Taming a Feral Kitten Over 8 Weeks Old

Why We Rescued Cats

Written by Christiane Marshall (Previously published) 

How to tame a cat older than 8 weeks old. -- It is possible

Who Says You Can’t Tame an Older Kitten?

Many legitimate sites state that taming feral kittens older than 8 weeks becomes difficult to impossible. They haven’t heard about the taming of Boo Boo.

The Reason We Started Taming Them

I wrapped the little grey tabby we had just captured in a towel and held it for a few minutes before putting it in the small dog crate for the night. He’d been darting about the yard for a few days, but seemed to have some kind of wound on his head. The lighting in the living room was soft and low. First thing in the morning I placed him in a cat carrier to have a vet look at him. He was lethargic by morning and we were concerned.

Everyone in the room gasped as I gently placed him onto the examining table. He mewed softly. His entire left side from his front leg to the top of his head was heaving with maggots. Some dropped onto the examining table while we watched in horror.

For cat lovers living near a feral cat colony, the experience can be heart wrenching. We have been compelled to do what we can to ease the pain and suffering of hungry and frightened cats. When we moved to this area we had three aging cats. We have since rescued, tamed, spayed and neutered 14 cats and kittens. One of these cats was a special challenge, but totally worth the effort.

Why Socialize Feral Cats?

Organizations like Alley Cat Allies encourage us to capture, spay, neuter and release feral cats. We tried. We certainly captured, spayed and neutered them all. But a curious thing happened every time. Gradually, they become our friends. Out of the three adult cats, two have become so tame they will roll on their backs for belly rubs. The third hangs out near us but does not want to be touched. These adults became tame after several months with no special effort on our part.
Any cat who becomes socialized has a better chance of warming its way into someone’s heart and home. Their demeanor changes from frightened to relaxed and trusting. They come out in the daylight and enjoy the sunlight on the porch. We socialize feral cats and kittens to help them find homes, and because they become happier cats.

How to Tame Feral Cats

I found a lot of helpful information online. The most helpful was a set of three videos on the Urban Cat League’s website. I followed those instructions to tame two beautiful grey tabby kittens who were well beyond 8 weeks old. It took me about 5 weeks to tame these feral kittens. But Boo Boo was another story!

The Taming of Boo Boo

Boo Boo is a beautiful golden tabby who wears long white socks and a white scarf. We watched him play with his mother far from the house for a few months. We nicknamed his mother “Raggie Momma” because she was thin, frightened, and only ate compost. She would not come to eat cat food with the other feral cats.

When the monthly spay-neuter clinic came around, I placed a dog crate outside with cat food to capture the last adult male that needed to be neutered. When I went outside to check, Boo Boo had wandered inside. I closed the door and he banged his head on the side of the crate over and over again, trying to find a space big enough to escape through. This is the “panic phase,” according to the Urban Cat League.

I kept him in a dog crate and followed the instructions I had learned. I only fed him twice a day. He had to tolerate my presence when eating. At first I placed my hand near the dish. Gradually, my hand was touching the dish. Little by little, I pulled the dish closer to me. After about two months, I placed the dish on my lap. The process took months of patient effort. Each time I moved a little too quickly for Boo Boo, he would swat my hand. These were not playful swats and caused much pain!

I began to think that this one would never be tame. But every time these thoughts crossed my mind, we reached a new milestone and I kept on.

A Decision

I was making good but slow progress. He was eating chicken baby food out of my hand now, licking my fingers clean. He had learned to trust my hand, but still cowered and swatted whenever I tried to pet him. I played with him through the cage bars, and just hung out by his cage. Simba, our resident welcomer of newbies, spent a lot of time playing with Boo Boo through the bars, and sometimes I allowed him in the crate for a few minutes. Four months passed and Boo Boo was still spending his days in the crate. It didn’t seem right to keep a cat confined so long, and a friend suggested I set him free in the house. Others said it was obvious he was not “tame-able.” My husband and I decided to try setting him loose.

More Fun Taming This Feral Friend

I’ll never forget the day he jumped onto the kitchen table while I was writing. Boo Boo decided to approach me after watching the other cats beg for attention. My laptop was sitting to the side as I used a pen on a notebook. He lay down on my notebook and seemed interested in the pen. He began to play with the pen, pushing it toward me. I pushed it back toward him and he returned it. It was a breakthrough.

Boo Boo still ate baby food out of my hand daily, but now the other cats gathered round. I would sneak a pet now and then since the other cats were rubbing against him.

He begs for affection now! It took nearly six months to tame Boo Boo. I’m convinced that taming is merely the process of helping a little wild thing learn to trust you. It’s the journey that two friends take.

Note: BooBoo passed away a couple of years ago. He’s a friend I will always miss.