Backstory: (Might be relevant)

Wife and I have found a colony of feral cats in our city, consisting of a mom and a litter of four kittens. We took an instant liking to them and from that point on for nearly three weeks went out every evening to feed them and try to socialize them a bit. When we had food they came out of their hollow, and as long as we sat relatively still, they were unafraid of us. We could also pet the mom and some of the kittens at times while eating. Mom was less scaredy in general, she sometimes burshed up to us while sitting there on her own accord.

We don't know the specific age of the kittens, but they are older than 2 months for sure (we'd guess between 3 and 6 months), as they eat solid food, have good movement coordination and they look more like small adult cats with some kitten-y features than the furballs with weirdly oversized heads like very young kittens are.

Normally we would have involved some organization to TNR the mom and socialize the kittens of which two we would have adopted for ourselves, but while there are some animal rescue/humane organizations in my country, also some in my immediate area, it seems to me that TNR has no significant tradition in my country, and maybe due to Covid or just general lack of funding or caring, multiple phone calls/emails to these organizations were entirely fruitful and we were basically politely or not-so-politely told that they are overburdened, can't help us, have no advice or traps or volunteers for us and we should basically feck off.

So after we realized no one's gonna help us, we took two of the kittens by letting them walk into carriers and shutting the doors on them. We previously bought some stuffs and also read quite a few articles on ferals, but we were still woefully underprepared as we later learned, and we have some issues. Some behaviours we don't know if is normal and uncertainty regarding how to proceed. Also neither me nor my wife have ever kept cats at home before. Wife's family had semi-feral cats in the garden, but they weren't indoor cats.

I am listing some of the problems and screw-ups here.

  • Lots of advice articles mention using a mostly empty "safe room". Our flat is relatively spatious, but we absolutely do not have spare rooms. Every single room is completely utilized, the best we could do is to move out of the bedroom to the sofa in the living room, but having a bed with lots of nooks and crannies in the bedroom would be counterproductive and we have no way of removing that bed from the bedroom.

  • I have read that it is recommended the feral kittens to be separated in separate enclosing spaces. Aside from safe rooms (which are unavailable, as I have said) I have read using rabbit cages, large cardboard boxes, large cat carriers, etc. We made a makeshift enclosure by barricading a corner of the living room. They kittens were not to be separated just yet, we wanted to take them to the vet the next day, and figured they'd probably adjust better if they had each other. This might have been a mistake. Also due to our screw-up they escaped confinement and darted throughout the flat (the containment would have been insufficient even if there was no screw-up on our parts, we seriously underestimated how high they can jump).

  • The kittens thus have free reign in the place. This is the third day the kittens are in our flat, we managed to block off most of the really inaccessible or inconvenient/harmful hiding places in the flat (for example the baking sheet holder in the oven, and the kitchen counter which is impossible to be removed from the wall without seriously dismantling the flat). Now they are hiding in places we can see and we can access, but they are still not contained.

  • The kittens are extremely scared of us. Part of me is not surprised since they have a huge, unknown place to them, but during the day/when we are at home, they absolutely refuse to leave their little hiding places. They huddle down into a small, compact shape and do not do anything. I tried to spoon-feed them tasty wet junior cat food at times. Sometimes I could get them to lick some of it off the spoon, but in general, they also wouldn't eat during the day, and we couldn't get them to come out of their hiding spots by either treats or toys.

  • I have frequently read to use wet food/treats to get them to loosen up and trust us, however during the first two days they completely refused to eat/drink/eliminate and I got worried for them so I usually put out tasty wet food for the night. Dry food, litterbox and water is always available. They do eat during the nights when wife and I are in the bedroom and the lights are off, so I am not worried they die of starvation but I don't like this development because I want them to associate tasty food with us. Their appetite in general is much less than it was when we just visited them near their den in the city.

  • Advice on the internet seems to be contradictory regarding handling. Some sources say that they should only be handled if they come to us, other sources say that handling needs to be forced to a degree to get them accustomed to us. Regarding our kittens, this is a mixed bag. We frequently talk to them in soft tones, and if they are huddled down in their hiding spots during the day, if I approach them slowly, they usually tolerate it if I stroke them gently. Frequent advice is to pick them up, wrap them in a blanket into a "burrito" formation and stroke them gently while in our laps while talking to them softly. They don't like getting picked up and usually start hissing/scratching/squirming, and thus covering them with blankets to get them to feel safe is very difficult, because we cannot get them to lay on blankets and if we approach them with blankets, they get scared shitless and run off. We also stopped trying to handle them a lot aside from some occasional stroking when they let it, as we are worried we are only stressing them out more and they will get more, rather than less feral. Also while they do tend to let us pet them if we calmly approach them in their hiding spots, they never come out or come to us.

We put off taking them to the vet for now, because until now they could hide in places we couldn't get to. I have an appointment to the vet on monday. Since they hide now in accessible places, we can grab them by the nape and put them into carriers if the need be. I am a bit terrified to do that since that would probably make them hate us even more, but this needs to be done. But afterwards, I am not sure about anything anymore:

  • Cages. Yay or nay? I have found a large pet-accessory shop that have relatively large rabbit cages. They are expensive but we do have enough economy to buy two of them. I am of the opinion that once we are done at the vet, we should cage them separately, put some blankets on the cages, and in each one put a hiding spot and dryfood/water/litterbox. My wife is for some reason opposed to the idea. I don't really understand why but the cages are usually recommended so that they have a smaller space they are not that afraid of. And the way things happened, good or not, they already have access to the living room and the antechamber, so I am also not sure if it is needed. Should we cage them?

  • How can we get them to trust us more and come out? Is it ok to withhold food or at least wet food from them unless they take it on our terms? As I have said before, I was worried they are so scared they'd rather starve than come out into the open, and as an inexperienced person, I have no idea how malleable they are this way. I am worried if we only give them wet food if they come out to us, they'd simply wither away rather than come closer. So right now they always have access to wet food as well.

  • Is it ok to force a bit of handling? Of course not if they are so scared they are hissing and scratching, but maybe try to put a blanket on my lap, grab a kitten by the nape and put him/her down on the blanket, wrap them up, and try to get them to calm down. Or should we just stop touching them until they get more comfy?

  • I suspect we have missed the window when they are easily socialized, so what are the likely results? I am ok if they will never be absolute 100% snugglebunnies but there is a difference between them being a bit timid and scaredy but otherwise finding our presence and touch comfortable and them behaving the same way they do now all the time. When to give up and when to proceed? Can taming fail completely? What should we do if they absolutely don't come around?

  • 1
    Hi, welcome to Pets, thank you for taking your time describing the issues with such details; could you please consider asking a few separate questions or distilling the essence of the problem? It could be seen in the current form as asking more than one question; making them separated would help both people answering them and those using search engines, thanks.
    – lila
    Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 14:41
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    @lila I could, but not sure how. The essence of this question is that I have already read a lot of advice on feral kittens, but they usually go A -> B -> C, and we kinda screwed up A and not sure how to proceed. If I split this into multiple questions without the explanations, I am worried I would get the same advice I have already heard that I am not exactly sure how to apply to this particular situation. Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 14:45
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    Great detail in this question! I'll try to get some preliminary information typed up for you, but immediately I'd suggest getting them some kind of enclosure (dog crates work well) that's big enough for a litter box, water dish (try one that clamps to the side), food, blankets, a hiding place, and both kittens--there's zero need to separate them.
    – Allison C
    Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 16:04
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    I agree with not separating them. They’re scared and missing their mom, so having each other will only help them become more confident. Also, the point of a safe room is not just to contain them; it’s to prevent overwhelming them with too much territory to explore before they can feel safe again. Bathrooms often work well, plus they’re usually easier to clean if there are litter box training issues.
    – StephenS
    Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 18:20
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    Fot the single questions part: you could ask a second question (like you asked this one) in a new tab. You could add a link of this old one to the new one, so you do not need to re-write all again. Links work like this: [name for the link](linkadress). For later searching and using this stack as "lexicon" are seperate questions for any issue the better way. Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 21:43

1 Answer 1


While you've got a lot of questions here, they're all relatively connected to one main question: How do I socialize feral kittens?

I'll start with your question of cages: Yes, get a cage, at least for now. You don't need any kind of elaborate construction--a sufficiently sized dog crate or cat cage (they do exist) will be fine. Make sure the wires are very closely spaced, so there's no chance of a kitten's head squeezing through any part of the cage, as they will try to escape and can become seriously injured (or worse) if their heads get caught. They will fit through spaces smaller than you might expect, so keep the spacing very tight. Most dog crates I've seen will suffice for this.

There's no real need to separate them; I haven't seen this done in rescues, and in fact, I've personally seen at least one case of a particularly wild singleton starting to calm down when introduced to another litter. While there are likely varying opinions on the subject, most rescues I've observed keep litters together through the socializing process or combine them in the cases of singletons.

You'll want to make sure the cage is big enough to hold everything they need: food, water, litter box, and blankets, plus a couple of toys tossed in as well. If possible, get dishes that can be mounted on the side of the kennel walls to make them less likely to be knocked over or have litter kicked into them (you're still going to get litter in them, I'm sure). Be prepared to clean the kennel regularly, they're going to make a mess. Keep them in there while socializing, except when you're handling them. You'll be keeping them in here until they're comfortable around them, so be prepared to have it take up space for a while, but you likely won't need it permanently. Most dog crates will fold back up and be easily stored.

Get them to associate you with food. If they're old enough, try doing meal-based feeding instead of just leaving food out. They already somewhat associate you with food from your previous offers when they were strays, so keep that association going by giving them food 2-4 times per day. Start out by just putting the food in the cage with them and closing it again; as they get more confident about being around you, you can start trying to pet them as they come forward.

Prepare to be hurt. Feral kittens are very likely to draw blood on you as you get them used to handling. It's generally not going to be bad, but you'll likely want to keep some adhesive bandages and antibiotic cream on hand. With that said, you're not going to forcefully handle them--don't scruff them or wrap them up--but you are going to handle them in spite of their inevitable protests. Get down on the floor, put your hands in the cage and slowly reach out to pet them. Let them sniff you if they want, let them hiss if they want. Stay on their level, move slowly so you don't scare them, and give them some time. As they start calming down, you can start moving to pick them up. Be gentle and deliberate with all your movements around them, so they can learn that you aren't a threat. Remember, you're massive compared to them; you could easily harm them, and they know that. They need to learn that you won't. Keep these interactions short, around 5-10 minutes at a time, and start with only a couple of times a day (2-4), working your way up. If they're older and more prone to scratching and biting, then stick to shorter times (a few seconds to a minute), but a similar frequency.

Offer treats. Find some really good ones that they have a hard time resisting, put them near the kittens, and pull your hand back. Let them associate you with tasty goodies. As they get used to them, stay closer while they're eating until they stop caring about your hand being there, then you can start moving to pet them while they eat the treats.

Be flexible. Be willing to give them more time if they need it, and if they seem like they're responding well to one technique you're trying but not another, adjust. Like people, cats have their own personalities, and there's no guaranteed step-by-step manual. That said, most younger cats can be socialized to at least some degree. Results will vary--one of mine was found as a feral kitten and is now extremely social and outgoing, while on the opposite end of the spectrum, one we watched for a few months recently who was also a feral kitten spent the first month hiding from everyone, though he did eventually start coming out for some attention on a regular basis and was quite sweet, if very shy.

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    Thank you for your answer, my wife liked it very much as well, will mark as accepted if no one else chimes in for a few days. Today one of the kittens was commandoing in the living room while my wife and I were there and the other one ate while. This would not have happened a day or two ago, I guess this is a baby step towards progress! Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 18:21
  • @BenceRacskó I hope it helps! It'll be a journey full of baby steps, but if you're willing to be patient through it, you'll have a couple of terrific cats, and you'll have saved two lives. :)
    – Allison C
    Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 18:41

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