Feral Kitten Fosterer

Provided they come into care before the age of twelve weeks kittens can be socialised and loving homes found for them. Taming feral kittens is a deeply rewarding experience. It is one of the most fulfilling volunteer roles, to care for and coax timid feral kittens into becoming homeable pets.  They usually end up as friendly as any domestic cat with their owners but often remain shy of strangers, disappearing out of sight when the doorbell goes only to miraculously reappear the moment they leave

So how does an initially hissing, spitting, terrified bundle of fur end up as a contented fireside pet?

The short answer is they receive lots of gentle patient coaxing and attention, hand feeding, playing and gentle handling to get them used to human contact. Some kittens are 'tame' within days; others take two or three weeks or longer, generally the younger they are the easier taming

In order to aid taming feral kittens they do need to be accommodated in a relatively restricted space so that they can be handled without having to effectively chase them about to make physical contact. A kitten pen or dog pen is ideal and is large enough to contain food and water bowls, litter tray and bedding and some space for them to play

The pen can be set up in a room where people spend a lot of time; this allows the kittens to get used to the household and sounds such as people chatting, television, radio. This should be within a room with a door that closes securely for when the kittens are later allowed out into the space of that room. There also must not be an open chimney, holes in floorboards or skirting boards and it should not be a room that contains the front or back door for obvious reasons of avoiding accidental escape

When approaching the kittens we talk in a gentle low voice, taking care not to tower above them but to kneel down at their level. On initially approaching the cage during the first few days, we are generally greeted by hissing and spitting and we have to chuckle to ourselves because we know that within a week or so, they will be enjoying being stroked and played with. The first purr is just the most rewarding sound, then we know they have accepted us and will be fine

When the kittens are more relaxed and showing signs of being a bit bored in their pen rather than frightened and hiding in their bed, then it is time to let them out of the pen into the room. It is likely to take at least a week to reach this stage. Their first time out they will hide after a few minutes exploring. That is fine, they have established a safe base from which they will venture out or run to.  This first time we will have to get them back into the pen by placing a carrier in front of where they are hidden so they will go into it. This is a better way than going in after them as that is their ‘safe space’. On following days they will go back to the pen themselves when food is put down

Enjoying the luxurious space of a whole room, they may become shyer again for a few days. It is now important not to try and pursue them to handle them but instead to lie on the floor at their level offering food from our hands and playing games with tickle sticks, toy mice and toys on string

Always bring them back to the pen for food and sleep as that is when they can be stroked and handled. The first ten days are the most intensive after that we can relax and allow them to blossom. These kittens tame themselves as they learn there is nothing to fear. They do so at their own pace and we are the facilitators, teaching them and giving them every opportunity to grow in confidence

These kittens tend to make very loyal and affectionate companions, though they don't like strangers too much, but that just makes them extra special to the ones they do trust. Generally speaking, these kittens tend to be timid, and therefore are not suited to homes with young children or very busy households.  They need to be homed with experienced cat people who are prepared to give them extra time to adopt to their new surroundings

Our feral kitten fosterers like to go with the kittens to their new homes, in a carrier which they can leave with them to be collected at a later date. This make the kittens feel secure and they can stay safe inside their carrier. Usually the fosterer sits and chats with the owner in the room where the kittens are to begin their new life, as it is best they get used to one room before beginning to explore. The very fact that their fosterer is relaxed and comfortable gives a signal to the kittens that there is nothing for them to fear, and they can stay in their carrier for as long as they want. Whilst chatting with the owner the fosterer is checking the room for any hiding places the kittens would be likely to get into that should be blocked off, as initially their instinct will be to hide and also giving out advice and information about the kittens. for the first few days in their new home the kittens are likely to try to hide but will soon gain in confidence. The photos below show some of our feral kittens within days of going to their new homes

If you are interested in this challenging yet rewarding role please contact the branch for an informal chat

Please read also our feature on ferals

lilybelle  bryn and calypso  harry and tabitha