#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


#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 :


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


#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!


# 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.
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