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Two very young cats (siblings) moved into my yard and the surrounding properties. They first appeared when they were about 3-4 months old(?) and they're probably 5-6 months old now. I would like to take them in. They appear healthy and active; unfortunately, they do not appear to be socialized — at least they will not let me near them (yet). I don't know if their parents were feral, but I know kittens born to feral cats can be socialized at an early age.

I started feeding them about a week ago. They still run off when I go outside, but they're returning within minutes now that I leave them food on a regular basis. I put their bowls near a large sliding glass door leading into our living room, so they're becoming more accustomed to seeing me moving about the house. They're starting to sit near the door in the evening waiting for dinner, but when I approach the door, they run off.

How should I proceed? Are there any techniques to help them get used to me and (hopefully) more socialized? Is there anything else I can do?

We've become quite fond of them, and I want to give them every chance.


Update, one of the cats cautiously approached me as I was setting out their food today. I held my hand out and she rubbed on it and eventually let me pet her a bit. She was a bit apprehensive but I sat calm and quiet and she started to purr and vocalize a bit. The other cat is still much more skittish.

  • Do you want to bring them into your house as pets or continue to feed them outdoors as ferals? – Zaralynda Dec 10 '14 at 17:35
  • @Zaralynda Ideally, I want to bring them into the house as indoor cats. But if they really insist on going out on occasion, I don't think that is ideal, but I would probably be okay with that. – Robert Cartaino Dec 10 '14 at 17:38
  • Do you already have cats in your home? – Zaralynda Dec 10 '14 at 17:39
  • @Zaralynda There are currently no cats or other pets in my home. – Robert Cartaino Dec 10 '14 at 17:41
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It's best to get them to the vet for spay/neuter, FIV/FeLV testing, shots, and general health checkup first thing (this will run $200-500 per cat depending on your local area). You will probably need to buy/rent/borrow a trap to do this. The cats already don't trust you, so you won't be hurting your relationship.

After the vet visit, set them up in a small, quiet room with 2-3 litter boxes and a fresh supply of water. You may want to give them a day or two after the visit to let them settle down.

Start with just spending time with them in the room. Read aloud to them (whatever you happen to be reading, blog articles or the newspaper or anything, just get them used to the sound of your voice.). Don't ever reach out to touch them, put your hand out and let them make the last 2 inches or so of movement towards you.

Most of your initial work will be focused during meal times. Do not free feed, make sure that you meal feed and stay in the room while they eat (as close as they will let you). You may have to sit on the opposite side of the room from the food bowl at first, but gradually you should be able to sit closer and closer to the bowls while they eat.

The next step that we took was putting my hand over the bowl until the cat touched my hand. Once that touch was made, I removed my hand and let the cat eat normally (with me sitting near the food bowl). Our feral (Juliet) learned what we wanted very quickly, but the first few touches were just a barest brush. Over time that bare brush turned into more of a headbump, and now at breakfast she will jump on the bed and headbump my face to tell me to wake up. Gradually, trusting you at meal time will also extend to trusting you at other times. Just be consistent and always let the cat make the last inch or so of contact. Juliet still sometimes looks for our hands at mealtime because she got used to "pettings before food".

At their age, you may be able to teach your kittens to allow themselves to be picked up. Once they are solidly into the petting is okay phase, push them around a little while they are eating so they get used to being moved. Then, delay food for an hour or two so they are hungry. Take a small bit of food in your hands and have them climb around in your lap a bit (giving them small bits of food, and after about 5 minutes, feed them).

After awhile of both of these activities, you can start lifting them gradually, but go slow because it's very scary! My feral (who was tamed at 2 years old) was never able to learn this, and is still skittish around the house sometimes.

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  • Great information. This will come in really handy. Thanks! I'd love to hear a bit more about how to gain their trust outside first so I could avoid the situation of trapping, locking them in a room, etc. They're still outside, but we're making progress. One of the cats is willingly (albeit cautiously) walking into the house now and exploring a bit. That's a big change from days earlier. The other is still keeping a healthy distance... but I'm being patient. – Robert Cartaino Dec 10 '14 at 23:03
  • @RobertCartaino my feral, Juliet, would never let herself be caught and brought inside, but she was older when she was tamed. When we captured Agent Orange a few weeks ago we kept him occupied with a food bowl while shutting the door, but he was already pretty much tame by the time we found him. – Zaralynda Dec 11 '14 at 1:17
  • Once you have the cats inside your house, set aside one room as "their room" for them to live in and become used to as a safe place to retreat to before you expose them to the entire house. When I have in the past socialized cats I would set up a sleeping bag in that room and spend some nights sleeping there. Sleeping near unsocialized cats is a time-efficient way of getting them used to you; the more time you spend with them the faster they get used to you and learn that you are not a threat. Since you need to spend time sleeping anyway, you may as well socialize your cats at the same time. – Mark Ripley Nov 19 '16 at 9:35

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