Advice on familiarising touch/petting with 1yr old adopted feral

KevyWevz

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Hello to all,

I am very much hoping you could offer some guidance and advice regarding petting/touching a feral my partner and I recently adopted.

Quick backstory:
We adopted two 1-year old cats just over 1 month ago, male and female from a shelter. The male comes from a very hard beginning in life but quite simply has an amazing, friendly (and at times outright cheeky) personality, so he made himself right at home when he got in the door and while not a lapcat, loves attention and seems comfy with everything. The female was rescued in a TNR effort from a colony of 24 cats where 4 were released back to the park which they were found - she was estimated to have lived feral for about 10 months. I don't know the rescuers but I guess I have to trust their knowledge and experience to decide that she was worth 'domesticating' without causing her too much stress. These cats don't come from the same colony but appear to have bonded in the shelter and my partner and I were happy to take them in. We live in an apartment so they are indoor only.

We were briefed that the female was very cautious and could take some time to come around. As we have no kids, no other pets and I will be working from home for the forseeable future we are willing to take this challenge on. We dedicated the spare bedroom to them both but they have access to the whole apartment (aside from our bedroom).
In the beginning the girl would almost never come out from under the sofa bed, and once we started to block that off she found ways under the sofa in the living area. Now both have been blocked off and she's settled for spending most of her time in the corner with the cat beds and cat tree of their room (now known as the Cat Room). In 4 weeks she has honestly come on a lot. While retaining her cautious nature, she can become very engaged in play and never passes up an opportunity. She sometimes becomes so engrossed she forgets herself and realises she is in the middle of an open space.

When she feels like it, she'll lounge around different parts of the apartment (often on her side with belly exposed) but between say 9AM and 7PM she mostly stays in the cat room unless coming out when she knows I'm preparing food.
About 2 weeks ago I felt we were maybe 'rushing' her so decided to basically ignore her for a week(aside from wand and feather play where we still didn't make eye contact). This seemed to work quite a bit as she became 'braver' exploring spaces in the home as she realised she was not being 'watched' all the time.

Now in the last week we slowly began to introduce some more interaction and progressed to some chin scratches (which she will at times close her eyes and lean into) but she seems to be somewhat regressing. She's reverted to hissing at us if you accidentally catch her by surprise(walking around a corner etc) and although she has no problem eating from our hands, if they don't contain food she remains very cautious and watchful of your hands at all times.

My thinking was to start introducing the petting/interactions at a 'confident' stage of her time here. I understand it's not a coincidence she became more confident at the same time we were 'ignoring' her but at same time I didn't want to enable her staying completely dis-engaged from us. My plan was to visit slowly and gently 2-3 times a day with small bits of ham(jackpot for them) and give a little chin scratch with them but she recoils unless I am actually holding the food now.

In some ways I see massive progress she has made, at other times I wonder if the rescuers made the right choice in not sending her back with the remainder of her colony.

Am I taking the wrong and impatient approach here? Should I maybe just 'ignore' her for the next week or so? Any pointers at all much appreciated!

A quick note on her personality - while I understand it is normal for ferals and would not take it personally if she were to do so, she has never swiped at us. She always prefers to just remove herself from the situation and we ensure there is an 'escape route' for her at all times. She used to hiss if you went anywhere near her for the first two weeks, and for the last two weeks basically no hissing at all until maybe two days ago(but still not nearly as bad as the beginning).

While I understand it's necessity, playtime has been limited over the last few days as both cats are suspected of coming down with tritrichomonas foetus which is causing consistent anal leakage and diarrhoea. For the sake of our 'rented' apartment we are limiting playtime though obviously we can't control when they decide to play with each other.
 
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KevyWevz

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Oops I forgot the tradition of showing a picture of the new family member!
 

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tabbytom

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When she feels like it, she'll lounge around different parts of the apartment (often on her side with belly exposed) but between say 9AM and 7PM she mostly stays in the cat room unless coming out when she knows I'm preparing food.
About 2 weeks ago I felt we were maybe 'rushing' her so decided to basically ignore her for a week(aside from wand and feather play where we still didn't make eye contact). This seemed to work quite a bit as she became 'braver' exploring spaces in the home as she realised she was not being 'watched' all the time.
Thank you for adopting the kitties and for giving them a warm and fur-ever loving home and a safe sanctuary for them to live out their lives :clapcat:

According to your progress report, you are doing great. Just let her explore, get use to things in the house, the sights and sounds and of course to you and your partner.

Let her do it in her own time and don't rush her and just make sure she earns her confidence in you and to trust you. Once the trust part is taken care of, you have won her over. And if she's lying on her side with belly exposed, it's a good sign that she is showing her confidence being in the house and around you guys and don't feel threatened.

Do lots of slow eye blinks with her and look away as this gives her a message that she's in charge as looking directly into her eyes will some sort means a confrontation. Also just peek if she slow eye blink back at you. If she does, the battle's won.

Feel free to ask questions and we'll try to help you as best as we can.

BTW, she's beautiful! :hearthrob::redheartpump:
 
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KevyWevz

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Many thanks, tabbytom!

When you advise to let her do it on her own, do you mean to simply let her start approaching us and looking for physical affection?

I am wondering why she would ever do such a thing as petting seems so alien to her that my thinking is would never occur to her to seek something that she doesn't know exists. Am I way off the mark here?
 
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KevyWevz

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And we appear to be at a stage where she will hiss if I approach 'too quick' (I was going to pet our other cat) but she immediately returns (and even initiates) the slow blinks

Talk about mixed signals :flail:
 

Kat0121

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Many thanks, tabbytom!

When you advise to let her do it on her own, do you mean to simply let her start approaching us and looking for physical affection?

I am wondering why she would ever do such a thing as petting seems so alien to her that my thinking is would never occur to her to seek something that she doesn't know exists. Am I way off the mark here?
Hi and welcome! Thank you for adopting these two very lucky kitties! tabbytom tabbytom already gave you some great advice.

You have to give her control over the relationship. Once you do that, you will relax more and so will she. Talk to her often. Just a normal, conversational voice. Tell her about your day. Tell her you love her, are happy she's with you and that you want her to feel at home. Cats are very intelligent, intuitive animals and I firmly believe that they understand more than many people give them credit for.

Let her come to you. The more relaxed and comfortable she feels, the more she will. Reward positive behavior with praise and yummy treats. Play time is an awesome way to help her get comfortable with you as this helps them lose their fear. The fact that she likes it is great. Using treats and play time will help her associate you with good things. The slow blink is another great one as this is how cats greet and show affection to one another. Let her know you speak cat.

Having the male there fitting in so nicely is a huge plus. This will show her that he finds you trustworthy and likely has a lot to do with the fact that she seems to be trying to accept you and her new home.

You're doing a great job so far. :clap:
 

tabbytom

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Many thanks, tabbytom!

When you advise to let her do it on her own, do you mean to simply let her start approaching us and looking for physical affection?

I am wondering why she would ever do such a thing as petting seems so alien to her that my thinking is would never occur to her to seek something that she doesn't know exists. Am I way off the mark here?
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When I mentioned 'to let her do it on her own' is to let her explore the house at her own time and also to approach you guys at her terms as just what Kat0121 Kat0121 mentioned who's advice were great too.

Sometimes it takes awhile for her to be oriented and get used to things around her. It may be days, weeks, months and for some of our members, it took years. Just patient, shower her with love and repeat the routines. Always praise her for doing the right things but don't punish her if she does wrong and do not yell at her. All these help to gain her confidence and most of all, do not betray her.

Her hissing is telling you that she is no ready and once she has mapped out the whole situation and find that there's no threats in any of them, she'l overtone it

For example, if she's just lying down, you just do the eye blinks with her and speak to her in a gentle loving tine and say 'Blink eyes'. This will boost her confidence.

As for he petting, go slow on that, you are not off the mark. Let her make the first move, meaning ket her mark you with her scents first. like when she comes rubbing her body on your legs or your outstretched hand. Always present your hand in a fist form as it looks less intimidating to them. If you can get close to pet her and if she allows you to, pet her with the back of your hand starting from her face back to the ear (not against the whiskers) with gentle strokes. Repeat several times over the days and slowly move to the top of the head and then the back. But just keep in mind which part of herbed she don't like be touched or being stroke and don't there. Some cats don't like being stroked at certain places.
One important thing is don't over stimulate her.

Remember that not all cats are alike. They are all different with different characteristics. Just work around what she s. It's ok for her to be demanding but you must not demand too much from her. This is how it works.

Don't be too anxious as you are doing great. Remember, the cat is the boss.
 

minish

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I believe it's been going great so far. I have adopted my cat since kitten. 5 years old,she still reacts to being held or pet unless she demands or allows specifically. Preferences of physical proximity depends on the cat, not only feral situation. Since there is a positive example of the other cat, I think she will be eager to approach - for head bumps at least- in no time. Instead of ignoring, I suggest indirect acknowledgement. Pet her with your voice for the time being. who doesn't like a song dedicated to her, with her name sang in between the verses?
 

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I agree that each cat is different so your mileage may vary! I’ll share my experience though in case it is helpful. My feral girl had been in an open-room, roaming style shelter for over a year when I got her. The volunteers had mostly ignored her and let her do her own thing. She got comfortable in her hiding spots, but was still just as wary of humans as when she arrived, and never initiated touch or contact with any of them. They thought she would always be wild and was a lost cause, but I saw a brave little spirit in her so I adopted her anyway. Obviously a shelter environment is different than a home, but when I brought her home I decided to be more intentional about pushing her boundaries. For her, I found that gentle interaction every day worked best, rather than totally ignoring her. Of course there were many setbacks, but in the end, she went from a terrified hissing shell of herself who didn’t understand petting at all... to a very loving, purring, cuddly girl who LOVED being pet.

I used this “petting stick” for a long time before attempting to touch her with my hands.
94DCC981-8B25-4DF5-8C80-C6735BF76E9A.jpeg

She growled at it at first, so I would put a bit of liquid treat on the plastic end and let her lick it off. I also put dry treats sprinkled around the stick on the ground, and then would gently wiggle the stick while she ate them, so she got used to it moving near her. I then would lie down completely on the floor near her hiding spot, avoid eye contact or slow blink, and gently pet her with the soft end. At first she was nervous about it so I kept the sessions very short. She gradually got used to the weird stick touching her and tolerated it, but did not enjoy it at first. One day she started closing her eyes and relaxing a bit when I petted her face with it. Eventually I would inch my hand up the stick until I could pet her with a finger. After a few weeks she suddenly realized that petting actually felt nice and began timidly rubbing her cheek on my hand and purring. I truly don’t think she would’ve ever done that out of the blue if I hadn’t consistently worked with her up to that point. She had no idea what petting was or that it was a thing she could initiate and enjoy.

Based on my experience, I would advise to gently push her boundaries with the petting every day - not enough to terrify her or lose her trust, just enough to make her a bit nervous/annoyed - and then reward her with lots of treats and playtime.

My other friendly cat helped a LOT with the whole process so I’m hoping your other cat helps, too!
 
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