What difference can two weeks make?  Depends on what you are talking about, right?  If discussing how to tame down feral kittens, two weeks can be a game changer.  If you come across kittens outside that are new-born to about two weeks old, their absolute best chance of survival is to remain there with their mom.  As good as some foster parents might be, none are as good as the actual fur-moms.  If the kittens are in a safe area, clean, quiet and with fat bellies, just leave them be and check on them once a day to make sure that hasn’t changed.  You might start leaving food for the mom so you can catch her when you’re ready to have her spayed.  Other than that, leave everything (and everyone) alone.

If the kittens are two to four weeks old, meaning they are starting to walk around (clumsily) and might be following mom to the food dish, they could more easily survive being pulled into foster but would still do best being left with the mom.  But we don’t really need more feral cats out there, do we?  So, if your goal is to pull the kittens so they can be tamed down there is some controversy about when the ideal time is to do that.  The younger they are, the faster they tame down and the less bad behaviors you must undo. But bottle-feeding kittens is time intensive and can cause some GI upsets.  

Personally, I feel that between ages four to six weeks is the best time to pull the kittens and bring them inside to keep them safe and tame them down (and trap the mom for spay – call Forgotten Felines at 707-576-7999 for an appointment at their weekly clinics).  The kittens should be eating on their own – or will be soon and should take to the litterbox instinctively.  Kittens this young tame down quickly.  They may hiss but it’s just a warning threat (and actually it’s quite cute to see these little furballs fluff up and hiss!). Usually wrapping them in a towel and holding them a lot is all that is needed to calm them down.  Talk to them gently and use your thumb to rub their cheeks (like a momma’s tongue) and they will usually start purring in just a few minutes.  Do that repeatedly, and they quickly turn around.

Kittens six to eight weeks old can be tamed down but it takes a bit longer and more effort. Handle them carefully because even though they are still babies, they have sharp little teeth and if startled or feel threatened, they will bite.  Again, the towel is your best friend and allows you to safely handle the babies and calm them down. After eight weeks taming down becomes trickier and chancier.  For every positive story you hear, there is one where the kittens were always shy or scaredy cats and never fully trusted people.  I think it may depend on how many generations have been feral and how deeply rooted the wild streak is.  

As I’m writing this, I have a semi-feral kitten about 10 weeks old snuggled on my lap.  I’m working on her, and she is slowly coming around.  She will allow herself to be held and petted all over, by myself and others, and will even purr and relax in my arms.  But I don’t consider that enough – I don’t just want a kitten that doesn’t run from me, I want one that seeks me out for attention.  And that takes even more work.    Keeping her isolated is key – she is lonely and more likely to welcome my attention.  She’s almost there – this morning she actually came over and rubbed my legs!  That’s a breakthrough but I can’t help wondering how much friendlier she would be if only she had been caught two weeks earlier.

Upcoming Events:

“Get Them Back Home” Campaign – Every lost pet should have a way to get back home.  FREE pet ID tag and a back-up microchip are available to all residents of Rohnert Park and the City of Cotati.  Call for an appointment, 707-584-1582.

Fix-it Clinics – Free spay and neuters for cats; and $100 dog surgeries (up to 80 lbs.) for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents.  Call 707-588-3531 for an appointment. 

Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at mzeldes@rpcity.org.

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