Looking for some advice on socializing...

newcattitude

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Hello all, I just joined and this forum seemed to be the most logical place to ask my questions.

We had our last pair of cats for 20-22 years respectively, they passed on about two years ago. We moved out to the country just after the last one had died and we have decided it is time to finally open up our home again.

Over the Christmas holiday we adopted a brother sister tuxedo team from our local SPCA. They are kittens who apparently were found feral on the street at the end of the summer. They had been with a foster home for some period prior to our adopting them and according the records we have, they are 4 months old. They’ve been with us now for 3 weeks as of today.

The sister, who we are tentatively calling “Scout” is extremely adventurous and curious. She’s slowly coming around to allow us to pet her, on her terms. She’s cautious around us and still is very skittish but I can see light at the end of the tunnel for her and I think she’ll be a great friend in the coming years.

The brother however is a different story and that is where my questions start. We are tentatively calling him “Shadow” due to the fact that he lurks in the shadows and is extremely skittish, he seems terrified of people.

We want to give them both space and time to adapt to their new home but I’m concerned that if we don’t start to be a bit more aggressive in terms of getting him socialized, he is never going to come around.

Both animals are eating, drinking and taking care of their business. I have some cameras in the room where they have been staying at night and they are very active and playful with each other. With us, they will engage in play with cat dancers and such toys, but as soon as we get too close to him he is runs away and hides.

We initially started by feeding them by hand and only having food in the room when we were there. Both cats will come around to accept treats from our hands.

I’ve been watching some videos on Fatbush Cat’s YouTube channel (which is how I ended up here) on how he has gotten kittens to start accepting humans.

One technique he seems to have success with is wrapping the cat in a towel and feeding/stroking it, giving it attention and very desirable food to build up that positive association. However, he seems to do this with cats much younger than what I’m dealing with. Shadow is a ‘huge’ male IMHO. He is twice the size of his sister – to the point where I even wonder if they are in fact siblings.

Does anyone have any advice for us? Should we just stay the course and assume that in the coming months Scout will come around and lead by example, thus allowing Shadow to accept human interaction as well?

Should we separate them and start to focus more aggressively on engaging with Shadow on our terms and hope that he starts to get more comfortable? Controlling his feeding and forcing him to come out of his shell?

We’re trying really hard to be gentle with them for fear of setbacks, but I’m wondering if we might need to step things up a bit. Any thoughts on what we should be doing (if anything) to move this along would be GREATLY appreciated.

Thanks in advance!
 

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MyMarmie

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Hi I been in rescue for 16 years, have my own cat rescue and have found that all kittens are different. Recently I bought myself one of those slings people carry their toys dogs around in. I bought one that is super soft and fluffy to make the kittens very comfortable. Charlize "Charlie" is very sweet but was caught a week after hers litter mates. I carry her around in the sling, watch TV with her in it and pet her, talk to her and she rolled on her back and now I can rub her belly and she finally purrs 6 weeks later. I was all smiles. She is finally out and about in the house. She is still cautious but I still carry her around and she immediately rolls onto her back and falls asleep. I have pictures of her all stretched out with her feet sticking out of the sling in the back and front. I am determined to get her totally socialized and into her forever home.
Then again I have Rachael who I had since 4 weeks old and she just hates being picked up and only likes being petted when she wants to and runs from us. She is almost 2 and I finally held her for 33 seconds the other days. My husband timed it. Sometimes they are the way they are. She swats us when she wants petted and then when she is done.
I would recommend do things on their time. Don't force them, that never works. I would get one of those slings, maybe two since you have two kitties. (one for you and one for your husband). We use to say purrito wrap them tight and hold them and blow your breath on them. Good play sessions are always a good plus, do it while at their level. Slow blink at them as well, and wait for them to blink back. Good luck and thank you for saving two lives.
 

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kittychick

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I absolutely want to help - & think I can offer advice after lots & LOTS of socialization (usually successful :)).....but we are likely losing a sweet, sweet foster today. So I’ll likely be off for a few days while I pull myself together.

I’m sure you’ll likely have many, many more members, many with lots of valuable (but differing) advice.....many who will weigh in in the mean time. But know your story touches me —— and soon as I’m able, I’ll reach out. Stay strong. It’ll take patience @ love. But you’ll reach through to them. :redheartpump:
 

fionasmom

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I have only ever had ferals/strays as pets and it takes a long time in some cases to gain trust. You have only very recently adopted these two cats and the fact that the sister is becoming friendly is a huge accomplishment. I would not separate them at this point and would stay the course for the time being. I would not withhold food; that might work for a dog who was treat oriented but it might not for a cat who is too afraid to come out. The fact that the brother takes food from your hand is also a big step forward.

Sit with him and read a book so that he gets used to your presence but does not feel threatened. Some cats do not like to be picked up even if you have owned them for years. The only time that ferals are picked up is by their mother or by the predator who kills them, so that can be a longer road for a cat who is disinclined to be picked up. Having said that, I have former ferals who are complete lap cats, beg for affection and attention, and have completely relinquished their former feral behavior.

I have only ever used purritos for sick cats who needed medication. It might work very successfully with Shadow but I would proceed carefully at first.
 

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Never force or withhold a meal from a cat. Tender loving care and lots of patience. I have socialized ferals of all ages and time is crucial. Ordinarily I would start them off in a smaller area that the whole house. They are in a big new world for little cats. That’s a lot to explore and learn about. I definitely would not separate them either. Brother sees Scout trusting you and surviving. She helped him to learn trust. I usually have to gain trust outside but the same methods work.
Laying on your back on the floor, belly up and quiet shows you trust them at your most vulnerable position. Let Shadow observe this. I use Gerber 2nd foods all meat baby food that is slightly warmed to lure kitties. Just a little on a couple of dishes put near you. I say a couple of dishes because I think Scout will devour hers quickly. Lol You can try putting the dish on you lap or on your tummy as you are at his level and let him approach. Do this with whatever treat he loves and do it repeatedly without pushing to touch. After he sees he will not be pursued or pushed to be petted he may begin to feel he can safely climb onto you. It may take staring through dish at a distance but each time, move it a bit closer. If he becomes comfortable with the routine you can try using a hairbrush or a wand toy stick to begin touching. Hands can be scary to a cat at first. A brush can feel very good. Even a toothbrush feels good. Sort of like a mom cat licking which is a bonding time with kitties. When using the cat dance, try leading him to “accidentally” cross over your shoes. Eventually he will realize that it was a safe thing.
Night time is another good chance to bond. Sleeping in the room with them gives them a chance to watch you and even examine you when you are not a threat. You may find them in the bed with you! If you do, just act like this is perfectly normal. Don’t make a big excited fuss about it at first. Just hello and go about your routine. Cats love routines and don’t like change. Keep routines as much as possible. Leaving some piece of clothing with your scents on it is another toll. Shadow can examine that and find it is something that is related to his being cared for. You are giant cats and providers. Bringing food is always a bonding time for kitties. Sitting with them as they eat is a good time to just be good company for them.Also, reading aloud to them can help. All the new noises and scents in a new home are a lot to adjust to. There are calming methods as well. There is music online that is designed to help kitties to relax. Worth trying. I found it helped some kitties. Feliway makes a diffuser that helps some cats to be calmer. When Shadow adjusts enough to be touched more then the sling might work. He is an older kitty so that may be a bit early to use right now. However, trying everything is worth doing! As stated above, every cat is different! I find that younger kittens are not as set in their survival mode and will accept the burrito wrap easier than older ones. Once Shadow allows being petted or climbing onto you, I would practice holding by just placing one hand under the tummy but removing it if he showsfear. As you progress with this, start lifting just a tiny bit and releasing. In order to work to holding him you need to goat his pace. If you pick him up, it builds confidence that you are not forcing if you let him go before he struggles and gets frantic. Speak calmly and do the slow blinks as mentioned. Practice makes Purrfect. Please do keep us updated! Thank you for rescuing these beautiful babies! You are a cat guardian and a kitty hero! You have joined the right place and will find you have a lot of supporters here.:welcomesign::clap2: You are doing great with them! Keep up what you are doing.
 
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newcattitude

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Thank you everyone for your replies, I was waiting for a few posts before I commented.

That's all some sage advice. The common thread is to just give it time, which is what we will do. The first two weeks were in a closed room that they had to themselves, we have just recently allowed them to explore the rest of the house. From everything that I'm seeing, I think that they are very happy here for the most part. It is quiet and calm and there are lots of places to sit and take in the world. I've made them a few cat condos/scratching pads and they have embraced them.

MyMarmie MyMarmie I wish I could get them into a sling, they're not to be picked up at this point and even if they could they are fairly large. We've actually let an appointment slide by for a second round of shots, we felt it was too soon to be crating them taking them to the vet, we want to minimize the trauma (don't worry, we will catch up on the shots though).

Jcatbird Jcatbird , that's all good advice and we will certainly try some of your techniques.

I think that every day things get incrementally better (though painfully slowly it would seem). It's just hard since our last cats were with us for so long and we so desperately want them to just crawl up on us and replace that love that has been gone.

Thanks again for your thoughts, keep the advice coming. I'll update the progress if anyone is interested.
 

Jcatbird

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We are all interested. I know we always just want to scoop them up to lavish them with love and this is very likely to come. It is a slow process with some but not all. You have really only had them a short time but already moved kitty mountains with them. Taking any little wild creature and changing its’ world just takes a shift in their perception of things. It will come. Please do keep us up to date and ask any questions that come up no matter how small. Oh. BTW. We love lots of pictures if they get used to having the attention. Some of the cats here like the camera and some don’t. ;)
 

la4tunjosee

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Hello all, I just joined and this forum seemed to be the most logical place to ask my questions.

We had our last pair of cats for 20-22 years respectively, they passed on about two years ago. We moved out to the country just after the last one had died and we have decided it is time to finally open up our home again.

Over the Christmas holiday we adopted a brother sister tuxedo team from our local SPCA. They are kittens who apparently were found feral on the street at the end of the summer. They had been with a foster home for some period prior to our adopting them and according the records we have, they are 4 months old. They’ve been with us now for 3 weeks as of today.

The sister, who we are tentatively calling “Scout” is extremely adventurous and curious. She’s slowly coming around to allow us to pet her, on her terms. She’s cautious around us and still is very skittish but I can see light at the end of the tunnel for her and I think she’ll be a great friend in the coming years.

The brother however is a different story and that is where my questions start. We are tentatively calling him “Shadow” due to the fact that he lurks in the shadows and is extremely skittish, he seems terrified of people.

We want to give them both space and time to adapt to their new home but I’m concerned that if we don’t start to be a bit more aggressive in terms of getting him socialized, he is never going to come around.

Both animals are eating, drinking and taking care of their business. I have some cameras in the room where they have been staying at night and they are very active and playful with each other. With us, they will engage in play with cat dancers and such toys, but as soon as we get too close to him he is runs away and hides.

We initially started by feeding them by hand and only having food in the room when we were there. Both cats will come around to accept treats from our hands.

I’ve been watching some videos on Fatbush Cat’s YouTube channel (which is how I ended up here) on how he has gotten kittens to start accepting humans.

One technique he seems to have success with is wrapping the cat in a towel and feeding/stroking it, giving it attention and very desirable food to build up that positive association. However, he seems to do this with cats much younger than what I’m dealing with. Shadow is a ‘huge’ male IMHO. He is twice the size of his sister – to the point where I even wonder if they are in fact siblings.

Does anyone have any advice for us? Should we just stay the course and assume that in the coming months Scout will come around and lead by example, thus allowing Shadow to accept human interaction as well?

Should we separate them and start to focus more aggressively on engaging with Shadow on our terms and hope that he starts to get more comfortable? Controlling his feeding and forcing him to come out of his shell?

We’re trying really hard to be gentle with them for fear of setbacks, but I’m wondering if we might need to step things up a bit. Any thoughts on what we should be doing (if anything) to move this along would be GREATLY appreciated.

Thanks in advance!
Good evening Cat Lover

Your story sounds exactly like mine.
On November 6th/2020 I took in 5-6 month old feral siblings.
I was there first interaction with humans except for there vet when they were in her care.
Like you my female which I named Hope is more curious and brave.
I got her to eat from my hand but she’s still scared and weary of me and runs away at times.
She’s allowed me to pet her on a few occasions but only on her terms.

A few days ago she was in the kitchen while I was preparing food and was purring and rubbing on my legs.( this took 9 weeks)

They both lay in bed with me but at a distance, sometimes they spend time in my presence and seem to line it, then the following day it’s like I don’t exist in there world.
Somedays I feel there’s progress and other days I feel like I take a few steps back.
Her brother Chance is like your boy cat, scared and apprehensive about a lot of things still after9 weeks.
At first I used to push myself to touch them because someone who worked with strays told me they would remain feral if I didn’t.
After reaching out to this site, I was educated on the do’s and don’t and with time I noticed them trusting me more when I didn’t try to touch them.

Like you I lost my 11yrs old dog Babe 16 months ago and 2 cats a year prior and I just want to snuggle them and hold them.
It’s overwhelming and I feel
Sad at times with the lack of progress of barely touching them after them living with me for 10 weeks.

I don’t have any advice for you but I just wanted to wish you luck moving forward.
I’ve learnt it’s not an easy task to take on but with patience and time I’m hoping to find a cuddly cat to love just like you.

Thanks for sharing & listening to someone who’s in a similar boat has you.
 

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kittychick

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I’m so sorry I hadn’t gotten back on yet (we did end up losing our sweet little foster — so these past few days haven’t done much that doesn’t involve Kleenex).

But - as always - many wonderful members jumped on w/great suggestions and stories! I agree w/many of the suggestions, & I’ll likely be repeating some tips above — but I’ll give you a suggestions on things that virtually always work for me. And I’ve socialized many kitties of all ages in my 30+ years (MAN I sound OLD!!!!!!) of shelter/rescue/TNR work (I’m a sucker for the under-socialized ones).

You’ve done a wonderful job in what’s actually been a VERY short time. Even the most socialized cats & kittens can sometimes take weeks to feel comfortable. I know it feels like forever to us humans — but 3-4 weeks is truly just a blip in kitty socialization world. I always try to think about socialization from the kitties’ points of view: to them (esp ones who haven’t been born in a home & socialized from birth), they’ve been plucked from whatever world they were living in by weird creatures that tower over them, look funny, and don’t speak their language. And these giant creatures brought them to a place they don’t know or understand (& if they were born outside- mom taught them strange things were VERY dangerous), with strange sounds, smells, lights, etc. Then add in that these strange giants are constantly reaching for them! If aliens landed on my lawn tomorrow & did that to me - I’d be BEYOND terrified! Well, less so if they brought me cake every day. :lol: So when I get frustrated that things aren’t moving as fast as I’d hoped, I try to put myself in their little kitty shoes. It helps me feel less frustrated.

I do usually start them in a smaller room (like a bedroom) until I feel they’re making really good strides. An entire home or apartment is alot to get used to for them. But sounds like to a certain extent they’ve had the run at this point (unless I misunderstood) so I don’t think I’d change that part unless really necessary. Having them in a single area helps you be able to be w/them as much as possible (which is a huge key to the whole process!) w/o trying to find them, etc. My hubby & I are graphic designers who work from home, so spending lots & lots of time w/them is easier for me then people.

I’m not a big “forced burritoing” advocate. I’ve always felt like I was sending a confusing message of “I’m going to grab you, terrify you, make you feel helpless....and make you love me dammit!” I tried it for a bit, but couldn’t get around the counterintuitive feeling. But some people swear by it.

I wouldn’t separate them - I agree w/ Jcatbird Jcatbird — they’ll learn from watching each other that interacting with you’s a good thing!

The biggest keys to me are:
Time (plus more time, then time, and even more time). Sit/lie on the floor w/them as much as possible. I talk to them - a lot. In a soft voice. I read anything out loud — my email, etc. Sounds (& looks!) goofy - but it helps! I leave a radio or tv on low (something like NPR or HGTV- calm speaking voices & no loud music/crashes) as much as possible when I’m not in with them. Helps them get even more used to human voices, w/the added bonus of dampening sudden “scary house noises” (door slamming, etc).

Things that strengthen the bond (rewards!): I don’t withhold food- ever. I leave hard food (& water!) out 24/7 in “their room” so they always feel safe eating & drinking. Then I find their FAV “treat” food & make sure it ONLY comes from me (or hubby). It’s often ‘kitty crack’ (Gerber Stage 2 Chicken & Gravy jarred baby food), but sometimes it’s a certain canned food. Whatever they get REALLY excited about. I always “announce” I’m coming in w/it (I come in saying in a soft sing/song voice some dopey ditty about “crack’s on its way!”....my embarrassment threshold is obviously low). It really helps them learn you’re a “bringer of all things good”! And I use telescoping spoons (from Amazon) so they don’t initially have to get too close to get the treat. I shorten the utensil as the get more comfy.

Lastly, patience. And remembering that kitties, like people, all do things at their own pace, in their own way. And whatever they become (lap cat or lover from afar) is who they are (altho that can ...& will...likely evolve). It’s hard sometimes -it’d be nice if we could say “poof! You’re a lap cat that I can pick up & snuggle anytime I want.” I just try to tell myself that - like people - they are who they are & they’re all different. And the best I can do is make sure they’re happy, comfortable, and loved. You’re DEFINITELY well on your way. And that’s a win for ALL of you!

(and DEFINITELY keep us posted!!!)
 
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