brought in friendly feral - she's regressed

Joan M

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Hi all, I hope you can help. I brought in a neighborhood feral which I've been feeding consistently for four months. She has a tipped ear and I think is a kitten from a neighborhood litter from a couple of years ago, the only one left. At first outside she was skittish, but after gently talking with her and sitting with her on my deck while she ate, she seemed to adopt me. I named her Mia. She would come when I called her name, meow at me, and only eat when I was stroking her. She'd hang around on my deck and come up to my patio door, looking in and seeming to want to get inside. My golden retriever would be right on the other side of the glass, and she didn't care. I wasn't even convinced she was feral, but now I am.

I finally got a big cat carrier from a neighbor (mine is small from my previous cats) and she went in to get her meal and I closed the doors. I took her to the vet right away, they covered her with a towel and she was a dream. She let them do everything and didn't even flinch. I brought her home the next day after getting her checked, vaccinated, dewormed, and defleaed, and put her in a small basement room (the only extra room). I currently have no other cats. For the first week she was the same as outside, sleeping in a cubbyhole but coming when I called and wanting me to pat her while she ate. She was doing so well I opened the rest of the basement to her. When she went into the new room, I followed her and talked to her - and it seemed to spook her. She turned, looked at me, flattened, and ran off and hid. That was over a week ago. She has changed her hiding spot. I found the first one, she looked at me and ran, and I now can't find her. I think she knocked some insulation out of the end of a ceiling area and got up there, although I'm not sure. She doesn't come out for me. She was eating very well, but no longer. I leave dry food out and she eats a very, very small amount at night. She doesn't touch treats any more. I left wet food down a couple of times for an hour or so, and she didn't appear.

She's using the litter boxes, but it's only been urine the last 2 nights. She did eat a little last night, so I'm hoping that will get better again. I've started leaving lights on downstairs during the day so she gets day/night light rather than just a nightlight and a small basement window (which she looks out every night - she knocks something down that I put there to check). Last night I left the basement door to the living room open, thinking if she could see the outside through the patio door she might be happier. I heard movement, but I don't know if she came up or not. She's back in the basement if she did. I don't know what to do. The only way I can get her back to the original small room is to trap her, and I don't want to put her through that trauma. She did come in right before Christmas, and I had family in, but it was several days after that when she disappeared.

Should I just leave things be, go down and talk to her when I leave food, do laundry, etc. and figure she will come out when she's ready? I tried to get to where the insulation is knocked out where she might have a way to the ceiling, but I can't get to it. It is rather disheartening to have her go back to feral behavior after doing so well for a week, and doing well outside, but maybe that is normal. I think I either need advice on how to do this better or reassurance that this is normal. Any advice is welcome. Thanks.
 

Kieka

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It's normal.

Her world outside was the world. Now she is in a foreign world and has no orientation with the old world. She can't see or smell anything she used to know and even the "sky" has changed. It's scary. You aren't you since you are out of context she is having a hard time aligning you now to you before. The small space was small enough to handle but expanding it quickly was disorienting. Give her time and she will adjust.

Close off any other hiding spaces to limit where she can hide. Just sit and talk with her in the new space. Bring your phone and watch a show. Put some stinky food near you to lure her out between the low level sounds and you not moving.
 

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I have to agree. My feral, but friendly cat Alice (avatar) who will hopefully transition to indoor eventually does not recognize me out of context. She "knows" me near my house but not at the back part of my property as it seems that in her mind I don't exist there. Your kitty has no context for what is going on and needs time to adjust.
 
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Joan M

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Thank you both for responding so quickly and letting me know this is normal. I will close off what I can, go down when I feed her and visit quietly a couple of times a day, keep the basement door shut, and stop worrying. She really is a sweet cat and I hope she transitions well.
 

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My former feral really had trouble understanding context identification. Shoot she's been with me for four and a half years and still misidentifies one of our males if she sees him outside. Or she's just mean to him on purpose..... but inside the house he is her favorite cuddle buddy. Outside, if she spots him across the yard he gets chased out of our yard with much prejudice.

With her I had to take the boundary extension very slowly. I worked on getting her to associate her name with pets and food by saying her name when petting and feeding. When I opened more space up I made sure to stay in her line of sight and would sit down holding out a hand saying her name. She'd come to me and get pet while looking around. It took me a good three months to get her comfortable in the house as a whole. Every night she'd come back to my room to sleep as a constant grounding spot in the evening. Routine is a huge help for ferals because it grounds the moments of their day into something predictable which makes it less scary.
 
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Joan M

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The idea that she doesn't know me because I'm out of context was a new thought. It does make sense. When I let her up in the rest of the house, I can use some of these methods. Since I already opened up the rest of the basement and it backfired, I think it's a waiting game at this point. I'm relieved that no one is surprised that she went backwards. Nothing worthwhile is easy.
 

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Also, if you see her don’t pursue her. Let her approach you. I strongly suggest that you give her another place to hide. She knows the carrier so try that. Start placing very yummy things inside it but make sure the door is propped open so it won’t move or close and scare her. Put a nice fluffy something inside it and put a shirt or something with your scent beside it. Getting her to use the carrier as a safe haven has many advantages. Besides it being a comfortable spot, if she sees it as safe then she is likely to retreat there any time she is scared. You may need to put it up on something since she is now going high. I give my cats a carrier as a house for life. They often go there to nap, play or for treats and always when scared. That makes travel and vet visits much better for us both. They are easy to locate when it’s time to go ( cats always seem to know it’s vet time lol) and after the exam they are quick to return to the carrier as well as being grateful to have the safety of their traveling house.
Having other people in the house probably added to her fear. Some of my socialized ferals still don’t like company and hide. Since you don’t know what she may have experienced outside then you can’t know all the things that might be scary to her. She’s now in a strange new world. She had to make sure there aren’t any threats around. That instinct is what kept her alive outside. Stay in the basement as much as possible. Always announce that you are coming in. Let her know it’s just you and okay. Bring goodies when you come. One food that has helped me a lot as a lure is Gerber 2nd foods all meat baby food. Slightly warmed it puts off a fragrance and most cats love it. Once she is visible again you can also use it to lure her closer to you again. You can read to her when you are in the basement as well. If you could sleep there I think she might come out much more quickly. They like to investigate us when they know we are not a threat. If you are in the basement and can lay down , belly up, that will indicate to her that you are not threatening too. You might want to use a Feliway diffuser in the basement to help calm her. You can also add something from outside that she might recognize. Wherever she stayed outside then try bringing in leaves, branches or anything that could be familiar. If she had a bed out there, bring it in. The last thing that might help if she remains hidden is leaving some soft noise, like music, playing for her during the day. Let her get accustomed to the noises she might encounter in your home. It’s going to take time and patience but don’t get discouraged. She’ll come out. Make sure that there aren’t any chemicals or anything she can get into in the basement. Sort of childproof the area. Things like laundry detergent, pest control electrical cords, blind cords etc. If you really want to know what she is doing, you might want to get a baby monitor or camera to put there. I have found that baby monitors are an invaluable tool when I work with ferals. I get great information and also peace of mind that way and have found that when I have suggested that to others they found it a great help as well. Please keep us updated and let us know if you have any questions.
Thank you so much for saving this kitty! Being outside was going to be a very tough life for her. Welcome to TCS!!:welcomesign:
 
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Joan M

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Thank you. Those are more wonderful ideas. I do have a diffuser. A cat friend of mine mentioned gentle music too; I thought it would overwhelm her since it isn't outside sounds but I think I will set something up. A baby cam will help me know what she's doing, so I will check into that too. I have to read over your post several more times, and the ones above, to absorb all the ideas. Thank you all so much for your help.
 
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Joan M

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I thought I would write an update. Thank you all again for your suggestions. Mia is still living in the ceiling, but I got a pet cam and can see clips of her at night, coming down and eating. Jcatbird, that was a great idea and I was so happy to actually see her again, even if it's grainy B&W. She has water and two bowls of food where there is always something for her to eat, and I also put about half a dozen little piles around for her to 'hunt' which she usually finds. She's looking quite comfortable when she comes down, eating, stretching, and exploring for a couple of times each night, but it is only when the house is quiet. She usually comes down twice a night for a total of about 45 minutes or so. The rest of the time I guess she sleeps up in the ceiling. I've gone down and done paperwork, done laundry, played soft CDs. Tried Enya first but she didn't appear so I got a nature CD of bird songs, like she heard outside, and played that for 5 or 6 days during the daylight hours. It didn't draw her out, so I stopped, thinking maybe she prefers quiet. My friends think it's a riot that I go downstairs and talk to the ceiling. One of them took in a feral kitten who lived behind their 2nd refrigerator for months, so she totally gets it.

I brought in some wood from the woodpile where she used to sit and relax after eating. On the cam I saw her sniff it and then ignore it. I grew some cat grass. No interest. There is a Feliway diffuser near a cat bed and her carrier, where I always put treats which she eats every night. She ignored the baby food, so I give her dry food and sometimes switch it out for a little wet food (don't want to draw other critters in down there, leaving out wet food).

I'm thinking she has probably found the warmest spot in the house, right next to the heating ductwork near the furnace, and she's going to stay there for a while. It's dark and close and warm and only one exit, so no surprises. I guess she feels secure there. Since she's not coming down for me, I thought maybe sometime in the next week or so, after she's been down there a month, I will crack the basement door open at night and let her explore up here again. My idea is maybe she will be braver if she knows there is a space up here which has nice soft places for her and she will want to come out of the ceiling. Does that sound reasonable or is that once again too much too soon?

At least I'm not worried anymore. That pet cam really helped. And I think she may be up in that ceiling until spring. If that's what she needs for now, that's okay. I guess I'll just keep leaving food, cleaning the litter boxes, and talking to the ceiling. Hopefully it won't go on forever.
 

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You are being an absolute angel to Mia. From your description, she is happy and relieved to have a home, even if it is in your ceiling. I don't see where opening the basement door is a bad idea; you aren't forcing her to move anywhere but leaving it on her terms.
 
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Joan M

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Fionasmom, thank you for your encouragement. I'm so glad I found this site, the input has helped tremendously. Hopefully Mia will become a braver kitty and realize there is love and soft pillows upstairs for her. Along with a goofy dog who wants to be her friend and still looks out the patio door for her.
 
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Joan M

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Another Mia update: last week I removed the piece of furniture she was using to get up in the ceiling. She came down and couldn't get back up - I know because I focused the pet cam on it. So I closed off that part of the basement and she is now living in my son's old room down there, probably where I put a small wooden box and then draped a dark sheet over that area. I started leaving the light off during the day and only having a small night light on, thinking maybe she would prefer darkness. Since then she has been coming out multiple times during the night and day (provided the house is quiet) and exploring. I leave the basement door open at night and I think she comes up for varying lengths of time. I see her go up the steps but the cam is downstairs, so I'm assuming she is exploring the main floor, especially when she doesn't come back down for 20 minutes or so. She was eating food up here but now she leaves it, I'm guessing she just gets plenty of food downstairs and isn't hungry. She is starting to spend 2 or 3 hours exploring, in total, so she's moving around much more than when she was in the ceiling.

I can see on the cam down in the basement that she is very, very cautious both night and day and runs back to the room any time something spooks her. Although she takes her time eating and stretching and exploring, she is always on high alert. The feral in her is still totally dominant. I realize that's why she stayed alive outside, so I'm fine with it. I am staying out of my son's room and when I spend time down there, I sit in the middle room next to it and just read, sometimes out loud. I want to give her space and let her come to me on her own time, like she did outside.

Baby steps, but progress.
 
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Joan M

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2 weeks later update: Mia is living in the closet under the stairs. Although she still doesn't come out for me, she seems much more relaxed in the recordings I see. I leave 2 lights on during the day now and she comes out constantly. A couple of times at night, too. Instead of keeping to the edges of the room, she hangs out in the middle of the floor, grooms herself, or just sits, looks around and listens. She doesn't always go back to the closet when she hears the TV or people talking upstairs, although footsteps usually motivate her to make her way back - but not flying, like before. I've left toys spread around, and 2 days ago she started playing with them. She is not interested in coming upstairs although I've left the door open at night. I think something must have spooked her after about 3 nights and she's quite content to stay downstairs. I did figure out how to capture some pictures with the recordings, so I'll post them. She's sitting around, playing with a toy, and nosing around the cam at night. It is a basement; sorry for the decor! You can see the open closet door on the right; my son's old room is through the doorway. She is no longer interested in going up to the small
Mia1.png
Mia playing.png
Mia at night.png
window and looking out. She just wants to stay put!
 
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Joan M

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Mia came out!!! I went down with treats this afternoon and settled in to talk with the walls, and she waltzed right out of the closet! She stepped right over the treats and was almost frantically rubbing against me, at one point she even stepped onto my lap. I was stroking her along her back and rubbing behind her ears, just like I used to. You'd think I was the one who had been giving the cold shoulder! I left the third time she swatted at my hand; I was already bloody from the first connection and even at this delicate point, I think she needs to learn I don't have fur and it hurts when she swats. But I was delighted that when I stood up to leave, she didn't race back to the closet.

I don't know if it's connected, but the past 3 nights I've been leaving food out for her in the kitchen and living room, and she's been coming up again and eating it. Maybe the smells got less threatening when they were associated with food.
 

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Oh my goodness, that's so sweet! Your patience is paying off!

The only thing I wanted to mention is that I had a feral kitten once who bonded the most with people through play, so wand toys might be a good idea. Obviously you're doing so well though!
 
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Joan M

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Thanks for the advice! I did see on the cam that she tries to kill any of the toys I leave down there, it will be interesting to see what she does with a wand toy.
 
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Joan M

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I wanted to update those of you who have followed this. Mia is out of the basement most of the time, on the main level with my dog and me. I'm not watching grandkids because of the stay-at-home order in PA for the virus, so it's been quiet. She eats up here now, sleeps in the sunlight, jumps up with me, settles next to me or in my lap, and just started sleeping alongside the dog. Everything has been in her timing and I don't push anything. I heard some stories about how aggressive and wild she was when she was feral, even attacked a woman's cats, but it sounded like that was around when she had kittens almost 2 years ago. She is transitioning beautifully from a wild feral to a pampered housecat. A success story for sure. 20200324_101057.jpg 20200323_083355.jpg 20200322_133350.jpg
 

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What wonderful news! I just read your story and am so happy for you and little Mia! I think a wand toy would be a good addition to her other toys. I brought in a semi-feral cat over a year ago, along with a stray cat who had become her buddy, and I can relate to some of your experiences. Time and patience is key and you did a great job!
 
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Joan M

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Thanks, Avery! Her favorite toy is a mouse that squeaks whenever she flings it around. I've tried wand toys several times; they still scare her if I'm moving them so I've put a couple of them downstairs, just hanging next to the wall or a box, and she's getting used to them.
 

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great to read her socialization! Thinking back, Bug took forever to come out from retreat, was it 8-9 weeks(?) after being brought inside, vetted and "fixed" which understandably turns their world upside down. 3 years in now, reaching "middle age"... he's safe and comfortable, the leader of the pack (of 6) but still instantly disappears at the presence of any stranger into the house. And not a lap kitty by any means.
So glad to read of your success!
 
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