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How to Socialize a Feral Kitten

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It's kitten season, and feral cat volunteers everywhere are preparing for another busy year. They're stockpiling food and resources and fundraising for health costs. If you're new to feral cat rescue work, you may wonder, "How should I try to tame a feral kitten? And is it even possible?"

Read on to learn how to socialize a feral kitten.

Commit to the time it will require.

If you have a full-time job and a long list of hobbies, you may not want to socialize a feral kitten. According to Alley Cat Allies, "you will have to commit to caring for them one-on-one for at least a couple of hours each day, for a period of a few weeks to a month or longer." That's a pretty serious time commitment. If you're not able to do that right, don't feel bad! Just donate to your local cat rescue or shelter. 

Start with a feral kitten younger than 8 weeks old.

Based on a guide from Alley Cat Allies, anyone can successfully socialize kittens that are 8 weeks old or younger. But kittens between 2 months and 4 months old are more difficult and time-consuming. ACA advises against trying to socialize kittens that are older than 4 months of age or adult feral cats.

Have the kitten examined by a vet.

As always, start by taking the kitten to the vet to be de-wormed, receive any necessary vaccines, and assess overall health. Follow your vet's recommendations on diet and health care.

Set up a kitten playpen.

Before bringing feral kittens into your home, prepare a room just for them. Here's a quick checklist of everything you'll need:

  • A room with a door to make the kittens feel secure
  • A cage with soft bedding, a litter box, and food and water dishes
  • A small cardboard box inside the cage to provide a "hiding spot"

After introducing them into the cage, leave them alone for two days to adjust (with plenty of food and water, of course!)

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Use food to socialize them.

Food is the way to a kitten's heart. If you can grasp this simple truth, you can socialize any feral kitten! For shy kittens, start by feeding from a spoon through the bars. Work up to feeding wet food from a plate as you sit on the floor nearby. As they get more comfortable, put the food in your lap, and pet the kittens while they eat.

Remember never to allow kittens to eat off your hand or bite your finger. This is a bad habit that will be hard to break later. If you need to stop kitten biting, read this post: 5 Ways to Cut Down on Kitten Biting.

Engage them in interactive play.

Next, socialize your kitten with lots of touch and play. Plan to spend two hours a day playing with your kittens- split up into several sessions. Follow these tips from Alley Cat Allies for success:

  • If you have more than one kitten, play with each one individually.
  • Hold the kittens close to your body so they can hear your heartbeat.
  • When kittens are 3 or 4 weeks old, use toys to play with them.
  • For a rowdy kitten, you can wear them in a baby sling as you work around the house.

Let them meet lots of new people (and cats).

The main goal of socialization is to prepare your cat for healthy relationships with other cats and people. To achieve this goal, introduce them to other friendly pets in the house. You may want to wait until they are comfortable with you before trying this. Also, introduce them to human visitors and allow them to be gently petted. Always be sensitive to how your kitten is responding, and keep interactions brief.

Let's Chat:

Have you ever socialized a feral kitten before? If so, what tips would you give to a first-time cat rescuer? Send us a PM or comment with your thoughts!

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