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Socializing My New Semi-feral

Discussion in 'Caring for Strays and Ferals' started by rosegold, Sep 21, 2018.

  1. rosegold

    rosegold Thread Starter TCS Member Adult Cat

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    Feb 1, 2018
    I decided to start a thread where I can document my experiences bringing home and socializing my new semi-feral(?) rescue kitty, Chai. I don't have her home just yet, but she'll be here next week most likely. And I'm going to need all the support and advice I can get! So thanks in advance :)

    Chai's history is mostly unknown. She was brought into the shelter at maybe 6 months old after being hit by a car, with a bone sticking out of her front leg, which had to be amputated. She isn't aggressive, but is very shy even after being there almost a year, and none of the shelter volunteers can pet her. I actually posted about her a looooong time ago when I first joined this site! I first saw her photo on the shelter website in December 2017. So it's been a long time coming but I finally get to bring her home. I'm very excited.

    I visited her today, for the first time in a while. I just hung out with her and her roommates at the shelter for over an hour. She was cautious of me, but not terrified. When I went in the room she was walking around quite fearless compared to last time. As I sat down she did go hide in a box, but one that was very open and accessible so she could watch me. Despite being sniffly (she has some sort of cold or respiratory infection right now), she was very interested in watching me. I brought some treats and she ate out of my hand and licked my fingers with no problem. Then she cleaned herself with me sitting there and then took a nap.

    We did get one small hiss, which was when the squeeze tube of treats she was eating brushed her side. She flinched very hard and hissed. She is very afraid of being touched. Since she's had a lot of medical trauma I can't really blame her, or perhaps she was abused, or perhaps just scared... who knows. I didn't push her at all as I just wanted her to associate me with good things.

    But the best part of the day was.... I got not just one, but several slow blinks! I couldn't believe it. Then, while in the middle of grooming, she suddenly meowed at me. I talked to her back and she meowed again and then continued grooming. It was so cute and I felt like she was just waiting for me to hurry up and adopt her.

    So.... I'll keep this thread updated once she's home!

    I've attached a photo from today so you can all see how cute she is. :) She's really filled out since last time from scrawny teenager to big-girl cat.

    IMG_1215.jpg
     

  2. jcat

    jcat Mo(w)gli's can opener Staff Member Moderator

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    Mo(w)gli Monster's Lair
    She's gorgeous, and those are all very good signs! She might temporarily regress after you bring her home, so you'll have to be very patient with her and keep the pace slow. Wand toys help a lot, as does placing small toys in front of the cat (watch your hands!) when she's on an elevated surface so she can bat them. She should eventually get so into the game that she'll forget she's scared of hands getting too close.

    Over time, you can hold out a half-extended index finger for her to sniff when you're serving her meals. Later you could also try one quick soft stroke along her back while she's eating.

    The most important thing to remember is that it takes baby steps.
     

  3. di and bob

    di and bob TCS Member Top Cat

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    She is beautiful. I pray you have a happy, long life together. You will be blessed for giving her a home and your love, patience and persistence is the key. She will be VERY nervous and scared when you first take her home, all cats hate change and this will be a big one. Confine her to one room for a start and let her get more comfortable,it may take weeks or months, but she WILL respond to love and care. Her true personality won't come through at first, I had one cat that took many months to settle in.Never force her to do anything. Let her take the lead especially at first.
    I look forward to following your posts, bless you for helping her!
     

  4. rosegold

    rosegold Thread Starter TCS Member Adult Cat

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    Feb 1, 2018
    Chai is coming home tomorrow! I am excited but so nervous. I am crossing every finger and toe that the introduction between her and my current cat Chilli goes well. I don’t have an ideal situation for cat introductions as I don’t have a spare room in my apartment... but I’ve managed to set up a tall barricade between the kitchen area and the living room, essentially separating them into two rooms. In the kitchen, I have a big multi-story crate for Chai to go in for now.

    It’s not perfect but it’s something. They won’t be able to see each other and they’ll be safe from one another, especially with the crate in case Chilli breaks through the barrier.

    She already investigated the barrier and complained a little when I was on the other side but seems to have accepted it. She is SUCH an easygoing cat and adjusts so well to life changes that I hope everything will just work out smoothly and they’ll be friends in no time. They’ve both lived happily with other cats before. Chai currently shares a room with maybe 8 others at the shelter and is always cuddling with them. Chilli used to live with two other cats at her previous home, but has been solo for about 8 months. Let’s hope she remembers she can always be my spoiled baby AND have a little sister.
     

  5. rosegold

    rosegold Thread Starter TCS Member Adult Cat

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    Feb 1, 2018
    Chai is home!

    I brought her to the vet on the way home for a general checkup, but unfortunately that didn't really go as planned. I haven't used this particular vet before as I recently moved to this city, and his office is right next to my apartment building, so I figured it was worth a try. She was understandably pretty scared by the time we got there and I tried to warn him about it (language barrier issues) but as soon as he touched her she of course flew off the table. I caught her fairly easily with a towel and aside from some hissing she wasn't being aggressive. Didn't try to bite or swat (not that it's easy to swat with only one front leg!) Just very scared and stressed. Poor thing.

    So I took her home instead. The vet said if I wanted he would give me a sedative and I could bring her back in a week or so for a sedated exam. We'll see. I'm talking to the shelter to see if they have any recommendations of vets who are used to working with feral or very scared cats. This guy didn't even want to be near her which I thought was a little amusing as she's pretty small and only has three legs!

    Now she is in her crate with a sheet draped over it and I'm going to let her be until it's time for her dinner. Meanwhile, Chilli already knows something's up--having a small apartment sure forces this whole process along much quicker...

    Chilli's already sniffed the carrier and the towel that was inside it very thoroughly. She was very interested, but no hissing or tail-lashing or any other aggressive behavior that I could tell. She is definitely not the happiest cat on the planet right now though. I think she knows there's another cat in here. I gave her some treats and played with her toy, which she did halfheartedly, but she's still glaring at me from the loft with this lovely expression:

    IMG_1309.jpeg

    :lol::lol::lol:
     
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  6. rosegold

    rosegold Thread Starter TCS Member Adult Cat

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    Feb 1, 2018
    It’s been a little less than 24 hours since I brought her home, but of course I’m already worried. She hasn’t eaten yet or used the litter box (not sure about drinking, but it appears that she hasn’t moved from her spot at all). Since she’s not actually in a separate room but just behind a tall barrier, I’m trying to be as absolutely quiet as I can on the other side, but unfortunately I do need to go in there from time to time to use the kitchen or bathroom.

    She’s still staring at me like I’m the devil incarnate, but I did notice her ears come forward and her nose sniffing while I was making her food this morning. I’ve offered wet food, dry food (the kind she was eating at the shelter), and two kinds of treats I know she usually likes as she ate them from my hand at the shelter. No luck so far, though. I’ll probably go to the grocery store this afternoon and pick up all the delicious things I can think of to try and bribe her to eat.

    How long is too long for not eating? When should I get worried? :(
     
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  7. rosegold

    rosegold Thread Starter TCS Member Adult Cat

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    Feb 1, 2018
    Update: she ate!! I’m so relieved! And with me sitting four feet away, no less! Canned mackerel and some chicken did the trick. Somehow that must have boosted her confidence as well, because after eating she sat up for the first time (she’s been crouched every time I’ve seen her), explored her cage a bit, groomed herself just a little, and curled up for a nap all with me sitting there. I talked to her very softly and blinked at her while she was getting sleepy and I got multiple slow blinks back. I’m so relieved that she ate and has calmed down a little, even though I know she’s still very scared.
     

  8. mani

    mani fervent feline fan Staff Member Moderator

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    That expression of Chilli's is a classic! :lol:

    That is wonderful news about Chai.. slowly slowly of course, but she's doing really well. :)
     

  9. rosegold

    rosegold Thread Starter TCS Member Adult Cat

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    Feb 1, 2018
    She also pooped and peed! She's not eating a ton though and I think it's probably due to her stuffy nose. She's very snuffly, especially after eating and while cleaning her face... I'm guessing URI. Her eyes are clear and there's no discharge that I can see, just some bubbly-nose breathing and the occasional sneeze. May need to take her in for antibiotics, but I'm trying to just closely monitor her for now to avoid the huge stress of a vet visit. If she gets worse I'll take her in. Does that seem reasonable? All I can get her to eat right now is smelly stuff like tuna and mackerel. I'm trying to mix those with wet food to get better calories into her.

    She's doing great behavior-wise, I think. For such a huge change in her life, I expected her to be frozen and hissy and absolutely petrified of everything for at least a week or more... but she's already quite comfortable eating, sleeping, grooming in front of me. Last night in the middle of the night she tipped over her food bowl and her bed fell halfway off its platform, and I woke up to some tentative, questioning meowing, like "I'm terrified of you, but can you maybe help me out?"
     
    dustydiamond1 purraised this.

  10. rosegold

    rosegold Thread Starter TCS Member Adult Cat

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    Feb 1, 2018
    Our routine (4-5 times a day) so far has been:
    -Go into her room, sit by the crate and talk to her for a while, lots of slow blinks
    -Offer a small treat on the end of a stick (inching my hand closer up the stick each time)
    -Make her a small meal and sit while she eats in my presence (today I was a foot away from her and she barely glanced at me while eating)
    -Continue sitting or lying next to her, browsing phone or laptop or reading while she finishes eating and grooms herself
    -Talk to her and blink at her in a very soft voice until she falls asleep, then stay a while or leave quietly

    I thought I’d share today’s cute sleepy pictures. This is while sitting maybe 2 feet away, after 5 minutes of talking to her after her meal and her grooming session. We’re already a long way from those gigantic terrified owl eyes of two days ago!

    4BF6A535-D7C8-4C12-A368-770C885677E7.jpeg 2E54BB52-FCE8-4256-8F29-52E68303785B.jpeg 13B0A3A8-8527-4FB0-BB44-441A37F6316A.jpeg
     

  11. rosegold

    rosegold Thread Starter TCS Member Adult Cat

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    Feb 1, 2018
    Bonus shot from a few minutes later:

    D7C70273-F718-4396-A470-8ACD64A96899.jpeg
     

  12. Avery

    Avery TCS Member Young Cat

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    Rosegold, it sounds like things are going well for Chai. Good work! I also am in the process of socializing a semi-feral cat, Ruby, along with her buddy, Lucky (who must have been a stray since he has become pretty friendly) so I really enjoy reading about your routine and will be curious to hear how the introductions go!

    I keep wondering what else I can do to help Ruby feel more comfortable. Right now, Lucky will grab at toys but Ruby just watches as I wiggle mice-on-strings or wave feathered wands around! I will be curious to hear if you have better luck with Chai and toys. Please post anything that works!!

    It does sound like a visit to a vet might be in order if Chai continues to seem sniffly. I have a great feral-friendly vet and I hope you can find one, too. Ruby totally freaked out when I took her for her initial visit and the vet had to sedate her. For future visits, we are going to try gabapentin, which I have used for another cat. It is a capsule (might also come in liquid) that you can open and sprinkle on their food and it calms them down so you can get them in a carrier easier and the vet can examine them better. Maybe that is the sedative your current vet was thinking of for a future visit.

    Keep up the good work and please keep us posted about your kitties!
     
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  13. rosegold

    rosegold Thread Starter TCS Member Adult Cat

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    Feb 1, 2018
    @Avery Good luck with your kitties!! I look forward to hearing how they progress too! So far Chai has watched toys with mild interest but not tried to chase them or play at all. I have a feeling wand toys are a little difficult to bat at with only one front leg, but perhaps she will like some mousies or kick toys. The shelter she came from had ZERO toys in the room which was so sad to me. My other cat Chilli LOVES interactive play so it’ll be interesting to see if Chai comes around to enjoy it too.

    We visited a different vet today and he was awesome. Her health check was generally okay but not great... she’s positive for coronavirus, which I posted about in another thread in the Health forum asking for advice... Her immune system isn’t very strong in general. The cause of her sniffling is actually due to fairly bad gum disease which is causing her mouth pain and nasal discharge. She is on meds twice a day for three weeks to see if she improves - if not, the vet recommended extracting all her teeth. Poor kitty. So I’m still crossing my fingers for an improvement in her overall health.

    The best news is that this vet gave me a HUGE boost of confidence in terms of handling her and bonding with her. He was very gentle and kind but also had a positive, confident energy with her and just scooped her up in a towel with no problem. He could’ve done it without the towel, too, I think—she was that easygoing about it. She complied with only a few meows while he pet her, conducted a full body exam including checking eyes and mouth, clipped her nails, cleaned out her ears, did x rays and blood tests, and held her like a baby talking to her kindly the whole time. She was scared but never once tried to bite or act aggressively towards him. He remarked several times he thought she was a really sweet and lovely cat, just scared (he’d been warned by the shelter about her before I arrived so he may have been expecting a much bigger challenge). He showed me how to pill her for her mouth meds and she was super compliant for that, though we later decided it would be easier to mix the pill powder with treats.

    The best part of the day was when he gave her back to me to hold while he checked the tests, and I got to cuddle her in my arms and pet her gently for the first time and watch her visibly relax. We’re back home and despite her stressful afternoon she’s already eaten, peed, and eaten treats out of my hand. I’m crossing all my fingers and toes that her health improves and that she and Chilli get along, because she is already becoming an awesome little cat.

    This post is already too long, but... I have to say, it feels unbelievable and a bit emotional to finally have her, after wanting her and looking at her pictures since December 2017. I was told she was wild, unadoptable, that she hissed whenever anyone got close, that no one would dare touch her, and that I should look for a different cat. But when I visited her for the first time I just had a gut feeling she was a sweetheart who just needed loooots of love and patience. To have had her only 3 days and already be having those gut feelings confirmed is incredible.
     

  14. loveskitty

    loveskitty TCS Member Young Cat

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    the first pic of the cat looked like a pillow. The sleepy roll IMG_201809271_113431.jpg
    told the tale she is comfy with you. Good job.
     
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  15. rosegold

    rosegold Thread Starter TCS Member Adult Cat

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    Feb 1, 2018
    We hit two major milestones today!! First, she played with a toy for the first time! It was just a couple of tentative bats at a wand toy but she watched very intently for a while. I’ve discovered she likes feathers. The fluttery birdlike sound really got her ears perked up.

    Second, she voluntarily came out of her hidey box in my presence for the first time! I was letting her lick treats off my hand in her hidey box as usual when suddenly she stopped. She hesitated and peeked out, went back in, out, in, for a good two minutes and then finally decided to come out. She walked out, did a little turn, and then immediately went back in, and went back to licking my finger again. I was already thrilled with that progress. But a few minutes later she came out again for good! She’s been walking around, sniffing things, grooming, and eating her dinner out of my hand for the past 30 minutes. Mind you this is a very small bathroom so she’s within 1-5 feet of me all this time. It takes her a long time to think about things before she does them—you can almost see the little wheels turning—but she is being so brave!

    It seems like the meds are helping a little, but not a ton. Her snorty/snuffly sounds are a slightly better and she is eating normal cat food well. Maybe they are at least helping with pain and that’s why she’s so adventurous today. She’s been at the door sniffing curiously twice today already. Tomorrow begins baby gate / limited visual contact introductions with Chilli... wish us luck!
     

  16. Avery

    Avery TCS Member Young Cat

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    Holy cow! Leaps and bounds over at your place with Chai! So good to have found a wonderful vet. I think that makes a big difference when you have someone competent and compassionate who you feel comfortable talking with. I hope the gum disease can be taken care of without pulling any teeth. And playing with toys! Wow! Good luck tomorrow with the start of introductions. Hopefully, Chilli will be happy to have a new friend and all will go well!
     
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  17. rosegold

    rosegold Thread Starter TCS Member Adult Cat

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    It’s interesting. Chai is surprising me a lot with what she is and isn’t scared of. Compared to Chilli, she doesn’t always fit the stereotypical “skittish” behaviors.

    Chilli is a super happy confident girl in her home but will still scurry at the doorbell, jump at loud dishes clanging, growl at the pizza man, hide in the closet when a stranger comes over, wake up from traffic noises outside, freak out when there’s poop stuck her butt, hates the carrier, etc... but bounces back VERY fast from all of those things. A pretty average, slightly neurotic, somewhat skittish but well-adjusted cat I would think.

    But Chai, despite being the “wild” one, seems to have a much more mild, calm, even temperament. Almost to the point of lacking personality (compared to my ridiculous attention-seeking girl). Loud or sudden noises don’t seem to faze Chai at all unless I’m the one causing them, in which case she might slowly creep away. She’s remained surprisingly chill and even napping through noisy dishes, showers, doorbells, me dropping things, the blender, the kettle, and more. When I open the door to her room, she doesn’t streak away to her hiding spot like one might expect. She thinks about it for a while, looks around and at me, then slowly crawls away into the box. She’s not even that afraid of hands. My hands are in and out of her box all the time and at this point she seems to prefer licking food off my hands than using the bowl, haha! She mainly just seems scared of touch and seems like she’s unsure how/why to bond with a human, so prefers to cautiously observe rather than engage with me. Other than that she’s been surprisingly unflappable so far.

    For me, I like this about her a lot and there are far more difficult personalities of cat to deal with. There was a cat sharing her room at the shelter advertised as “a lovable, sweet lap cat perfect for a family” who was pushy, would bite if I didn’t let him go in my lap, repeatedly stalked and attacked my arms and legs, jumping all over me and clawing my hands for attention... No thanks. I’ll take the “unadoptable” one any day. :lol:
     

  18. rosegold

    rosegold Thread Starter TCS Member Adult Cat

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    Feb 1, 2018
    Ummmmmm... speaking of this cat surprising me.... I am sitting literally right next to her litter box (like I said, tiny bathroom). The corner of it is touching my hip. It’s an open style box. This cat just sauntered over and did her business right next to me without a single care in the world. Then covered it up and sauntered away. What???? Chilli won’t even go in her COVERED box if i’m so much as looking in her direction!! What kind of “wild” cat does Chai think she is?? :lol:
     

  19. rosegold

    rosegold Thread Starter TCS Member Adult Cat

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    Feb 1, 2018
    Today I was able to pet Chai gently on her back and her butt while feeding her treats. I started with a soft wand toy but she was very quickly okay with that so I used my hand very gently. She hissed a couple times but it was fairly halfhearted and she was way more interested in the treat. I kept it to a short session and overall she did very well I thought.

    The crouching, frozen, owl-eyed fear of when she first got here is basically gone. Now she is just cautious, but as soon as there is food she is eager to eat it and be my friend again.

    I think in terms of petting she really just has no idea what I’m doing. She is tolerating it but certainly doesn’t know yet that petting can feel nice. It’s not a surprise as basically no one tried to touch her the whole time she was at the shelter, unless she was being taken to the vet. So even aside from being human-shy in the first place, she probably associates touch with pain and the vet.
     

  20. rubysmama

    rubysmama Forum Helper Staff Member Forum Helper

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    Nov 25, 2013
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    Just read through this thread. Great updates. Sounds like things are progressing well with Chai.

    How's Chilli doing? Last we heard of her, she was giving you "the look" from up on the loft. ;)
     
    dustydiamond1 and rosegold purraised this.

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