Adopt-a-Pet

Taming to Love: How to Rescue a Feral Kitten

With patience and persistence, you can tame a wild kitten and transform her into a loving pet.

By Sarah Magee

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rescued kittenWhen I first fed the kitten that showed up in my backyard, she retreated into the woods if I stood too close. Daily, I moved the food closer to my back door. Nervous, but drawn by the food, the little gray-and-white tabby approached as I spoke softly to her, calling her Baby.

I moved the food progressively closer and finally deeper inside the house. Finally, Baby was far enough inside that I could close the door behind her. Terrified, this feral kitten crashed into the walls in her desperate attempt to escape.

What is Feral?
The term feral describes a wild or savage creature. Feral cats live as wild animals, without owners or homes. Unfortunately, most feral cats have not been spayed or neutered, so they reproduce prolifically. To prevent the kittens from living the same tough lives as their parents, they must be tamed and adopted.

Ideally, remove feral kittens from the nest at 4 or 5 weeks of age, when they can be safely weaned. If you remove them sooner, they are less likely to survive. At around 6 weeks of age, they start romping and playing out of the nest, making it more difficult to capture them - it may just take more patience, as it did with my experience with Baby.

Carefully try to capture the mother as well, and have her spayed. This will help reduce the feral cat population.

Protect Yourself
Make sure both you and the kittens are safe and protected before and after you capture them.

You do not want to get bitten, says Sara Winikoff, DVM, a veterinarian in suburban New York who devotes half her practice to feral cats. A feral kitten could have rabies.

Until a veterinarian verifies the kittens health and you are confident that it will not bite you, always handle the kitten with a towel or heavy gloves.

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Reader Comments

Kathy    Georgetown, TX

2/22/2009 2:05:59 PM

I bought a frightened young cat for a pet store and introduced her to my home with an older male cat. From the beginning, she was fearful although when I was able to catch her, she purred but hid her head in the crook of my arm. She would want to get down but I persisted and wrapped her up in a towel so she couldn't scratch or bite. I carried her around most of the day and she purred off and on. At the end of the day, she became a sweet lovely cat. The time spent doing this paid off since she must have learned to trust me during that time and has since. She seems a bit tentative at times but not because of the treatment she has received here. She approaches us and wants petting now.

Chris    Sun City Center, FL

1/26/2009 2:46:23 PM

This article has saved our sanity. We adopted an 8 week old kitten from our local shelter. She has been home with us for two days and does nothing but hide until we go to bed. She is eating well and knows how to use her sandbox, again after the house is dark and quiet. When we are able to locate her we have been able to hold and pet her, but little else. She has no interest in her "sister." Thankfully we don't have a problem with hissing or scratching. Thank you for reinforcing patience. We dearly love our Lily and want her to be happy with her forever family.

Wanda    Nashville, TN

1/25/2008 10:27:06 AM

Last fall I brought in an approx. 3 month old feral kitten, Sophie. I had to use a trap and she was terrified when I walked toward her to put a towel over it. She has calmed down a lot, but she still has feral traits, especially when she hears a strange noise or meets new people.

Since then, I caught the cat I think is her mom, had her spayed, but she surprised me by carrying over 4, approx. 3.5 week old kittens, the day after I brought her home from the vet. They were already developing a fear and had to be gathered up from under a car. They are all doing wonderful.

I have a feral cat outside that came to me full grown that will let me touch him occasionally, but would rather not. I have to trap him for vet trips, etc.

All five kittens and their mom now live with me and my 16.5 year old cat, who does not like cats.

Padgie    Durango, CO

10/4/2006 9:29:35 PM

As a kitten lover and rescue person, I too have rescued many feral kittens. Instead of cornering a very terrified kitten in a large space (hearding into the house) I would suggest a kitten trapping box. You can obtain these from your local animal shelter or get info from alleycats.org. This is not the large humane trap used for adult cats but a large box that you encourage the kitten to go into with food bait and then safely close the trap door. It will contain the kitten in a smaller space thus you can calm it down easier and this smal kitten will not get lost in your house. Small kittens need to see a Vet as soon as possible, so you might transport the kitten in the kitten box or a small carrier. These are frighten animals that will hiss and try to bite you so protection is necessary. Once the kitten gets the OK from the vet you can begin the gentle process of socialization. Small kittens learn quickly that love and affection (and food, too) comes form their new mom. In many cases, constant touching and petting, encouraged play and a good healthy diet will help make a scared kitten into one that is more playful and healthy pet.

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