|A Step-by-Step Guide to Socializing a Feral Kitten|
Every cat is a little different; some tricks that work for one kitten won’t work for another. Some will be friendly in only of couple days, but with others it may take weeks, especially if they’re older. Below is a basic guide for beginning to socialize a young feral kitten, which you can alter to fit to your kitten’s behaviour.
Step 1: Contain the kitten
This cat is afraid and in a strange place, and it’s going to want to hide. If it has full run of the house it will hide under a bed or behind the fridge where you can’t work with it at all, and then it will only come out when you’re not around. A tiny little kitten could even get lost or escape your home if it’s not contained. When you first bring home a feral kitten, create a space for it in the bathroom or in a dog crate, where it has access to water and its litter box but cannot hide somewhere you can’t access. Make sure it does have a sheltered space (either a corner of the crate covered by a blanket, or a box on its side) where it can go to feel more secure though. A cat that feels safe will be easier to work with. When you work with the cat either do it through the door of the crate or in the bathroom with the cat. Don’t bring your kitten out until you’re pretty sure it won’t disappear forever.
Step 2: Associate yourself with food
Although your kitten should always have access to water, limit feedings to when you’re around. For the first few feedings with a very scared kitten, just putting the food near the cat and sitting far away is enough, but you should quickly switch to being right next to the food while it eats. If it won’t eat while you’re there remove the food and try again later. If after an entire day it won’t come near you for food you can give it its daily food amount in one feeding while you watch from afar, but again, the next day try no food unless it comes to you. 24 hours after its last meal the kitten will be most likely to come to the food, and this is the best time period to work in. But definitely make sure it’s getting enough to eat each day, even if it’s only getting one meal. For underweight cats, leave dry food out at all times and just do the above with canned cat food. Wet food fed by hand is the best way to make friends. Put some canned food on your fingers and reach out to offer it to a scared kitty. The cat will eventually be tempted enough to eat it off your fingers. This is a great icebreaker between you two—the cat learns that your fingers are friends, and you can offer the food closer and closer to your body until it becomes more comfortable.
Once the kitten has realized that coming near you for food isn’t deadly, start trying to pet the cat while they’re eating, when they’re distracted. They’ll jump backwards at first but just keep at it. Once they start eating start stroking their back. Avoid the bum and the belly until they’re more comfortable. The best targets are the side of the mouth/cheek and the scruff of the neck. I like to try to massage the scruff if I can—start off petting then slowly start to give a gentle neck massage—because this reminds them of their mother and will often lead to them purring before they even realize what you’re doing. Other good times to pet them are while they’re playing (but watch out for swatting if they’re very excited) and when they’re tired. Just keep trying to pet them as much as you can whenever you can, and eventually they’ll start to realize that being pet and handled is fun, and not something to be scared of.
A well-socialized cat is one lets you pick it up whenever or that forces its way into your lap to be cuddled. To achieve this you need a kitten that’s used to being handled. Once you’ve got basic stroking and petting mastered, go for more. Get the kitten used to having two hands on it, or try and roll it over with your hand and give it a good belly rub. Get your feral cat to chase a piece of string onto your lap— a very successful way to get cats used to being on your lap or on the couch with you. Find it’s favourite place to be pet, the one that always brings on a purr, and pet it there while you get it used to having it’s belly tickled. Get the cat used to being picked up, and eventually letting you play with its paws (very useful for later nail trims). Don’t play hand games where you let the cat bite or scratch you though—some cats learn that scratching is a good way to boss people around if you do this. Overall, just be a little bolder every day and your cat will do the same.
It may feel at times that you’re getting nowhere, or that you’re actually going backwards, but just keep at it. You will see an improvement. Offering a finger of Fancy Feast and the cat isn’t moving? When you reach the point in any activity where you’re about to give up, try counting slowly to 15. You’ll be surprised how often the cat will respond within that time. You may also get to a stage where you can pet the kitten while it eats, but it’s still really skittish and won’t come out otherwise. Just be patient. Sometimes you’ll reach temporary plateaus where there’s no improvement for a week, but then one day it’s up on the couch with you while you watch TV. Don’t worry—each cat works at its own speed.
by Laura Tindal