Adopting A Re-Domesticated Feral Kitten

by Dee Johnson

What is a Feral Kitten?

Feral (or wild) kittens are those who’ve been living in the wild for one or more generations. Because of this, they start out different from domestic kittens in many ways. The really great thing about “feral” kittens is that with love, care and the special rehabilitation provided in their PAWS foster homes, they are re-domesticated and often form stronger, more intense bonds with their “humans” than regular domestic cats! Following are some simple, yet important tips to integrating your new kitten into the family:

Location, location, location: Prior to bringing your kitten home choose a location in your house that is confined, safe, free of hiding places (like under beds!) and easily accessible for playing and snuggling. Bathrooms work excellent for this. This will be your kitten’s home for at least the next couple weeks. Being in a small space helps your kitten feel more secure while they get used to the regular sounds and smells of your household. During this time, you go in to the kitten rather than the kitten coming out to you. It also eliminates the opportunity for the kitten to hide from you if stressed. This is where your primary bonding will happen, so you want it to be a fun place. Be sure to stock it with toys, scratch mats and a kitty tree if possible.

Atmosphere: Loud noises, fast movements, chasing and even sometimes direct hand approach can all be frightening for your kitten. A gentle tone of voice – even if a kitten has displayed an unwanted behavior – and predictable movements are all reassuring and go a long way towards overcoming fears and developing trust.

Treats: These start out as your most valuable form of currency! Never leave even a couple out for the kitten to take at will. They should always and only come directly from your hand (either an open, flat hand as in feeding a horse, or via tweezers until you know if your kitten is gentle mouthed will avoid a possible bite out of excitement). This both encourages the kitten to approach you and reinforces hand approach with a positive outcome. As the kitten progresses, give treats intermittently and eventually the reward of just petting and loving becomes more than enough.

Fear issues: These include flattened ears, aversion to eye contact, cringing, hiding, avoidance and rarely, in the worst cases, hissing or swatting. This can’t be stressed strongly enough… Any of these negative behaviors CAN NOT BE ALLOWED TO WORK! If your kitten is showing any of these behaviors (which they probably won’t) none the less, they must be corrected immediately. Luckily, correction is just simple snuggling, love and maybe a couple treats. (This may seem like rewarding negative behavior but it’s just the opposite, since we’re trying to alleviate fear and teach trust. When this occurs, fear is driving this kitten’s behavior; it’s trying to intimidate you. By learning that not only can they not scare you off, in fact, contact with you means pleasure, these behaviors will cease.) In the unlikely event your kitten is choosing to reject you in any of these ways, make sure you don’t attempt an approach unless you have the time – right then and there – and the will to follow through with picking up and snuggling the kitten until it’s relaxed and purring. Once calm, allow the kitten to leave your arms by its own choice. If you are seeing any of these behaviors, until they’ve been corrected, your kitten should remain in its initial “home” in your house so you are able to maintain control. This is also not a job for little kids. Adults and older children should do this work and supervise visit time with younger members of the family.