Looking for support and advice while trying to socialize 4 ferals

angry_cat_mom

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Hello everyone,

I'm new to the community but have been feeling concerned and ineffective and I would deeply appreciate any support or advice anyone might be able to offer.

I [28F] recently moved out to the country, and a new friend of mine invited me to a "local animals" facebook group. A week and a half ago, a gal posted that there were some feral kittens on her neighbors property that he was planning to shoot, and said she was going to trap them. She couldn't keep them or afford the fee to take them anywhere because she didn't have any money at all to spare, so she wanted to see if anyone would be willing to socialize them.

I'd never interacted with a feral cat before. I had one cat from when I was 6 until he passed when I was 26, and he was the friendliest being in the world. I was too heartbroken to get another after he died. But I love cats. So I told her I would take them. I did some research first, and saw it would take (give or take) around 4-6 weeks to socialize them. I figured I could do that, and then find good homes for them. They were about 7 weeks old when she trapped them. So it's been a week and a half since then, and I've seen some progress but I'm worried it's not enough.

About the cats: the runt is Fish, a little grey girl. Next smallest is a calico girl, Princess. Then there's a grey and white boy, Bug. And the biggest and most aggressive by far is a calico boy who we call Little Bear (aka Bob the Biter).

I set up a 4x4 dog pen in the living room for them, and zip tied an industrial black plastic bag across the top so they can't get out unless given permission. I cover the bottom of the pen with two soft blankets. They have their water, dry food, wet food in the morning, scratching post, plenty of toys, and their kitty bed which they all snuggle in. For the first week they were here, I let them have one of those cat beds that's like a sphere with a hole for a door, so that they wouldn't feel anxious about being seen constantly. The first two days they wouldn't come out of it and didn't sleep, they just stared at the doorway to their bed and lost it if anyone came too close. After two days, they would slowly start to try venturing out of the bed, but if you moved a muscle they'd run right back in and hide. After a week, they actually started playing in their pen, but only at night, and only if noone moved or made a sound for at least 5 minutes. Now, they've made a lot of progress with their environment. I let them out for a few hours at a time (I can close the door to the bedroom and bathroom, and there's not really anywhere for them to get lost). Right now, I'm sitting on the floor in the living room typing this, and they're running around at the speed of light jumping on each other and being kittens. The littlest one, Fish, actually was chasing her brother and somehow landed on my keyboard, and then stood there looking at me for a minute and hissed and jumped back off and started chasing again (lol) (I had to delete her addition to this post)

The problem though, is that they still HATE being picked up, or even reached towards. Fish will hiss at you if you reach for her or pick her up, but she'll let you. The other girl, Princess, will run and hiss a little bit, but she won't attack you. The boys, though. The second you even look like you might -think- about reaching for one of them, they do this thing where they kind of explode like a violent popcorn kernel and make a horrible noise while lashing in your direction with their claws (sharp, lol). They'll continue to do this if you don't immediately move back, and will start growling at you. None of them have bitten me (yet), because once they start growling I don't push them.

Weirdly enough, once you pick them up they're pretty ok. They'll sit on you and let you pet their heads. They''ll still occasionally look at you and hiss but they won't try to run (unless you've just been holding them a while and they're bored). Little Bear (the big boy) one time attacked my face while I was holding him and drew blood, but he's the only one.

I feel horrible because I know they've come a long way but they're still -so- adverse to being reached towards. And I'm sure it's because I'm big and feel like a predator even though I'm as gentle with them (voice and touch) as I can possibly be. I'm just really afraid that I'm going to fail at this because of my ego in thinking "how hard could it be" and that I won't be able to get them to trust people and find them good homes. I know the three smaller ones will be a ton of work but I think they'll get there, but the big boy almost seems to be getting worse with time.

When they first got here, he hissed but he let me hold him and he even fell asleep on me, and now he's like a little demon baby who hates me. I've never raised my voice, never grabbed them quickly or physically forced them to stay still (like to hold them or something). When I go to pick them up I always get down on the ground so I'm not looming above them, and I reach towards them very slowly (with my cowhide gloves on) and say softly "look at me, look at me" to get their attention, because they'll get nervous if they look at the glove and seem better when they look me in the eye. I clean their cage very thoroughly and change their bedding/litter/water dish/food daily. I hold them all every day. I'm trying really hard. I don't understand why the big boy is so afraid of me and what I'm doing wrong. I really don't want to fail them. I love these little guys. I know it's still pretty early on but like I said I feel like he is actually getting worse. Someone suggested hand feeding him treats but he literally won't even eat a treat if I'm holding him, he'll pretend it's not there or hiss at me, and I have to wrap him all the way to his neck in a little blanket so he doesn't try to scratch my face, which he only started doing a few days ago.

I'm just wondering if anyone has any suggestions or advice. Feeling kind of sad and like I'm letting them down. If I could go back a week and a half ago I would still take them in a second, but I'd have tried to mentally prepare more for how difficult this would be (lol)

Thank you all very, very much. I really appreciate your time and I'm sorry for the long and unedited post (I'm just really exhausted)
Cheers!
-angry_cat_mom
 

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Jcatbird

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Oh please don’t be upset! You’re doing great! It just hasn’t been long enough yet. Each kitten will go at its own pace. With ferals we take two steps forward and one back sometimes but kittens do adjust. Patience is key. Truly, you have a good grasp on things. If one needs things to go a bit slower, that’s okay. In cat language, looking directly into the eyes can be threatening so if one is scared, don’t stare. Slow blinks are a good way to look calm and relaxed to them. They are enjoying wild dashes during play so try laying down on the floor with them. Let the use you as a place to climb. Lay tummy up because this shows them you are allowing yourself to be vulnerable to them and non threatening. Taking a nap while you are with them can allow them to investigate you at their leisure without fear. Sitting on the floor to offer hand fed treats may work better. Being at their level is good. As you said, being above them as a big human makes you seem more like a predator. Very perceptive on your part! Putting the food dish near you as you sit on the floor is another good lure. Each feeding, move it closer to you and as they accept that, move it into your lap. Don’t make moves to pet at first but as they relax about eating on your lap, you can begging to just lay a hand down beside them. As they forget the hand is there, you can progress to a light touch and onto petting and finally holding. Another good lure is to let them lick something like Gerber 2nd foods, all meat baby food from a finger.
A wand toy is another good tool. Kitties get lost in play and often find themselves running across the human to get the toy.The wand can be used to brush against a kitten back or tummy too. I find that a soft hairbrush can be left down for them to examine and put their scent on , after which, petting with the brush feels really good! A happy kitten may begin to rub against it and you. Their are lots of tips and ways to engage them so don’t feel discouraged. You have already made great progress and more is coming.
A male Calico? Very rare! Almost all Calicos are female. A male can happen but check twice on that one. ;)
The photos are precious! I love the names too! Please do keep us updated as their story progresses. And yours! Bravo and you have my great admiration for saving these beautiful lives! :clap2::goldstar::redheartpump: You are a kitty hero!
 
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angry_cat_mom

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Oh my goodness, bless you. Your comment almost made me cry. I have been so worried about messing up and compromising their futures in a loving home. You've made me feel so, so much better.

All of your suggestions are so wonderful and appreciated. They will be such a huge help moving forward. Maybe I've just been trying to move too fast and need to step back a bit and let them set the pace.

It's funny, but posting all of this and letting it all out relieved some stress too. Little Bear was sitting in the bookcase glaring at me, and I laid down on the floor 2 feet from him and started singing him an old folk lullaby that my dad used to sing to me as a kid, and he put his head on his paws and was out cold by the time I finished! I kept singing to him and he'd wake up periodically and squint at me and then go right back to sleep.

Also, something of note: when I went to collect them to put them in their pen for the night, I mistook him for his sister because he was hiding behind the mop bucket and they look really similar. I picked him right up without gloves on and he didn't attack me or even hiss (I did that because I thought he was Princess and she never attacks me). So now I'm wondering- did he let me pick him up because I sang him lullabies for an hour, or because of my non-fearful energy in thinking he was his sister? (I'll admit I feel kind of scared picking up the boys because they've gotten me in the arms and face numerous times). The world may never know but I'm sure things will get better as we stop being scared of each other (ha!)
 

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A week and a half seems like an awful short time to expect a litter of feral kittens to warm up to you. I actually feel as though you have made tremendous progress with those kittens but you have to realize that they were wild for seven weeks and don't know a human from a Rottweiler.

Kittens quite often hiss, (its called bluffing) because everyone is so much bigger than they are. I wonder if it would help to do a little one on one with the big guy and let him come to you. I think right now they don't feel like they are in control because they aren't the ones initiating contact.
 
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angry_cat_mom

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Oh and one other question if you don't mind! Can you tell from looking at him what kind of kitty Little Bear is? I assumed he was some type of Calico just because I don't really know my kitty types :p I'd be curious to know! His body is all white with black spots like a little cow, only his head has the brown in it.
 
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angry_cat_mom

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A week and a half seems like an awful short time to expect a litter of feral kittens to warm up to you. I actually feel as though you have made tremendous progress with those kittens but you have to realize that they were wild for seven weeks and don't know a human from a Rottweiler.

Kittens quite often hiss, (its called bluffing) because everyone is so much bigger than they are. I wonder if it would help to do a little one on one with the big guy and let him come to you. I think right now they don't feel like they are in control because they aren't the ones initiating contact.
I laughed at "a human from a Rottweiler" 🤣
I'm sure you're right, I just need to have patience

That sounds like a good idea, trying to let him come to me. He generally does his best to avoid being anywhere near me. I reached into the pen to take out the litter box to change it today, and he happened to be standing next to it and looked at me like I'd committed a terrible atrocity ( :bawling: ) Do you think if I keep sitting near him he'll start warming up? And would that maybe be better than holding him, for now?

Thank you so much for the advice, it means the world :)
 
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angry_cat_mom

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Our little grey girl, Fish, is going to be such a social kitty. She's already almost tame (maybe that's why the others seem like they aren't making progress by comparison). My partner's good friend, who is a very large man with a very deep voice, came to visit him the other day. I walked into the living room a little while later and found him tossing the kittens' squeaky mouse toy, and Fish enthusiastically playing fetch with him.
 

jefferd18

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I laughed at "a human from a Rottweiler" 🤣
I'm sure you're right, I just need to have patience

That sounds like a good idea, trying to let him come to me. He generally does his best to avoid being anywhere near me. I reached into the pen to take out the litter box to change it today, and he happened to be standing next to it and looked at me like I'd committed a terrible atrocity ( :bawling: ) Do you think if I keep sitting near him he'll start warming up? And would that maybe be better than holding him, for now?

Thank you so much for the advice, it means the world :)


Oh yes, much better, let him get use to your presence first before you start handling him. He has to see that you are not a threat.

I am in the same situation with two feral kittens that I took in two months ago. The female does not have any trust issues with me and has basically been that way since the second day I had them. Her brother on the other hand is a different story. He doesn't hiss at me but he runs every time I enter their room. However, I will say he has gotten better, the runs are now much shorter in length and he will allow me to pet him.
 
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angry_cat_mom

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Oh yes, much better, let him get use to your presence first before you start handling him. He has to see that you are not a threat.

I am in the same situation with two feral kittens that I took in two months ago. The female does not have any trust issues with me and has basically been that way since the second day I had them. Her brother on the other hand is a different story. He doesn't hiss at me but he runs every time I enter their room. However, I will say he has gotten better, the runs are now much shorter in length and he will allow me to pet him.
Thank you for the advice! I'll slow way down with him. I love them all to pieces but he's probably my favorite of all. We might even end up keeping him.

Your story makes me feel a lot better about their timeline:) I tried researching how to socialize them, but the literature I found said it should take 2-4 weeks to tame them in most cases, so I thought I was falling behind. Getting to chat with real people who've undertaken this project themselves is beyond helpful.

I'm a little confused about how to deal with the grey and white boy, because he's also very aggressive about being picked up, but once you're holding him he seems to love it. He'll lay full out on your chest on his belly and purr (some mixed messages!)
 
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angry_cat_mom

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Here's a picture of the bear that was sent to me by the gal who trapped them that same day, if it helps anyone in identifying his coloring type! (I love learning about this stuff- it's kind of fun!)
 

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You were so kind to take these kittens and I can only second what everyone else has said. It has not been that long and you are making progress more quickly than you think. My avatar Alice and her sister Elise were born under my neighbor's house two summers ago and now are entirely house cats, adopted by us. I still remember them being completely feral and when I trapped and fixed them at 8 weeks I had to release them due to circumstances here, so they were outside (with care) for quite a while. They completely exceeded the 8 week minimum for domesticating ferals and still came around. Your little brood will be fine.

I am no breed expert, but most calicos are female although Bear does have what appears to be calico coloring. Alice and Elise are definitely calicos.
Cuates.jpg
 
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angry_cat_mom

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You were so kind to take these kittens and I can only second what everyone else has said. It has not been that long and you are making progress more quickly than you think. My avatar Alice and her sister Elise were born under my neighbor's house two summers ago and now are entirely house cats, adopted by us. I still remember them being completely feral and when I trapped and fixed them at 8 weeks I had to release them due to circumstances here, so they were outside (with care) for quite a while. They completely exceeded the 8 week minimum for domesticating ferals and still came around. Your little brood will be fine.

I am no breed expert, but most calicos are female although Bear does have what appears to be calico coloring. Alice and Elise are definitely calicos.
Aww look at those sweet babies! I'm so glad they came around in time and that you're a happy family now:)

All of your encouragement has really helped. I'm just going to be patient and trust in the process! It does seem like they're doing better. They used to hiss if I was too close and looked at them, but now they just watch me. They also used to bolt into the nearest corner if anyone they didn't know well was in the house, but now they just pause for a second before resuming whatever they were doing. Even bear seems less hissy after my spending the whole day with them yesterday (it was my day off).

I've introduced some more toys and things into their pen over time as they've gotten more playful. I put a carpet scratching post in there, and they love taking turns standing on top of it and knocking each other off. Bear mewed for the first time and it was so nice to hear his little voice!!

I'm loving all of the advice, stories, and photos, everyone:) by all means keep 'em coming!

p.s. yeah, I thought at first glance that Bear's a calico, but I had no idea they were so unusual, so in retrospect it seems unlikely? who knows, but whatever he is he's definitely one in a million 🤣 he was so protective of his siblings when they first got here. I'd put food out for them in 4 little bowls (because I wasn't sure if the bigger boys would let the littler ones get their share), and he would stand back and wouldn't touch a bite of food until all the littler ones had gotten their fill. He'd also lay on them and hiss if anyone got too close. It was the sweetest thing. Now that he knows there's always plenty of food coming he's got no problem pushing someone's head out of their bowl though, ha!
 

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I have had very good luck with Gerber #2 all meat baby food when socializing ferals. I use a white plastic spoon and offer the baby food to the kitten. Try to be on the same level height wise when you do this and of course don't look straight at them. If the kitten doesn't start to eat from the spoon on his own, wipe a bit across his mouth using the spoon. He lick it off and he'll be hooked. After several spoons switch to your finger. This teaches the kitten to "like" your hands and you reaching for them.

You are doing a great job. It takes time and patience and often it is two steps forward one back but you feel so rewarded when it all comes together.
Little Bear reminds me of my Rascal. I got him and his sister as 6 month old ferals. He would attack me if I tried to touch his sister and used to let her eat his treats. Today, he is the biggest lap cat and no one else eats his treats.
 

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My Billy was that way. He was rescued years ago as part of an entirely feral litter....all the 5 kittens were in my bathroom which I was able to set up to keep them comfortable. They would all go into the carrier and he would sit in front and look at me as if I had to get passed him to see the others. He ended up being the most friendly of all. You are making very good progress if the hissing and fear is subsiding. They are considering that this is not such a bad place to be.
 
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angry_cat_mom

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I have had very good luck with Gerber #2 all meat baby food when socializing ferals. I use a white plastic spoon and offer the baby food to the kitten. Try to be on the same level height wise when you do this and of course don't look straight at them. If the kitten doesn't start to eat from the spoon on his own, wipe a bit across his mouth using the spoon. He lick it off and he'll be hooked. After several spoons switch to your finger. This teaches the kitten to "like" your hands and you reaching for them.

You are doing a great job. It takes time and patience and often it is two steps forward one back but you feel so rewarded when it all comes together.
Little Bear reminds me of my Rascal. I got him and his sister as 6 month old ferals. He would attack me if I tried to touch his sister and used to let her eat his treats. Today, he is the biggest lap cat and no one else eats his treats.
Thanks for the tip!! I am absolutely going to purchase some Gerber #2 and see where it gets me:) I've had a hard time finding treats that they really find irresistible. That sounds like a great plan :)

Rascal sounds adorable! I hope the Bear gets to where he's at with time
 
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angry_cat_mom

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Here's a quick update, everyone:)

The babies seem to be a lot less hissy. They're still quite hissy if you reach towards them, but other than that they don't really do it at all. I'm still letting them out to play in the evening and rounding them up right before I go to bed. That's the only time they hiss at me, since I have to catch them to put them back in their pen for the night. We currently have a [fully quarantined] friend staying with us on the hide-a-bed in the living room, and the first night I let the kitties stay out all night they woke him up chewing on his toes, so I have to put them away or he doesn't get any sleep (ha!)

During roundup last night, I nabbed Bug (the grey and white boy) from behind the trash can in the bathroom, and he was quite upset, hissing and swatting at me, but as soon as I picked him up he relaxed right into me and seemed to enjoy being held. My partner was almost asleep, so I (out of curiosity) deposited Bug in the crook of his arm, and Bug put his head down and closed his eyes. I went to take care of the other kitties, and when I came back he was still there, so I laid down and was petting Bug's head. At that point my partner (who rolls around a LOT in his sleep) rolled onto his back completely on top of Bug. I was about to start pushing on him to get him off (I knew Bug wasn't hurt but I thought he might be freaked out) when Bug popped his little head out from under my partner's shoulder and just started PURRING like a plane taking off. I've never heard such a loud purr come out of such a small kitten, lol! He stayed right where we was and slept between us for about an hour, when I woke up the sound of his siblings playing in their pen in the living room, and Bug had woken up too and seemed interested in joining them, so I put him back in the pen.

While I was putting him back, little bear escaped (I'm still learning how to manage all four at once, haha) and scooted in between their pen and the wall. I laid in their pen on my belly and gently touched his back (he barely fit between the pen and the wall so he wouldn't be able to move his little arms enough to scratch me, I just figured if I touched him he would start moving forward to get away from my hand so I could get him out of there). Weirdly enough he just closed his eyes and chilled. He let me scratch his cheeks and his ears through the pen, and while I was doing that, Princess put her arms on top of my arm (she was laying in their cat bed, elevated) and fell asleep with her head on them, and the other two were dozing too. I didn't want to move but I was about to fall asleep because it was so late, so unfortunately I had to get out and physically scoot the pen so that I could grab Bear, since he seemed disinclined to move.

I think you all are right and they really are making progress. Thank you again for all of the assurances thus far! I was really worried but I'm feeling much less so thanks to this group of amazing ladies and gentlemen :)
 
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angry_cat_mom

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They're all four making really good progress:)

A couple of days ago I started indefinitely giving them access to the house (besides the garage and the closet where they could get stuck in small places). We were planning on going on an outing during the day, and I wondered if I should put them back in their pen. My partner's take was something to the tune of- we'll have to find out if they can handle it at some point, might as well see how they do. That made sense to me, so we did so. It turned out that they played as much as they wanted, and when they were ready to settle in for bed, they went back in their pen and fell asleep in their beds on their own without my having to catch them and put them away.

They've been doing the same every night since! We let them run around the house and play to their heart's content, and they all know right where to go when they get tired. Sometimes they nap behind the couch during the day since it's cooler back there, but I don't ever have to go around searching in small places for them anymore. They're either playing out in the open, exploring, or going back to their beds to sleep. Even if I can't immediately see one of them I don't worry because I know they're just checking out the house and they'll be back. I can tell they're not scared and trying to hide anymore.

The grey and white boy has become particularly cuddly. He likes it when I pick him up like Simba (from the lion king) and sway him from side to side in the air. That gets him purring like a steam engine. Once he's snuggled up in my lap purring I can't get him to move unless I physically set him down somewhere else (which is hard to do- what a fluffy boy).

They won't completely come when you call them yet, but my partner had progress with Fish the other day. He sat on the other side of the room and called her, and she ran to him until she got about a foot away, and then sat there and watched him. She likes to sneak up on him and sniff his toes when he's not paying attention.

Princess is getting much more comfortable, too. My good friend came by with her 6 year old son yesterday, and he was absolutely delighted to discover the four siblings napping behind the couch. He's a darling kid, and after I pulled out one end of the couch, I told him that if he approached them very quietly and slowly they might allow him to pet them. Princess was in the front of the kitty pile, and he petted her very nicely on the head, which she allowed him to do with only one little hiss when he crawled up to them.

Bear is, as ever, the most skeptical of the group. But the past three nights he's let me pet him without trying to get away. He hisses when I reach out, but if I do so carefully and considerately, he doesn't run. He was napping behind one end of the couch about 20 minutes ago, and let me -very- slowly approach and scratch his little butt. Once he got comfortable with that, I was able to scratch his cheeks and his ears, and he put his head all the way down on his paws and closed his eyes. I'm not going to try to pick him up until he's okay with it anymore. I want him to feel like if he's in his safe space he won't be removed from it, and I think in time he'll feel comfortable.

I'm really happy with all of their progress and I think they're going to be just fine:) my partner and I actually just went and looked at a house today that we're talking about buying, and it has a whole lot more room for them to play and explore than our current place. I think they might just end up being current fixtures. We'd planned on just fostering them, but neither of us can imagine giving any of them up anymore. We'll see what happens I guess, but we sure feel like a little family right now.

Will send more updates as they come:) thanks again everyone for your support and encouragement!
 
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