feral who was rescued from a boarded-up building at a very young age. None of the problems we've had with her made ANY sense until I read your blog. She has grown from a cuddly tiny kitten to a very aloof adult who prefers to spend 99% of her time secluded. She was spayed at about 6 months of age (wish we'd done it sooner)and is now about 3 years and 6 months old....her FIGHT or FLIGHT instinct has become ever so much more acute as she has matured. I wish we had known how to utilize feeding to assist her in socializing when she was a kitten. She was and still is a real glutton and I'm sure it would have been very effective.
    BTW...her personal story..she was boarded up without mama, along with a male sibling, for almost 6 days at 2 to 3 weeks of age, she somehow survived, her sibling died very soon after being rescued. What she managed to find to eat or drink is a mystery to us, I would not have thought a tiny kitten could possibly survive that long without food or water, but we have a HUGE, healthy (albeit socially inept) 3 year old cat that proves that it is possible.

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  3. I'm definitely having some of the same experiences with the two litters I'm working with, with some variation as well. I found two feral girls who were just under twelve weeks of age, but they both began trusting me after less than a week and turned themselves into perfect little housecats. Of the other four, however, who are about the same age, only one has come around so far, albeit in a big way. He's our brave boy and he's already at the point where he can live in my room and loves to play and cuddle.

    The remaining three who are still in the pen, two girls and a boy, are a challenge. I'm now in the third week of socializing them and they are beginning to show trust, but never for very long. When I come with food they're all out in force and let me pet them as long as dinner is out. Then comes the Gerber's baby food, which works wonders on two of them, both of whom will allow me to pet them extensively and enthusiastically even when the baby food is gone. The third, my very wary girl, does come out of her hiding place and allow petting for as long as the baby food is in her face, but will quickly retreat back inside once it's gone and she realizes I'm touching her. She's making very incremental progress, each time allowing a little more touching than the time before and with less hissing, but it's frustrating.

    The part that really gets me is the way the two Gerbers-induced cuddlers have such short memories of their good experience. I can have the two of them literally jumping over each other for a chance to be petted by me after they've had just a little baby food, but if I walk away and return after ten minutes, they'll bolt from me. I try to reinforce the good experiences with more baby food and as much friendly touching as they'll allow, but after great progress in a single session, I have to start all over again the next time they see me. Can you think of anything I could be doing differently to get the good lessons to stick better? Thanks for your thoughts.

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  4. Anonymous08 July, 2012

    Dear History Boy,
    Now that they are hooked on the baby food, you might try coming in every 10 minutes for just a short baby food session of just a few licks. That way they might be running up every time to see if you have baby food. Gradually they would lose the reaction of hiding first and only coming out once you break out the baby food. I think when they spend long hours alone between sessions they don't build on the familiarity of your presence. Sometimes the pen in blog #23 is a good tool to use at this stage just to get them used to having people around all the time. I use a laser light to load them up into the pen and roll them out into the house when I'm not working with them. When it's feeding time and time to work, I roll the pen into the bathroom and let them out to work. The laser light usually gets them all following it back into the pen when it's time to roll back out into the living room. I hope this helps!
    Best, Mike

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