What to Do With Feral Kittens & Mom (Brainstorm)
July 1, 2013 2:15 PM   Subscribe

The feral cat we've been feeding somehow managed to keep three kittens alive during some very cold nights this spring. Now they're 6-7 weeks old, too young to trap and neuter. We love having them around but our near neighbor, an elderly man who is also our landlord's father, is afraid of them. Really afraid. He won't go into his garden now, which he loves, in fear of an "attack." We need to find a way to get them to a place where they can live out their lives, together if they want to be (we know the males leave the colony, don't know if any are). Now they're afraid of cages.

This past Friday afternoon Neighbor trapped one of the kittens in his garden and left it to go crazy in the cage with mom and siblings gathered around to comfort it. Mom fed it through the cage wire. Neighbor was prepared to wait hours for animal control to come even though there would be nobody to feed or care for the poor thing at the shelter all weekend. It would have been killed today. After about twenty minutes while we determined what his plans were we talked him into letting us open the cage. Mom, though she runs from anyone else, remained at the cage, looking up at us as if imploring us to help.

There are places in our area that might accept a whole family but how can we catch everyone and get them there with the least amount of trauma? Seems unlikely that all of them will forget the horrors of the metal trap with food. The kittens run from us like the wind but we could probably pick up Mom if we had to. We have three cages total, one big enough for all of them if you can think of any way to do that. We're reading about sprays that calm cats down. We can't afford help from a vet right now. We have until this Friday before Neighbor gets his gun. Mom is pregnant again. We know to put a sheet over the cage to help calm them, but their being separated will be very scary for them.
posted by R2WeTwo to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If they won't go into a cage, would they go under one, as in this style of drop trap? It's got sort of a Wile E. Coyote vibe to it, but it looks pretty foolproof if you can get them all underneath a suitable container.
posted by jquinby at 2:29 PM on July 1, 2013

Is it legal in your area to shoot cats? I'd brainstorm with local Animal Control; I doubt they'd want anybody out there with a gun shooting these cats if it could be helped.

But please have sympathy for your neighbor too. These feral cats most likely poop in his garden even if they aren't going to attack him. I love cats but when I lived in a neighborhood with feral cats I lost that lovin feeling for awhile.

I hope you do rescue the kitties. Canned tuna was always the best bait from what I have ascertained.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:57 PM on July 1, 2013

Check to see if your area has any feral control programs. Some of the neuter and release programs, and even animal shelters will lend you a Hav-A-Hart style trap (you may need to put down a deposit or leave cc info).

I trap 40 or 50 feral cats a year out of my neighborhood, and haul 'em off to my local shelter. It's the only way to keep the dogs in the neighborhood from baying at all hours of the night. What I've learned is this:

If you stop feeding them, feral cats get hungry quickly. They're really not that great at hunting "prey" to keep themselves fed, despite getting lucky occasionally with the stray field mouse, or errant bird. And a hungry cat will go into a trap for smelly fish or canned food, within 2 days of its last meal, even if it has been trapped previously. I repeatedly trap and return neighbor cats I know (collared and tagged, or chipped), and have words with those same idiots that let their pets out to roam, when I take them back. The people never seem to learn, and neither do their cats.

So stop feeding ferals. Get a trap. Get some smelly canned food, like tuna or fish, as bait for the trap. Within 2 days, you'll have a cat in a trap (if not a raccoon). Collect your cats and process to get them out of your area (shelter, re-home, etc.)
posted by paulsc at 3:05 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

6-7 weeks is old enough that the kittens can probably be separated from the mother cat and be okay (with special care), but still young enough that they can probably be tamed and be pets. That would be the best life for them, so it would be fantastic if you're able to pull that off.

For mama cat, she's an adult so she's probably not tameable, but it would be great to have her spayed. It's possible to spay a pregnant cat (they do an abortion at the same time). Then she can be released to live outside for the rest of her life without contributing to the feral cat population.
posted by insectosaurus at 3:11 PM on July 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I trapped a family in my backyard. I only had one kitten trap and just trapped them one kitten at a time until I had them all (and the mom). I'd transfer the kitten to a larger cage then put the trap out back. The kittens aren't happy about it, but they deal and at 6-7 weeks they can eat solid food. I got in contact with a rescue group who found fosters for the kittens and a voucher to get the mom spayed, after which I returned her back to my backyard.

The kittens kept getting caught in the traps despite their siblings getting caught before them. You just need to be patient and it may take a few days. Get some super smelly food (Friskies is like crack to ferals, apparently), line the bottom of the trap with newspaper or cardboard, and just make sure you don't leave the trap with the kitten out there too long.

If you have a very wily cat you can get them used to the trap by feeding them next to the open, unset trap so they get used to it. Then you slowly move the food further and further inside the trap. Once they're comfortable eating in the un-set trap, set it and the next time they go to eat they'll get trapped.

If you have access to multiple traps, I was able to get the very last, mostly wily kitten by using his mom as bait. I placed two traps in an "L" formation, with the trap ends forming the corner of the "L". The mom was kind of dumb, so she was immediately caught. I covered her trap with the sheet except for the end that butted up against the kitten trap. This meant if the kitten wanted to see mama the only way would be to go into the kitten trap. Caught him pretty quick after that!

Also: depending on your area you may catch a possum. This is a terrifying experience but they're not actually violent, despite the hissing. Just incredibly gross. Let it go and re-set the trap.

Also also: At 6-7 weeks they're starting to reach the point where it will become very difficult to tame them. If you want to find them homes please trap these guys as soon as possible and get in contact with a no-kill foster group who has people experienced in taming ferals. If you want to facilitate this process then when you put them in their holding cage do not give them any covered places to hide so they get a lot of exposure to people. And when you can, do some forced cuddling: take one out, wrap it in a towel, and just go about your business while holding the kitty to your chest.
posted by schroedinger at 3:37 PM on July 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I have trapped more than my fair share of feral cats and kittens (see username). It is easier than you think. First of all, relax, take a deep breath, and remember these cats do not have the same mental life you do. I agree with paulsc that their memories are very short, especially when they are hungry and some good smelly food is involved, even if they've been trapped before or have just seen others go into the trap hours before! I have often said that there's no way to say, "Don't do it, man! It's a trap!" in cat language. They're charming beasts overall but pretty dim on this count.

If Mom Cat has stayed near you and appeared to be looking for help from you, she is more likely to be a stray cat or faux feral than a true feral.

If you haven't been able to borrow a trap from a local agency or group after making some phone calls, visit Alley Cat Allies' email assistance form. That form can also possibly help you find someone in the area who fosters cats and kittens if the ones you already know of don't pan out. ACA's information can also tell you how to conduct trapping, how to estimate kitten age, first steps when you find kittens outdoors, and kitten and mom trapping scenarios (you can put the previously trapped mom or kittens themselves in cages to act as additional bait if the weather is okay - not extremely hot or cold).

The good news is that if you're right about them being six weeks or older, they're old enough to eat soft food, so if you get the kittens inside first and mom trapped later, you don't have to worry about them going hungry inside. The other good news is that Alley Cat Allies considers from six to sixteen weeks the best time for socialization. (I have had success with much older, but it does take more patience.)

Depending on precisely how old yours are and how large the mesh in the trap you get is, there may be some larger openings that a kitten can squeeze through (I had this happen with some four-weekers - the food would disappear and there'd be no cat in the sprung trap). If you have a trap like this, you can put packing tape or duct tape where the mesh is larger.

Best of luck - you can totally do this, and the better lives these kitties can live with your help is an enormous reward.
posted by jocelmeow at 4:10 PM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd like to respectfully back up St. Alia's and paulsc's comments. You need to understand that your neighbor is not being some sort of unreasonable curmudgeon. It's very reasonable not to want multiple feral cats constantly hanging around your yard. You are actively encouraging feral animals to hang out on his property, and then you're haranguing him when he tries to do something about it by trapping them and calling animal control. And, now the mother cat you've been feeding and encouraging, instead of looking into a catch and release program, is pregnant with another litter. I'd bet he would blow his stack if he knew that.

To be honest, most people would feel the same way as he seems to... I know I would.

Not long ago, I used to live next to neighbors who would feed feral cats and neighborhood cats in a bowl right next to our shared fence. The cats would then come over and pee and poop in my son's sandbox every day. A couple were fairly angry, territorial little animals and would hiss and scream at my son and at each other. It got old really, really quickly, even though I like cats and live with indoor cats of my own.

Please think twice about feeding feral cats. It sounds like you might be anthropomorphizing them... all while failing to treat your neighbor with the respect and consideration he deserves. And feeding them really isn't best for them, either. Heaven knows we don't need more unspayed and unneutered feral cats out there.
posted by Old Man McKay at 10:15 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would agree that the cats' memories are probably not long enough for them to be too freaked out by the trap. I know it's not quite comparable, but my kitty went to the vet three times in a couple of weeks, and after the first unpleasant experience that involved needles and anal probes and car rides, I had to really struggle to get her back into her carry cage the following day with howling and scratching and clinging to the outside of the cage. That appointment involved her having multiple teeth removed and she was one pissed off kitty.

But a week later for her follow-up appointment she had already completely forgotten what the carry cage was for and was all, "Hmm, interesting dark lair for me to explore! I will go into it! Oh noes! Humanz has caught me in a trap!"
posted by lollusc at 2:04 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: If anyone is checking back the cats all have good homes now and the mother is being neutered this week. She either lost the litter she was carrying or wasn't pregnant after all so we won't have to abort any.
posted by R2WeTwo at 4:44 AM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm checking back, and so happy to hear the good news! Wonderful! Well done!
posted by jocelmeow at 5:47 PM on July 17, 2013

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