All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Feral Kitten won't tame down...

Dear Marie,
Help! My daughter and I rescued a kitten when she was only 3-weeks-old. She could not even walk. We bottle-fed her until she was able to drink Kitty milk on her own, and then solid food. We have done nothing but love her, but she is mean. She always bites, sometimes pretty hard. The Veterinarian tells me she is wild. She is awful when I take her to the vet, hisses and snaps at the Vet and his assistants. They could not even cut her claws. When I took her to get fixed, they could not even get close to the cage she was in (I had to put in her the cage) when they tried to sedate her. They told me they had to use metal mesh gloves. At home she is not that awful, but still hisses at other people, and even at me when I try to cut her claws. The funny thing is that she does let me bathe her with no problem. She hates to be picked up or petted, and when we do try to love her, she bites. Sometimes very softly, but most of the time it's hard and she gets crazy! Now her new thing is to poop behind the front door if we are away from home too long. Please tell me what we can do to make this better. It's just my daughter and I and we adore that little stinker, but we are beginning to get frustrated with her.
Thank you,
Mary and Jeanne

Dear Mary and Jeanne,
Your kitten is what we is the humane world describe as a feral cat. This simply means, as your veterinarian suggested, that she is wild. But don’t be discouraged. Feral cats do mellow out given time, love and patience. I adopted my cat Squishy (pictured with me) when she was a young wild kitten. Now, at 15 years old, she is sweet and loving and you would never even suspect that she was permanently banned from her first veterinary hospital!

There are a number of things you can do to tame your little lioness. However, your first order of business is to make her feel safe and secure. This can be accomplished by limiting her free space in your home to one room. As I have mentioned in previous columns, a room for a cat should include a little box, food and water, a window, toys, a cat tree, and most important – a comfy place to sleep.

Do not push yourself on the kitten. Let her come to you. Spend a lot of time in the room, but do other things. You can read while your daughter does homework, or any other activity that you enjoy. If your kitten does come close, or hop on your lap, talk to her in a quiet, soothing voice, but avoid petting her more than once or twice. In some cats, petting elicits a bite response. Until she has mellowed, let her become content just being close to you. You may feel more secure using a terrycloth towel to stroke the top of her head. If she enjoys this, you may continue petting her with the towel. This will protect your hands from being bitten or scratched, while still giving you and the kitten the opportunity to bond.

When you feed her, sit down next to her so that she is always aware that you are responsible for providing the food she enjoys. Do not use an automatic feeder. Bring her fresh food in the morning and the evening. Canned food will fetch a more positive reaction. Yes, I am talking bribery in feline terms! You’ll need to keep her confined to one room until she begins to appear more relaxed. In the meantime, I strongly advise using an enzymatic cleaner specifically developed to eliminate the odor of cat feces and urine on all the areas where your cat inappropriately urinated or defecated.

Try and spend as much time as you can with your kitten – but pay attention to her sleep schedule. Young cats do need at least 18 hours of sleep a day. Anything less will result in a cranky cat, and that’s the last thing you want. Give her plenty of time to snooze. When you feel she is more secure, go ahead and open the door, but don’t force her out. She will venture out on her own. If you have any setbacks, you may need to confine her to her room just a little longer.

Some feral kittens become sweet young cats within a few months, while others take much longer. My own cat still reverts to her feral ways without warning every now and again and still doesn't do very well in a veterinary hospital. But it only takes her about 3.1 seconds to spot and occupy an empty lap; and her purring is an obvious sign that she is a happy and content kitty. I think you will have this to look forward to soon. Best wishes.

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