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Worried rescue cats are feral, I don’t know what to do!!

Discussion in 'Cat Training and Behaviour' started by LouLou12, Mar 16, 2017.


  1. LouLou12

    LouLou12 PetForums Newbie

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    Hi everyone, a few months ago I lost my 20 year old cat, he was the absolute love of my life and his death has left me heartbroken. I had him from 8 weeks old. I have recently adopted two 9 month old cats from a rescue shelter but I am struggling to build any kind of a relationship with them and am beginning to fear they may be feral.

    Both times that we saw them at the shelter they were extremely timid and hid from view, but they were gorgeous so my partner and I decided to go with them. I was told that they had recently been brought over from Portugal, they had been in a shelter there but the owner of the shelter had died and all the cats were transported to the UK (paid for by the deceased owners will). I assumed that their timid behaviour was down to the trauma of being moved like that, I can’t think of anything worse for a small cat. However, to cut a long story short they have been with us now for 3 weeks, and whilst clearly very happy in our home - they have the run of the place, they won’t let us anywhere near them.

    I have tried the whole ‘ignore them’ bit but it’s made no difference. I’ve tried treats, toys, all sorts of things to bond with them, but nothing works. It occurred to me the other day that they behave like the feral cats you see abroad, who hang out around restaurants hoping for scraps. Whenever you give them a treat they grab it and run to a corner, surreptitiously munching it whilst wildly looking around to make sure no ones going to attack them. I always thought feral cats could be tamed but I was dismayed to read that after 12 weeks it’s too late for them to ever be fully tamed. I feel heartbroken by all this, it’s made me long for my dead boy cat all the more. Am I just being impatient - expecting too much after 3 weeks? Or, is it indeed just their age? I feel like I’m living with 2 totally wild animals but I recognise that they are the equivalent of teenagers.

    I would really like some advice as to what to do next. The shelter told us to keep them indoors for 5 weeks, they are clearly longing to get outside but I’m worried that at this rate they still won’t be bonded with us by the time I open the cat flaps. There is a nature reserve at the back of our house, with a plentiful supply of rabbits, mice etc. I’m genuinely frightened that once they discover they can hunt all their own food they simply won’t come back. Another cat I had who died 3 years ago never ate cat food, she hunted all her own food but the difference is she was devoted to me and even slept in bed with us under the covers. If these two don’t bond with us, what reason would they have to come home?
     
  2. kittih

    kittih PetForums VIP

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    Having looked after ferals and semi ferals from you discription of their history it is likely they are likely to be at least part feral.

    How likely they are to become cuddly house cats depends on many things.

    Firstly wouldn't let them out yet even once the 5 weeks is up. They will probably revert to semi wildies and just come home for food on occasion.

    Second I would restrict them to one room of the house that is quiet and not well used. Pit litter trays, beds and food in there. Also some hiding spots like upturned boxes with a hole in the side.

    Then regularly go in, sit on the floor and read a book etc. Speak or read to them quietly with no eye contact or sudden movements.

    Once they seem to be relaxing with your proximity take on some tasty treats and a long piece of string.

    Gently toss the end of the string towards there hiding spot and slowly move and jiggle it. Given they are so young, eventually they will get interested. If they do start playing keep the session short. Eventually you can entice them closer.

    When ever you leave the room leave something tasty like chicken or a little bit of ham.

    Once their confidence grows you can try tossing small.bits of chicken in their direction. Don't worry if they don't come out to get it at first.

    Once they get totally relaxed you can try and gently stroke them but don't rush it. Let them come to you and dictate the pace.

    Be prepared that this may take months not weeks and they may never be lap cuddles like your previous cat.

    Saying that I have a feral youngster (now 17 years old) that is a complete hug monster though he was younger when I tamed him than your two are.
     
    #2 kittih, Mar 16, 2017
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2017
  3. LouLou12

    LouLou12 PetForums Newbie

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    Thanks for your reply. I don't think putting them back in the 'safe room' they were in when we first got them would be helpful or particularly kind. I kept them in one room for the first 4 days and did most of the things you mentioned. They were clearly bored and destroying the place so I let them out and since then they have been having a wonderful time playing and chasing each other up and down the stairs. They don't hide or anything like that, they are happy to be in the same room as us and like sleeping on the back of the setee in the living room. The problems occur when either of us tries to approach them, even if you do it slowly, crouched down, they look like they're look terrified and dart under the nearerest bed or sofa. They really love their food and I've been trying to bond with them using dreamies cat treats, one of them in particular adores those. When I get the bag they will follow me and come close enough to snatch the treat from the floor near me but then run into a corner to eat it before venturing back for another. I haven't tried to touch them, as I know that would be counter productive. I'm waiting for them to come to me but after 3 weeks there isn't really any improvement.
     
  4. kittih

    kittih PetForums VIP

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    OK if they are confident running around the house and playing then perhaps you can use the playing to gain their trust. It will be more work to get them to interact with you as they have each other - what's the point in humans ?

    Sit on the floor with you legs stretched out. Get a wand toy with a long string or improvise one with a cane, long bit of string and a feather or bit of scrunched paper on the end. The string needs to be long enough so that they don't need to come anywhere near you to reach it. Throw the end of the string out a little way from them perhaps a meter or two and start wiggling and flick it. Not big movements just small flicks and twists. Hopefully the kittens should get interested. You might have to try a few times and be patient. Dragging the string slowly up objects like a chair or scratching post or under objects like a rug or table can make the game more exciting.

    Once a kitten is chasing, gradually encourage the kitten closer. Run the string along the ground whilst the kitten is chasing so it gets closer to your sticking out feet. If that works get the kitten playing around your feet. Progress to drawing the string over your outstretched legs so that the chasing kitten doesn't even stop to think but just runs straight over them. Using this method you can get the kitten closer and closer and comfortable with your presence. Next rest one hand on your lap so the the playing kitten runs past your hand as it goes past. You can slowly extend your hand each time so there is more contact.

    When this works well try the game somewhere else eg on the stairs. Eventually encourage the kitten to run up towards you.

    At that age play can trump food as a reward and can make a timid kitten braver in the heat of a chase.

    Once they are more comfortable being close you can use food and the string to encourage the kitten to spend more time on or near you to increase their bravery.

    One might prove to be braver than the other but in time it should work for both.
     
    #4 kittih, Mar 16, 2017
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2017
  5. LouLou12

    LouLou12 PetForums Newbie

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    Thank you so much, I will give this a try. I agree as well that as they clearly adore eachother me and my partner arren't very appealing!! (other than as providers of food) :(
     
    leashedForLife and kittih like this.
  6. leashedForLife

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    the above suggestions are EXCELLENT, i might use a fishing-pole [any flexible wand like item will do, a thin bamboo for supporting a potted-plant, for instance - about 3-ft long is plenty] to give me more distance for flipping & flinging it away from me, & more control / accuracy than a limp string - it's tough to get a cord to go any distance with accuracy, unless something provides a little weight to the tip of the cord.
    Any small soft toy will do - a cotton tampon is great, cheap, disposable / compostable, non-toxic. Tie the cord to the "head" at the "neck" so the tail can drag alluringly when it's moved along the floor or furniture; a fat little bead on the bottom of the "neck" will keep it upright as it slips along, & help it land on its "belly" when flung. ;)
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    Cardboard-tube tampons are IME the best cheap cat-toy ever invented - they are perfect mousies, tossed easily by a cat's paw, can be buried in the garden to decompose when they get too dusty, & everything recycles - the box, the paper wrapper, the pasteboard tubes. :) Win-win! -- everybody's happy.
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    I'd also spend time sitting on the floor with something INCREDIBLY stinky & appealing >> inside my lap << as i sit cross-legged, my back propped by a sofa or other sturdy, not easily moved support. The cats can't get it unless they are bold enuf to stand on my thigh, & stick their heads in - as it's either on the floor, or on the cushion i'm perched on, & walled in on all sides by 'human'. ;)
    I'd be prepared to read for a minimum of an hour, unmoving except to turn the page - then freeze the stinky thing in its own small bag, prepared to defrost it very gently in the microwave [30% power] for a few seconds to restore the 'stink'. // Use just a tablespoon at a time, that way if no one eats it, after 4 to 5 use / freeze / defrost cycles, U can discard it & not feel bad about wasting a lot of food. // It should be PROTEIN - not carbs; canned or pouch tuna, tinned jack mackerel, ____ .
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    Just keep working on being at their height, speak softly or not at all, move slowly & give multiple clues that U are about to get up & do other things [set the book down, lift Ur back, sigh, stretch slowly, etc].
    When U look at them don't STARE, blink slowly & look away, wear a soft expression - not frowning, not worried, smile without teeth & keep Ur eyes soft - B-L-I-N-K while looking to one side.
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    They are young; play, food, & patience are Ur tools. They'll come around, altho they may never be cuddlers; cats are often either playful or cuddly, the cats who adore play often don't like to be 'restrained' which is their interpretation of cuddling. Middle-of-the-road kitties enjoy play, but it's not their raison d'etre - it's just a few minutes of fun, & they like petting, too.
    It's too soon to say what sort of kitties these 2 may be, & they may be quite different from one another, too, when their personalities emerge from their mutual timidity.
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    Don't despair. :)
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    moggie14, LouLou12 and kittih like this.
  7. kittih

    kittih PetForums VIP

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    Let us know how you get on. It worked for some feral kittens I had, though the look on their faces when they realised how close they were to the big bad human after happily running over me a few times was hilarious kind of like in this pic stolen from Google...

    images-1.jpg
     
  8. leashedForLife

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    I lured a litter of feral kittens into my lap in a field, once - I sat down, was very still, then trilled like a queen bringing food home. // They bounced out of hiding, rushed out pell-mell each to be first to grab at the goody, & stopped dead in shock -- no mommy! Big Bad PERSON!...
    As they were frozen, i trilled again invitingly, & threw 1 piece between myself & the nearest kit, figuring that was the boldest, as he was furthest in the open from his hidey-hole. He grabbed it, snarling, & scoffed it down, then
    lifted his tail politely while he sniffed about eagerly to see if there was more. Watching him, another kitten squeaked hungrily, & i threw her a piece - & then everybody came running over, stopped an arm's length short, & cried loudly.
    I kept trilling, didn't get up or move except to drop tidbits, & they were clambering all over me in minutes, eating as fast as i offered bits in my fingers.
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    I handled every kitten that 1st day, by going back 3 or 4 times & each time, trilling to call them out. I held out a tidbit, let them gnaw, picked them up under the belly with the other hand, & set them on my thigh as they continued to eat. I petted them lightly with one finger, sliding along their backs. Eventually, every one purred while simultaneously eating & being touched - all in one day, sunrise to dark. // Sadly 2 days later, we had a gut-busting thunderstorm with driving rain for several hours, & terrifying intense lightning with ground-shaking thunder claps. :( When i went back, they were all gone; i don't know if they drowned in the ditch, mom-cat moved them when they smelled funny, a dog got them, ____ .
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    I felt very guilty that i hadn't taken them wholesale when i could, but i had nowhere to put them; i was camping with my pony, it was Rodeo Days for 4 days, & i couldn't put 6 feral kittens in a borrowed car, in July heat. // I was sleeping in the car at night, but it was 85'F in the daytime, & they'd cook in there.
    I still wonder what became of them, now & then. Poor mites - they were about 6-wks old, just reasonably co-ordinated.
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