Found a kitten!
January 15, 2004 5:36 PM   Subscribe

What to do about a foundling kitten... [more inside]

On our way out of a local eatery this afternoon, my husband and I found a kitten. He was quite cold, quite dirty, and very, very scared and defensive. My husband scooped him up and promptly took him to the vet. I couldn't even entertain the idea of bringing him to the SPCA, and we don't know anyone who wants him. So, I guess we are keeping him.

I am looking for general advice in integrating this cat with the two others we already have, and some advice on helping what is essentially a feral cat become a house cat. We have him all Advantix-ed up and some meds for the worms (we have him quarantined as of now- the other kitties are suspicious), but the vet was rather sketchy on how we are supposed to litter train him, and how we can get this kitty into our tribe without the other two becoming raging beasts. Well, any more than they already are.
Any suggestions?
posted by oflinkey to Pets & Animals (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
absolutely keep it separate it from the other cats, do not allow any contact, no sniffing noses or grooming whatsoever.

take it to the vets asap to determine how old it is and to test it for any communicable diseases, you don't want to expose your cats to easily contracted feline viruses such as aids or leukemia, or infectious peritonitis. regular kitten food will be fine if it's 8 weeks or older, but it may need supplements if it's younger.

wait, ok you took it to the vets already and they didn't do the standard tests for leukemia etc...? if so that's the height of irresponsibility on the vet's part. you can't bring another cat into the house without first checking to make sure it's not going to pass on a killer disease to your already established pets.
posted by t r a c y at 5:47 PM on January 15, 2004

There's a dedicated group of kitty activists in Maine. Googling for feral felines will find more. They're very likely to respond to email.
posted by theora55 at 6:21 PM on January 15, 2004

Litter training is not too much of a problem -- that's pretty instinctive for cats. Show him the box, maybe rub his paws in it a little bit so he gets the scratching idea, and the rest should be okay.

You will probably hear many ideas for "integration," such as the ones found here. (Scroll down to the last question.) I would just like to recommend this product -- in particular this product of this product. It doesn't make cats like one another better, but it does make them less upset about it, which is very helpful.
posted by JanetLand at 6:25 PM on January 15, 2004

Tracy, They did do the standart set of tests, and it was determined that he has worms and fleas, but nothing else. No Feline Leukemia, no earmights, nothing else. We were given the meds for the kitty, and he is separate.

Thank you for the suggestion, Theora55
posted by oflinkey at 6:27 PM on January 15, 2004

I, however, lost my ability to spell during the whole thing.
posted by oflinkey at 6:29 PM on January 15, 2004

Cats seem to figure out litter training on their own. Wherever you have him, make sure a small box (so he can get into it with dignity) is readily available and super regularly cleaned out for him. Even after you give him full run of the house, keep his box out and keep the other cats from using it. He'll take to it like a duck to water.
When he seems curious about going outside his safe area (and after the clean bill of health) then let him explore as long as he can retreat to his own private sanctuary as he wishes. I've never seen grown cats be unduly rough with a kitten, it's usually the reverse, and the trick is to make him feel safe during introductions. The older cats may bat at him or snarl a bit, it's their job to teach the kitten cat manners after all, but as long as the kitten has a safe place to hide, he'll be fine. It always sounds worse than it is -- just remember that kittens are drama queens and you won't overreact.
Other than that, have fun! I wish I had a kitten...
posted by dness2 at 6:30 PM on January 15, 2004

On preview: PHEW! Glad to hear your vet did the big tests. I was freaking out, and wrote out 5 paragraphs about infectious diseases and stray kitties.

I've never had a kitten that needed to be "litter trained", they seem to just understand what the litterbox is for. With kittens it's best to have an uncovered litterbox, that's easy for them to step in and out of.
posted by zarah at 6:30 PM on January 15, 2004

After all the testing is done, if you put a litter box and food in the room with it, that should work fine. I show the kittens we have rescued how to use the box by putting them in it and making their front paws do the scraping thing, just as we see them do on their own, either outside or in the box and telling them "good boy or good girl." We've never had a mishap yet.
After a while, say a day or so, you need to be there, allow short contact times with the already there kitties. We now have 6 cats at home, and it's been quite an adjustment for each addition but well worth it. Also and this is important: be sure you pet and love the two house cats a lot - so they know they are still special to you and the new one doesn't get all the attention. Good luck!
posted by Lynsey at 6:33 PM on January 15, 2004

i'm so glad your kitten is healthy, congrats on the new addition ;-)

whichever way you decide to integrate the new kitty, just be as laid back about it as possible. if you act as tho' everything is cool and everyone belongs together, it can help the process along very well. they'll pick up on your stress if you over-worry the situation.
posted by t r a c y at 6:39 PM on January 15, 2004

Thank you! Lynsey, I do have a question- Little Kitty won't let me near him at all. He does a little hiss and backs away. Since you do the rescue kitten thing, any ideas as to how to help him trust me, or do I just sit back?
posted by oflinkey at 7:18 PM on January 15, 2004

this thread on AxMe has some good advice on how to get existing cats in a house to get used to the new cat.
posted by jessamyn at 7:18 PM on January 15, 2004

Remember that you are not just rescuing this animal -- you are domesticating it. I've undergone this process twice and the very most important thing you can do for it, once the health issues are all squared away, is handle the kitten. Sit it on your lap and pet it to sleep. Get it accustomed to human contact. Speak to it and around it. Build up its confidence in your presence.

If you don't spend lots of time with the kitten, it's going to develop into a scaredy and never fully integrate itself into your household. Start now, early, with frequent kitten snuggling, and keep it up.
posted by majick at 7:49 PM on January 15, 2004

My partner has rescued countless kitties, and she's used the lock-both-in-the-bathroom-overnight method without any difficulty on several occasions. YMMV, of course, but it worked for us.
posted by Jairus at 7:50 PM on January 15, 2004

It might also be a good idea to mix some dirt in with the litter until he get used to the box and then slowly cut back on the dirt until it's all litter.

Personally I have no experience with ferals, but from people I know who has done rescue work you might not be able to ever fully integrate him into the pack.
posted by tonelesscereal at 7:53 PM on January 15, 2004

If you're having trouble getting the kitten to be social, and it's hiding, be patient! It's still scared. Spend time hanging around in its room. Chat with it. Feed it. This could take weeks before you get to touch the cat (although sometimes it takes just a few days!)

Don't get out the toys yet. While they might tempt the kitten into coming out to play, but they will also create an association between your presence and the attack instinct, which is counterproductive at this stage of the relationship. Wiggle the string at it later, after you've had a chance to get it used to the mushy stuff.
posted by majick at 8:24 PM on January 15, 2004

Please note that where oflinkey lives, the windchill right now is -21 F. Yea for being inside.

My cat was a tough Bronx street kitty when she was found, although she spent a week with a rescue agency before coming to us. She hid behind the refrigerator (!) for quite a while, except to eat; it took a month before she began roaming freely and got snuggly. Increase the human contact (and fellow-cat contact) gradually each day; good luck!
posted by lisa g at 8:51 PM on January 15, 2004

The farm where I grew up had 21 feral (mostly outdoors/barn) cats. The real key, as said above, is to handle them regularly. Think of how you see a mother cat handle her young -- pet them as though you were a rough mother-cat tongue ... hard but not too hard. Make him (her?) purr? The kitten will be freaked out at first, but will secretly love it and will quickly ask for more.

You are the dominant animal here - don't act scared or skittish; move with confidence around the animal (nothing freaks a cat out more than seeing some huge crouching being sneaking slowly towards it). A kitten that is regularly handled and loved will become your friend, and will, when older, tolerate the most absurd kind of handling imaginable (being brushed and posed, for example). The cat won't take to you right away -- you're building trust, remember - expect the process to take several weeks.

Also, I'm a big fan of small food treats after petting for the first couple weeks (rewards, just like training a dog), but not all cat people would agree with me.

Congratulations and good luck.
posted by anastasiav at 9:04 PM on January 15, 2004 [1 favorite]

Feral cats can be a handful. Keep them inside, and they'll tear down all the drapes and blinds off the windows. Let them outside, and... well... this happens. You may need to get a weblog real fast.
posted by machaus at 9:14 PM on January 15, 2004

This is so very helpful. Thank you.
posted by oflinkey at 9:40 PM on January 15, 2004

The fact that you found the kitten alone in such a state may mean it was the evil runt of the litter. My cat had a runt in its second litter that was bigger and more unsocial than the others. Scratched, hissed, didn't like being handled, so we doubled our efforts to socialize it. Never worked. It grew into the Kitty From Hell. After some kind soul adopted it, it grew to the size of a Volkswagen and then one day attacked its owner, shot out of the house, and disappeared forever.
posted by zaelic at 1:07 AM on January 16, 2004

The fact that you found it alone possibly just means it has a better survival instinct and/or is more independent that the rest of the litter. It can take quite a while for a cat to become sociable when it has been raised on the street.

I took in a kitten from the street and it took basically three months before it would allow itself to be patted and possibly two years before it behaved completely like a cat that was domesticated from the start and has since become very affectionate. I never tried to pick her up, I let her approach me, and always talked to her kindly and gave her nice stuff to eat. In the end it worked.
posted by lucien at 2:00 AM on January 16, 2004

lucien is right on.

most of my cats over the years have been strays, right off the street, and every single one of them has adapted just fine, if given the chance to do so in their own good time. don't listen to the people who have scare stories about ferals that went mad and took off, or never adjusted. certainly it can occasionally happen, but rarely and most likely when the cat is older and male. the quality of the human patience and understanding involved determines everything, so when i hear really negative stories i tend to judge the people, not the animal.

the only cat i ever had that was a menace to the drapes, bare shins, and other cats was one that was born indoors to my 2 already established indoor felines. it took her about 6 months to settle down, but for the remaining 16.5 years she was... a real pussy cat, heh.

you will be just fine with the new kitten, just continue to be stress-free and prepare for it to take longer than you'd like or expect it to.
posted by t r a c y at 5:13 AM on January 16, 2004

I don't really have anything to add to all this good advice, apart from a pat on the back for taking him in. A counter-question however: Where are you posting the pictures?
posted by fvw at 8:30 AM on January 16, 2004

I was wondering the same thing!
posted by zarah at 10:03 AM on January 16, 2004

Sorry, couldn't get back to answer til now. Think majick has it covered, as far as how to treat wild, scared kittens. My husband has a step-by-step approach that works thusly: you've got the kitten in the room with food/water/litter (BTW, we use beach sand, no actual store-bought litter). You hang around as the kitten comes out to eat when you deliver the food - if you feed it 2 or 3 times a day instead of leaving a full bowl all the time, this works better. When it's eating, you very gently stroke its back - stay away from the head at first, and talk to it ("Good kitty, what a nice boy/girl, etc"). This way the kitten comes to associate you with nice feelings of warmth, full belly, all the good stuff. Stay in the room and pet it while it eats, then leave. The next step is to give it a name and call its name when you bring the food - believe it or not, all our cats come when they're called now! Keep petting and handling as much as possible, talking to it all the while! The next stage is brushing - you probably have a nice soft brush, so start brushing for short periods of time. You're doing everything you can to emulate what the kitten's mother would do, feeding, showing it how to use litter box and grooming. And let me add my thanks to you for being a cat person!
posted by Lynsey at 10:10 AM on January 16, 2004 [1 favorite]

Thanks, Lynsey! We've catnabbed lots of kittens from the feral colony in the neighborhood, kept one and adopted out several, and so I've got a little bit of practical experience.

From the theory angle, remember that domestic cats look upon their human caretakers as mothers -- so act like a mama cat! Hog all the glory for feedings, and once it settles down a little, pet it as it eats. Ferals are devensive about food in ways that infant kittens and domestic cats aren't, and you want to discourage that instinct from developing further.

As it gets more familiar with you, feel free to haul it out from under the furniture, despite its protests, and sit down for a petting session. Mama cats do this all the time, and the more mamacatlike you are, the more successful the domestication will be.

As for litter, I've found that strays and ferals will often take to the box without complaint. Don't go for the fancy scientific plastic ball stuff, just get basic cat sand. Instinct will take over -- it's probably the only outdoorish, dirtlike substance in the room, so the kitten will figure out what to do. Try to keep box and feeding areas pretty separate; there's a line of thinking that says a cat defines the center of its territory as the feeding area and the boundary by its waste disposal area. If they are too close together, a cat could feel like it's outside its territorial radius -- scared, hunting and/or defensive -- just being across the room. I don't know how much I buy this theory, but it's worth a shot.

And don't underestimate your existing cats -- our first foundling was quickly "adopted" by the two older, shelter-bred neuter males and integrated into their pack without much fuss at all. They're all middle age now, but it's not uncommon to see three cats at once curled up together in a little pool of sleeping fur, bip-bop-boop fat-skinny-runty all in a row, just like a rack of kittens from the same litter. Integration isn't always hard.
posted by majick at 10:36 AM on January 16, 2004 [1 favorite]

Oflinkey, please do an update when there's anything to report. And pictures would be very nice.
posted by theora55 at 12:59 PM on January 16, 2004

In the early stages, if you have him quarantined in a bathroom, go in there with a good book and just hang in there with him and read for a few hours, so he gets used to your presence and smell. Then put down the book and slowly start in with the petting and soothing stuff.

Also, for safety reasons, keep the toilet seat down so he can't fall in.
posted by Asparagirl at 3:52 PM on January 16, 2004

Thank you all! Thank you thank you. We have named him Thorton Melon (he is sort of melon-shaped, orange and round, like a gourd, and on top of that, we are both fans of the Rodney Dangerfield movie _Back to School_). But it is Melon for short. He is slowly coming out from under the bed and eating, and he is, for short bursts, very playful and pouncing on my hands. He is good about no claws/nips, though. So it is coming along nicely. We have yet to introduce him to the other kitties, but we are planning to do so for short periods in the coming days.
Thank you all, and I will post pictures in the next two or three days, when I can get him out from under the bed for long enough!
posted by oflinkey at 5:22 PM on January 16, 2004


One more bit of advice: if he does start sucking/biting on your fingers (playfully or not), rather than pulling away from him, push your finger (gently) against his top palate, and he'll stop doing that right away and learn not to stick human fingers in his mouth. :-)
posted by Asparagirl at 6:45 PM on January 16, 2004 [1 favorite]

Uh huh. Another trick for training is to blow in his face when he does something evil (like get too close to your ice cream) or uses excessive force when attacking hands on a keyboard. Apparently it's similar to the hissing that mother cats do when they've had-it-up-to-here. Mine (even now as approaching senior citizens) still stop whatever it is when I do this and at least think twice. It's kindof like counting to three, and sometimes a lot more timely than finding the squirt bottle.
posted by dness2 at 11:02 AM on January 17, 2004

I don't believe a kitten can really be classified as "feral" - only one that grew up in the wild.
There should be no problem box-training. If the kitten is still really small, it may have trouble getting in and out of a regular box. You can use those disposable tinfoil lasagna pans they sell by the 3-pack at the grocery store. PetSmart or Petco may have something similar. they just seem to know what to do.
Make sure to get him fixed at 6 months if he's still too young. Generally, cats with hiss and such with a new kitten. It will take about a week to two weeks for them to adjust. But there is rarely any real fighting. Just make sure not to lavish all the attention on the kitten - make an effort to pet/hold your older cats so they don't get too jealous.
Many strays don't like being held at first, especially if they've been in a shelter and being held/falling asleep meant they woke up in a cage. Slowly socialise him by holding him and petting him a little each day. He may try and get away and growl a bit at first. But just a few minutes at a time should do the trick. My wife holds them like a baby and talks to them ("therapy sessions" she call it.) They usually learn to like being petted first, then warm up to being held.
Also, if you make sure and trim his claws as a kitten, he'll be used to it when he's older.
posted by sixdifferentways at 2:16 AM on January 20, 2004

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