Considering adopting a fostered motherless kitten-
November 12, 2017 11:03 AM   Subscribe

We are considering adopting a very young 8 week old kitten who was found on the streets at 3 weeks old and has been with a loving foster ever since. What should we consider?

Nothing is known about his early life but his fosterer has done a lot of work socializing him and at 8 weeks he is now a playful joyful kitten who loves socializing with people and uses the litter box and plays with toys. He has played with other kittens but hasn't had a mom or much interaction with adult cats. I'm concerned about his early life since my vet has said that period (2-6 weeks) is so important from a socialization standpoint. More broadly, we are a little caught up in adorable kitten fever and want to try (as much as possible) to rationally consider what challenges in life this little guy may experience and whether we are the right fit for him. Our situation: we are a quiet 2 person household and dote on our pets. Right now we have one, a very playful 4 yo cat. She is dominant (hence considering a younger male). We are looking for a cat who will be a good companion to her (and vice versa) and secondarily a cat that would like to sit in our laps and snuggle with us. Any advice you have is appreciated.
posted by stewiethegreat to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My experience of a bottle fed kitten who didn't have much socialization with other cats is that the kitty (Ocho) never learned to police his claws and teeth. Where my cat will tackle me for fun with claws sheathed, Ocho draws blood when he is trying to play. My cat will give me the 'I'm overstimulated' or 'I don't like that' nip and she never breaks the skin (and it doesn't hurt), Ocho makes puncture wounds. It's extra awful because he is super sweet and affectionate and loves to be held in his Jekyll mode, but the transforms instantly into Ocho-Hyde and you can't get away unscathed.

I think this would be less of a problem for you since your protokitten already has some cat exposure and you have a cat who can teach him how to behave.
posted by janell at 11:14 AM on November 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Be prepared in case the kitten is _too_ active for your four-year-old cat (and you, who need to sleep at night). You might end up needing a second kitten. Maybe not, but be prepared just in case.
posted by amtho at 11:25 AM on November 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

What should we consider?

Posting pictures!
posted by easy, lucky, free at 11:30 AM on November 12, 2017 [21 favorites]

Have you had a chance to interact with the kitten? If you can put aside how adorable he is (I don't blame you if you can't), does he act affectionate towards you? Playful? Is he currently displaying kitten versions of the personality traits you're looking for? I feel like fosters and shelters may sometimes be pressured to overstate a kitten or cat's traits in order to make it seem ultra-adoptable. Like, they may say "is a great lap cat" when the kitten doesn't actually even slow down long enough to sit in a lap because it's a kitten and just plays until it passes out somewhere. Or they may say "litter trained" because... he mostly uses the litter and is doing good for a kitten?

Basically unrelated anecdata, because my kittens were 7 months old, not 7 weeks: we adopted some very cute kittens that seemed scared of people but like they would warm up to us. Well, that held true for many years- they were/are great cats that I like a lot, but it took years for them to be even close to the playful, social, lap cats I was hoping for. Also, litter trained doesn't mean that there won't still be anxiety or other behavior-related pee outside of the litter boxes. I don't know if any of that relates to their early months or just their personalities. I do think I could have made a better guess at their future personalities if I'd paid more attention to how they interacted with me at the shelter. Shelter materials said "proven to be a good lap cat when she gets to know you" for one and "litter trained" for both. My numerous floor home improvement projects and house-wide ban on throw rugs attest that it turned out to be more complicated than that.

Honestly, though, if you and the kitten seem to get along well, I think you're good to go! It sounds like the foster has been making up for any missing socialization, and your playful cat will be up to the challenge of schooling this kitten in cat etiquette.
posted by Secretariat at 11:38 AM on November 12, 2017

DO IT! The kitten will thank you, your cat will thank you, the kitten foster will thank you. He'll catch up quickly.
posted by irisclara at 12:27 PM on November 12, 2017

We adopted one of these about four years ago -- she weighed less than one pound when we brought her home from the fosterer. She is just the greatest cat. The one thing I was unprepared for was that she is a stone-cold killer, which must just be innate because she certainly didn't have time to learn it before we got her.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:31 PM on November 12, 2017

He has played with other kittens but hasn't had a mom or much interaction with adult cats. I'm concerned about his early life since my vet has said that period (2-6 weeks) is so important from a socialization standpoint.

Learning from other kittens that age is, I think, more important than learning from adult cats. What you most want them to learn, as referenced above, is not to bite too hard and to stop when the other party wants to stop, and that's something they almost always learn from other kittens, to the point where it can be a problem if they're around adult cats but not other little ones if the adults aren't super playful. I think you're good. My more-active-than-usual 6-year-old cat and her now-17-week-old little sister from a very similar background to this are doing quite well.
posted by Sequence at 1:11 PM on November 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've had several formal ferals as house cats. Bringing the kitten in at three weeks, while it missed some milk time, means it never absorbed the "humans are scary" message from Mom, so it should view you as a comfort source rather than as a predator.

The exposure to other kittens should have done the trick for gentling, as noted above. Key is if kitten bites at your hand or scratches, it's never cute. Replace your hand with a stuffed toy or chew toy (if it seems like kitten is teething). Reinforce appropriate play.

Congratulations! And yes, we need pictures!
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 1:31 PM on November 12, 2017

If you already dote on your cats, consider clicker training your kitten. I highly recommend it. We clicker trained our kitten using kibbles as treats and not only did our kitten seem to find it highly entertaining, it was also useful for training them out of some bad habits.

There's a short book, "Clicker training for cats" and I recommend it. We found it very helpful. We clicked with our tongues; it was easier than keeping track of a clicker.

We also avoided that famous "feed me" behavior by feeding our cat consistently at the same time every day, and verbally announcing that it was time for them to eat.
posted by aniola at 1:43 PM on November 12, 2017

I've had bottle-babies and ex-ferals of all ages, and honestly, my opinion is that the most important thing is the individual cats' personalities. In your case, everything sounds like you're good to go. (You realize we'll need a photo update if adoption happens.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:27 PM on November 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

2nding "Clicker Training for Cats" (I've also seen it at pet stores, and originally found it in our public library). It's amazing, and so much fun for the kitties! I strongly suggest reading it straight from the introduction, don't skip around. It's a very short, little book, and will make life delightful for everyone.

Bonus: you learn how to solve problems like the cats being underfoot in the kitchen, at feeding time, on stairs, and at the front door (which can actually be dangerous for older people).
posted by amtho at 3:42 PM on November 12, 2017

For what it's worth our feral kitten who similarly lacked much socialization is quite happy to be left alone most of the time and has learned not to draw blood with her claws. You just have to consistently act put out and immediately stop interacting and they'll get the clue eventually.

It was a bigger problem for us because we were undisciplined when she was still palm sized, but we still eventually trained her out of it.

She's always been a total sweetheart, but the Jekyll and Hyde thing is still a deal, but if you pay attention to her body language you can tell when she's done and is about to get annoyed and take a swipe. Most of the time it's sans claw and has been for 14 of 15 years.
posted by wierdo at 6:34 PM on November 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend adopted a motherless kitten that he had to bottle feed, and he turned out to be a lovely quiet and gentle cat, the two doted on each other and were best friends for 21 years!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:17 PM on November 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Anecdata point: My 8 year old kitty was weaned too early and he has major Jekyll-and-Hyde syndrome and will still sometimes draw blood. He was attacked by my roommate’s adult cat when he was still a kitten, was so injured he needed surgery (roommate said her cat was “good with other cats,” she was either lying or naive, I was naive, we put the kitties together without proper introductions). Anyway! My cat now HATES other cats with fervent passion. so make sure to properly introduce everyone! Take introductions as slow as you need, because even if your cat is good with other adult cats, it doesn’t mean she’ll be good with a kitten.

Also, my cat has some signs of pica, which I believe can happen with kitties who are weaned too early. It’s not too bad, we just have to keep plastic bags away from him, but just something to be aware of.

I would wholeheartedly recommend getting a second kitten if your older cat turns out to be not into playing.

My kitty is a sweet boy now, both cuddly and playful.
posted by shalom at 8:26 PM on November 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

My experience of a bottle fed kitten who didn't have much socialization with other cats is that the kitty (Ocho) never learned to police his claws and teeth.

And my experience of a bottle fed kitten is that Finley (who came home with us at about 6 weeks) never uses her claws or teeth on humans.

The thing with cats is that they're all very individual creatures. You really can't extrapolate that because Kitty X had ABC experiences, Kitty Y will be the same because he had the same ABC experiences.

The most important, probably crucial, thing is that you introduce the kitten and your 4-year-old cat slowly. Don't throw them together immediately and expect them to get along. It won't happen. Kitten needs to be in a room all by himself so kitty can smell him through the door. After a while of that, kitty can see kitten through the crack in the open door for just a minute. Then maybe you feed kitten at the closed door and kitty at the closed door at the same time so they can get used to each other's smells. Then maybe you let them touch noses. It's all very slow going and kitty needs to be the one who makes the rules; if she hisses or seems distressed, go backward a step and slow down. There are lots of articles out there on how to slowly introduce cats to each other. Every time I've done it that way it's been a success. They don't like quick change, so don't force them into it.

Good luck!
posted by cooker girl at 5:53 AM on November 13, 2017

You can help teach the kitten not to bite or claw when playing. If it happens, squeak loudly (this is how kittens teach each other - you know the sound) and let your hand go limp. Stop playing. The kitten wants to play, and lack of playing is generally enough of a deterrent.

If you snatch your hand away quickly, that's potentially a chasing game; so don't do that. Just let your hand(s) go still and/or limp.
posted by amtho at 12:05 PM on November 13, 2017

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