Befriending a Tiny Stray

enendawson

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Hi all,

I used to post on this site for advice for my two cats, but it's been many years, and I don't remember how to log in to my old account...

We have many regular strays that come around our backyard, and I have become very familiar with most of them over the years. We don't use our garage and left the door open one winter when it snowed here (we're far south in the US, so it was very unusual) for them as shelter, so I think a lot of them have become fond of our garage.

I know all of the cats that come around here by sight, but this evening I was very surprised to find a kitten! In all five years that we've lived here, there's never been a kitten among the strays. They were with a gorgeous tortoiseshell I've tried befriending for years, but she has never been won over. I'm not certain, but I think she may be the mother? I've just never seen her with a kitten before and assumed she might be spayed. There's also just this one kitten.

She and the kitten both ran into our garage, and I am wondering now, is it possible to befriend the kitten and eventually adopt? What can I do to encourage them not to run away?

They look quite small, so I am not certain if they are over 6 weeks old. So if the tortoiseshell is the mother, I do not want to separate them now. I sent my husband out to find some kitten food to leave out (the pet stores were closed, so we couldn't get milk... is that bad to do?) I think they would obviously stick around if they are fed, but I wonder how I might manage to get close. Should I stay nearby after feeding them? Leave an old shirt out by the food? I went to check ten minutes after we put kitten food and cat food out in the garage for both of them, and the bowls were both empty, but no sight of the cats, so I think they are definitely in there.

Is there any good way to determine the age of the kitten? I'm not sure if it was bad for me to put out the wet kitten food or not.

I used to have a very small, stray kitten who we absolutely adored and we lost to cancer (myxosarcoma) at the young age of 5 back in 2018, so my heart is just extra caught up in all this. I haven't adopted another cat since we lost her, but I think about it a lot and just never manage to actually go through with it.
 

catsknowme

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Hi there! I am so glad to know that those kitties have you watching over them. The food ideas are excellent. Also, using a long teaser toy may pique their interest. I attached a teaser to the end of a retired fishing pole and use it for many cats.
 
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enendawson

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Oh! A toy! I didn't think of that, but it sounds like an excellent idea. It's been awhile since I've had a playful little kitten. My surviving cat has oddly never been very playful... She's about 8 years old now and the only thing I've ever gotten her to play with is my shadow.

I wonder how long I ought to wait before trying to bring the kitten inside? I literally just a week ago let my children start sharing a room, so it seems almost serendipitous that I have a vacant room I can dedicate to acclimating a new cat inside. I've tried looking up kitten age charts, but I'm unsure. I think it's possible they are already 6 weeks old, but maybe only 5 weeks. They were certainly quick and coordinated when they ran, and meowed a little at me in the doorway when I followed them, but hid when I entered the garage.
 
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enendawson

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Ok. That's mostly what I keep second guessing. But I suppose if they're running about, they'll be ok if I bring them in. I'm honestly unsure if the tortoiseshell is the mother. Cats come and go out of the garage most days. The strays seem to get along, for the most part. So if the tortoiseshell is the parent, I'd feel bad separating them when I'm unsure if the kitten is ready. But if the tortoiseshell isn't the parent and we've somehow attracted a small stray, then I'm sure they need the help.

I think I'll bring one of my cat carriers outside tomorrow when I put food out in the morning and just leave it there for a bit. Maybe with the food and a toy I can attract them to it.
 

catsknowme

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Your instincts are very good! Your children will probably be a a great bridge with taming the kittens since little ones of all species tend to recognize each other.
Alley Cat Allies has a good article on estimating a kitten's age. There are others, such as Kitten Lady's, which are more specific about the teeth, etc., but working with older ferals, close handling is usually not a viable option.
How Old Is That Kitten? Kitten Progression: At-a-Glance
 
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enendawson

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Thanks!
Just to update, we got the kitten in our carrier Tuesday afternoon and discovered it's a boy! He's all set up in our spare room.

It's been very long since I've had such a small kitten. I think he is either 5 or 6 weeks. He's still very scared, but it's only been a couple of days, so we're being patient. He's actually using the litter box today.

He comes out at night to sit in the window sill and last night I was able to pull the curtains back without scaring him and we sat around blinking at each other for awhile.

He meows when we leave the room, but definitely does not want us near him yet. My husband and I plan to bring a DVD player in after the kids are in bed and quietly watch a movie on the floor during the time he seems to be active. I'm crossing my fingers we got him in time to socialize him well. :) FB_IMG_1619700930353.jpg
 

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You have an adorable little orange boy who looks like my Jamie did when I rescued him. I have never had an orange boy who did not become socialized. What a little angel.
 

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Awww! Sweet little ginger bread boy! He looks so angelic. The tortoiseshell mom is probably working hard to survive there and kept her kittens from you to protect them as her instincts dictated. If she brought this one in, she needed help and has learned you are to be trusted. He is definitely of an age that he can be socialized. He is probably missing his mom so he will be nervous but looking for love from you. Try giving him something to snuggle when you are not with him. Have you seen the cat toys that have a heart beat fiction of purr? I find that giving these sounds really helps kittens and even older cats. Purring is a comfort mechanism for all cats. A heartbeat is replicating what he would hear snuggles up to mom. If he calms enough to be held then you can put him against your chest for naps and snuggles to hear your heart too. Mom cat must be trusting you more now. Tortoiseshell cats are typically very independent but she must need your help now. Only one kitten? That shows how tough it is for ferals to survive. Giving her and baby kitten food was great! Keep on! If there is any chance you can bring mom in too, even better. The mother , kitten bond is heartwarming and mom can learn trust of you by watching the interaction between you and her baby. Also, getting her spayed could save lives. You have already saved this kitten! I am so grateful to you for that! I look forward to updates . The kitten will have adjustments to make in his big new world but the rewards to you all will be huge! Lifelong bond of love coming! Please do keep us updated.
I am providing a link you might find informative. Just click on the link and once in, any other topic you find interesting about kittens. I hope it helps.How Old Is My Kitten? [An Illustrated Guide] – TheCatSite Articles
 
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enendawson

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Thanks Jcatbird Jcatbird and catsknowme catsknowme !
I had not heard of the heartbeat toy before. I will look for one.

My husband brought home a brand new cat bed last night, and his movie night idea seems to have worked very well. We spent a few hours on the floor while the kitten (we've named him Wit) explored without us staring at him. It was so good to see him active instead of hiding in the carrier or a cubby, and he came up to both of us a couple of times, once close enough to rub my husband's hand.

I am off today to write, so I've set up in Wit's room. This morning, he was just laying in the cat bed while I tidied up and fed him, and he didn't run at all, so now that he's come out of his shell, it seems he's warming up pretty quickly.

I am hoping he will let us handle him soon because his bottom needs a wash.

I am excited to be bonding with a new little kitten again :) The last and only time we had one this small was back in 2012, and she was the best, sweetest little cat. She's the one sleeping in my profile pic. My aunt's coworker found her in a pool company warehouse and brought her in just before a hurricane. We still have her ashes in the living room. We would love to have a cat be that close with us again. I've really missed that bond. My surviving cat was part of a litter that wasn't socialized, so she's never wanted a lot to do with us. We still like having her around, but it's not quite the same as having a cuddly, interactive cat.
 

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Awww! So precious! He needs you so much. You are now his family. Did he get a vet check? If not, that should be high on your list for him. Most outside kitties pick up some sort of parasites. Fleas can be really tough on little ones.
 
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enendawson

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We have not been to the vet yet. I was hoping he might warm up a bit first, since he was so skittish, but now that he's letting us pet him, I'm going to give them a call to see when we can bring him to get checked.

Do you know what I might try cleaning his bottom with? He's letting me sit by the bed while he sleeps, and I was thinking of getting a warm washcloth to try to get some of the feces off of him. It's stuck to his tail. I don't know if there's a safe soap I could try that might make it easier? Or just water? I do have some baby shampoo that I use for my toddler.
 

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If you think this will be sufficient, a nice soft washcloth and warm water is entirely safe. I have used Dr. Bronner's Unscented soap with no problems as well. If you make a vet appointment, as the vet over the phone what they recommend. Definitely fragrance free though.

I do want to concur with what Jcatbird Jcatbird said about the mom trusting you. It is very touching when they realize that you are the one who can help them. I had a mother cat on my property, completely feral and wild, who brought all her kittens to my garage where I had old upholstered chairs turned into bed. She allowed me to touch them and socialize them, but never crossed over into any domesticity herself.
 
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enendawson

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My husband feels better since I told him it is likely mom brought the kitten to our garage purposely. He's been feeling guilty about taking her baby away. I had never known feral cats might do that, and it is nice to think she may have noticed my efforts to befriend her even if she has never seemed to acknowledge them. She's truly a beautiful cat.

The kitten is opening up very quickly now. I decided to come in here and do my grad school work last night, and he slept on me for most of the time. Now we're back here hanging out with him again after nightly chores.

We let my 5 year old into the room today. It was a no-go the first time, but around lunch time, I suggested my husband bring him in the room again while my husband fed the kitten, just so he could get used to my son's presence, and we were surprised that the kitten let him pet and play with him that time.

One thing that I noticed last night was that his anus looked quite red and swollen. I did a lot of googling, and it seems like this might be normal for young kittens? His bottom looked normal again this morning, but when I came to clean the litter box this evening, I noticed it swollen again. After a bit, I got my husband to come hold him so I could clean his bottom again with the washcloth, and it was back to normal once more. So I think it's some sort of intermittent prolapse? I'll definitely bring it up with the vet. I'm just feeling like a new mom again, where every little thing seems like an emergency and then turns out to be surprisingly normal... He's still playing and eating and using the litter box, so it doesn't seem to be affecting him.

Edited to add: Also his stools seem a normal consistency, neither hard nor runny. I was reading that constipation might cause it, but I'm unsure. We've only fed him wet food so far.
 

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You are doing so well with the baby. I am glad the kitten accepted your son. Baby steps. A red bottom may be from new food but should be checked. Like any baby, they do need check ups. Keep an eye of his bottom and it might be helpful to keep notes for any questions you might have for the vet. Keep an eye out for Mom cat too. She can quickly go back into heat and may turn up needing nourishment to help her to survive. If you can catch her for spaying, it would keep her from adding to the vast numbers of cats out there trying to survive with limited resources. It might also help to bring her there to find safe shelter as she settles into an easier life. Tortoise shell kitties are so very beautiful. I have one here that is part of my heart. She was feral before coming into my life. I got her and her mom cat and they live here with her siblings. Her brother is an orange tabby like your baby.
 
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