Feral Kitten Update, 8/22

It is thus:

One, it’s not a kitten. Based on wear on the teeth, the vet guessed it (and it is a he, incidentally) was five or six years old. It just happens to be small (5.6 pounds), which I would suppose is consistent with a long-term largely feral lifestyle. Two, aside from being small and scrawny, it’s (reasonably) healthy, with no feline leukemia or HFIV. Our vet gave the cat medicine for fleas and parasites and a general antibiotic because in this case “reasonably healthy” does not mean “totally healthy,” and suggested that we wait a few weeks to take care of other things, like vaccinations and snippage, on the idea that a few weeks would be enough time for the cat to become healthier and more robust.

We then had a discussion of whether to keep the cat inside during those weeks or to let it roam outside. The vet was neutral on the topic but suggested doing whichever would stress out the cat least. Well, I’ve seen the cat both indoors and outdoors. Indoors, it huddled in a corner and glared a lot. Outside it seemed rather more relaxed, if cautious about us. So outside it was. When I came home I opened the door to the cat carrier and the cat sprinted for the treeline.

Our plan, then, is to continue leaving food out for the thing in the garage (small amounts, during the day, to avoid raccoon infestation), and keep an eye on what it does next. If he decides to stick around, then in a month I’ll trap him in the garage again and take him back to the vet (I will be wearing heavy gloves for that escapade). I expect he’ll stick around; food is food. I don’t mind having another cat about, especially one determined to be an outside creature, since we’re coming up on Rodent Migration Season, when the fields around us are harvested and the mice and other small creatures look for someplace warm to be. The little dude can eat as many of those as he wants, in my opinion.

And that’s where we are with the feral kitten cat.

82 Comments on “Feral Kitten Update, 8/22”

  1. I hope it will all work out. I’m too nervous to let my cats outside, even if we were in a rural area, I’d constantly be worried about them, but since this one is accustomed to being outside, and it sounds like you’re in a rural area, he should be okay. I’m so glad he’s relatively healthy; he’s such a gorgeous creature.

  2. Ayuh, I thought he was a he. Even though he’s tiny, he has some tomcat jowls. I hope he sticks around and gains some weight and gets healthier! Glad the vet visit went well and that nobody was eviscerated! Keep us informed.

  3. So instead of an adorable tween, you end up with a middle-aged father of dozens? Appearances really are deceiving.

    Even though it sounds like he’s not cut out for the housepet lifestyle, you’re still doing right by him by keeping some food around and right by the rest of us by getting him neutered.

  4. Aw. I’m glad kitteh got some health care. As an adult, he’s unlikely to become a cuddly kitty or to enjoy living inside, so it seems like a reasonable choice. I hope you manage to catch him once more to have him neutered, to help control the kitteh population. I hope he lets you feed him and stuff. He’ll have a better life. He’s actually kind of old for a feral cat. They don’t last long.

  5. Contest time? Name feral cat. He needs something less categorical, more personal. Winner to get something cool? Just a thought….

  6. My father-in-law is known as “The Cat Whisperer”. Every cat he and my mother-in-law have had were feral cats that he managed to convince to come inside, all of whom now think that he is the greatest thing since the can opener.

    The have three now, and MIL has dropped the hammer on any more ever coming in.

  7. He’s certainly a survivor, and he may well come to realize that hanging around where the hunting’s good and there’s food and water available is a good deal. Probably won’t ever get cuddly, but he could become more sociable over time. I have a vet who makes house calls, which saves us from the “kitty carrier and trip to the vet” trauma. (The cat still hates the vet, but the unpleasant bits are over much sooner this way.)

  8. Congratulations, you’ve just started your own TNR program! (assuming he comes back to be N’d, which I bet he will.) Nicely done. I hope he warms up to you a tiny bit, too.

  9. Glad to hear the little fella is mostly healthy! Get yourself a pair of full gauntlet stlye welders gloves as they go up to the elbow, and do double duty for the kitchen/grill as well as feral cat wrangling.

  10. Thanks for the update. I hope he adopts you.

    Growing up, my family had mixed results with strays.

    The first one, Cranston, was a black cat named after the Shadow. It took about a year of feeding him outside before he came in to be a house cat. He trusted us from then on, but was always shy.

    The second, William, was a Russian Blue. My Mom found him when she heard him fighting with Cranston in the woods. He followed her home and moved in that day.

    The third was Nicholas. We fed him for years, but he always hissed at us and wouldn’t become a house cat. He would, however, sneak in through the cat door in the laundry room and nap on piles of warm laundry. One day, he was on a pile of laundry at the end of the hall, and I wanted to see if I could get close to him. I got down on my stomach about twenty feet away. I think I spent about half an hour moving forward a few inches at a time and then stopping to let him settle down and get used to me. Finally, I was about three or four feet away, and he sneezed. It made me jump, which in turn scared him and he bolted out the door.

  11. So, John, you’ve had cats, money & storage not a problem — how is it you don’t already own some elbow-length welding gloves?




    or perhaps you feel you need a bit more protection…


    Didn’t think that “angry” photo looked like a kitten!

  12. I’m glad to hear the little guy is healthy, but outdoor cats = bad idea since cats are both ruthless murderers and kind of idiotic about their own safety.

    “But they kill those annoying mice!” Yes, but they kill LOTS of birds as well.

    If we extrapolate the results of this study across the country and include feral cats, we find that cats are likely killing more than 4 billion animals per year, including at least 500 million birds. Cat predation is one of the reasons why one in three American bird species are in decline.

  13. I recommend the Tillmans. I use them to pour lead round balls for my muzzle loader. Very flexible.

  14. Zakur:

    All my cats are working cats (i.e., they go outside and kill things). That’s a primary reason we have them. They’re not just pets. You can argue with that if you like, but then you probably don’t live with large agricultural fields on three sides of your house teeming with rodents, so your argument is likely not to sway me.

  15. Thanks for keeping us updated. Good luck with the boy.
    As to the theory about cat predation: much more serious cause is likely to be habitat loss due to industrial farming.

  16. 2 things – your kittehs are probably killing birds as well, in numbers greater than you expect if they are good hunters. But thats up to you. Mine go out only under our supervision & only take prey inside the house, what lives in the yard is someone else’s problem YMMV.

    You might want to discuss releasing a neutered male back into the wild. I have no experience but have heard they do not fair very well. Since this guy is very little and as old as he his he must have found a coping strategy but minus the testosterone factories he might not make it long.

  17. Feral Kitten Update: Good band name.

    I think it was xkcd that suggested “dot tumblr dot com” as the new version of “good band name.”

  18. I’ll worry a lot more about how many birds my outdoor cat kills when developers don’t destroy so much bird habitat. I seriously doubt that cats have as strongly negative effect on the songbird population as do property developers and homeowners who take out the birds’ sources of food and shelter. Where I live, there are *some* restrictions because of wetland protection laws, but the laws are so weak as to be toothless. I’ll keep my cat indoors when humans stop cutting down woods to build big houses and to give themselves wide open lawns.

    Yes, my cat is a ruthless murderer. He’s been hell on the Northern water snakes around here this past year, and he’ll still take down a bird, a rabbit, or a squirrel on occasion, in spite of being old and unable to move fast any more. He’s wired that way. “Murder” is a human-centric way to describe a carnivore’s kills. He eats his kills too, so they aren’t going to waste. He’s not all about teh profit and dying with the most toys and having a pretty yard.

    I don’t know about cats being idiotic about their own safety. Some cats do get splatted by cars or killed by more successful predators. Outdoor cats take their chances in the world like other critters, and the slow and stupid and ill have worse chances than the fast and smart and healthy, as is the case for most species. But in over 30 years of having outdoor cats, I haven’t lost a one to anything but cancer or old-age-related heart and kidney problems.

  19. Zakur –
    “outdoor cats are a bad idea”? Seriously? Cats were hunting and killing long before indoors existed. “Cycle of life,” “natural selection at work,” do these concepts ring any bells with you?

  20. I think the Latin: Ferox (Fierce) or Trux (Severe) or Minax (Menacing) may work here. Silvestris (since he likes the woods) may work too.

  21. Trixie, I think part of the problem is that cats kept as pets have an advantage in that they have few predators and have access to other food, so that they don’t starve and have lower rates of reproduction when their natural food sources become scarce because of overpopulation by cats. In a natural life cycle, a loss of prey species eventually leads to a smaller population of the predator species, allowing time for the prey species to build its numbers back up. House cats typically don’t rely on their outdoor kills for survival, so that part of the cycle gets removed and they have a permanent advantage. Where I live, cats may fall prey to foxes (typically when the cat is weakened by age or illness) or dogs, but there aren’t other natural predators and the humans tend to provide veterinary care, so fewer cats die of disease and malnutrition than would be the case in an unfettered system, allowing their numbers to rise above what they would have been if they remained wild.

    That doesn’t change my stance about outdoor cats, but I recognize that my cat does have certain advantages. OTOH, he’s one of only two cats in the neighborhood, and there’s lots of wildlife, especially field mice, rabbits, and squirrels. And the snakes, which are a recent hobby of his.

  22. Six! Wow. One smart and lucky feral cat. Maybe he was observing the others, and thought you worthy of investigation? Good luck to both of you.

    Tillman’s are good; part of good is that they have a blizzard of choices (and price points.) One of those things where you really need to try them on your own hands for fit as well as function.

  23. I’m surprised the vet said it was OK to let him out before neutering — after neutering I understand, if the cat can’t adjust to indoor life. But it’s possible he could impregnate a couple of females in the next week or two.

  24. BW: my experience with outdoor cats has been very, very different, sad to say. I live in a city apartment right now, so my cat doesn’t go outside in any case, but of the cats we had when I was growing up, the oldest made it to twelve. Two disappeared outright, one got a massively infected scratch and had to be euthanized, and the last – Tigger, only survivor of the three kittens born to one of the disappeared cats – contracted feline peritonitis. I don’t think that I really connected the first three deaths with their indoor-outdoor lifestyle, but after seeing Tigger’s last few months with us, I moved firmly into the indoor-only camp.

    I realize that the risks to cats is very contingent on where you live (coyotes in my area, for example, are responsible for a lot cat disappearances), but for me, at least, the risks to outdoor cats outweigh any benefits.

  25. Since the feral cat seems to fear and dislike you, probably considered itself an alpha male before you captured it, and will probably resent your eventual “emasculating” of it, perhaps you should name it — something tells me I’m falling into the failure mode of clever. I’ll stop.

  26. @Zakur

    ABC has a bad history of misstating the danger feral cats pose to bird populations. It’s understandable that a bird-oriented conservancy group would want to protect every bird they can, but in doing so they have done a lot of damage to scientific literacy and management programs for other animals.

    Peter Wolf, a professor at Arizona State University, has an excellent website about feral cats that is just loaded with scientific research. You can find it at http://www.voxfelina.com.

  27. Good to hear.

    I’ve never had a feral but after a friend caught, spayed and released a feral female cat, we kept a kitten: still wild at 15 and one of the most characterful cats we ever had.

    London has mice and rats but our cat feels they are much too shy.

  28. He looks like a few cats my family and I have had, which were all Bombay crosses (between the Burmese and American Shorthair breeds). They never got as large as previous house cats we’ve had, especially those who were allowed to hunt outside. So, if this one has survived for so many years outdoors, I’m not one bit surprised by his smaller size.

  29. Yeah, cats are serious predators. I’ve had two of them as pets and the things they’ve brought in as trophies can be shocking. So, how do you keep your cats from hauling in rodents of varying sizes into your home? Do you have a cat door? I could always tell from the way my cat would meow–almost like it needed my attention NOW. Sometimes it would sound muffled–well, you know why.

  30. Thank you for the feral kitten posts. Best internet story in a long time. Updates welcome.

  31. All my cats are working cats (i.e., they go outside and kill things). That’s a primary reason we have them. They’re not just pets. You can argue with that if you like, but then you probably don’t live with large agricultural fields on three sides of your house teeming with rodents, so your argument is likely not to sway me.

    Actually, I live quite literally right down the road from you on the Montgomery/Miami County border “with large agricultural fields on three side of my house teeming with rodents.” We just have, IMO, more ecologically sound methods of controlling rodent incursions. One method we use is a terrier, a “working pet,” who is quite adept at dispatching rodents. He does not roam freely, however, and his hunting is supervised. Rodents only – no birds, reptiles, amphibians, etc. He and our Australian Shepherd make quite the rodent-killing team. The terrier will stick his head into the bottom of our woodpile, and the Aussie will “herd” the mice to his waiting jaws.

  32. Mine all stay permanently inside, but I live in the ‘burbs, with cars and dogs and rotten kids all around. I would second (third, fourth) the motion that he be neutered ASAP, since you don’t want to scatter unwanted kittens all over the neighborhood. Congratulations on his overall health, especially his freedom from FIV, which is as nasty as the human form. In fact, some scientific studies have been done on the parallels. (Sorry, I don’t have citations offhand.)

  33. What a tough little guy! I second the notion to name him Colin, what with the small size, dark hair, attitude, and swagger with the ladies.

    There was a giant feral-ish tomcat who ruled my block. He got neutered and you know what? He STILL ruled the block, we just stopped having litters of kittens twice a year, and he got in a few less fights.

    We actually had more birds around when there were more roaming cats, so there’s my anecdata. Agricultural fields aren’t great for birds, but they’re heaven for rodents. Colin, Sideways Cat, and She Who Withstood Bacon earn their keep.

  34. I live in downtown Toronto in a house with a stone foundation. Fall is the start of mouse poo collection season. A cat or two would be most welcome – except for the damn allergies.

  35. As a vet, in most cases, I tell people to keep their cats indoors. Our vaccine for Leukemia has a risk of causing cancer. Our vaccine for FIV is iffy. We still don’t have a vaccine for coyotes, hawks, cars, dogs and teenage boys that want to prove something.
    On the other hand. This kid has lived without rules or walls for 4-6 years. Who is gonna explain them to him? How will he react to the sudden stress of confinement? Often the result of that kind of stress is stress cystitis (or interstitial cystitis if you want to be technical) resulting in random urination, urinary marking as a self defense, destructive marking, attempting to dig free, or self mutilation: only one of which is not potentially fatal in a house cat.
    When you grab him, welding gloves are a decent defense, but they only reduce the bite risk, not eliminate it… The local humane society has live traps (If he’ll fall for it–we lent them out when I was at Lima/Allen County’s Humane Society–18 years ago). Remember also that Ohio has rabies… The vaccine protects against him catching it, but incubation is often 6 months. If he is already exposed, the vaccine may not help… so for the next 6 months it is unknown.
    As far as the kittens… Yes, he will breed. It’s what organisms do. But neutering 85% of the males in the area has NO effect on the number of kittens. Guys are like that, we’ll pick up the slack if we’re forced to…. It will reduce his behavior that might earn him FIV or FeLV, but he has not drawn the black card yet, so….
    Best of Luck to him and his new family. For him, going to a happier place means having a full belly & a dry and warm bed at night rather than the other expression.

  36. I’ve read that Maine Coon cats are good for folks with allergies — their dander is different. Anyone here have some experience in that department?

  37. Our dog and cat lived together in harmony for over 10 years. Then in a fit of senility, the dog killed the cat. Because of the dog we didn’t get any more cats. This was a mistake. We also live in a rural area, and our mouse population exploded. Specifically, they took up residence in a brand new front loading washing machine, and completely trashed the wiring. A new wiring harness and pricey control unit worked for a while, but I finally gave the washer away for junk.

    So we replaced the cat, with new (also feral) ones who are fixed but stay outside. The dog lived out the rest of his years in the house and in the dog pen.

  38. I’m allergic to cats, dogs, small children…

    I found that long-haired cats (of which the Maine Coon Cat is a most excellent example) do not set off my allergies. Short haired cats do. We’ve had long-haired cats now for over 25 years (not the same cats, sadly) and I’m doing fine. Still allergic to dogs though.

    We had a Maine Coon-ish cat which started living under our back porch one New England summer. Took my wife a couple of weeks of putting food out and sitting quietly before the cat sort-of adopted us, and after a couple of false starts moved in. Cat went from a feral monster to a large fluffy moggy over the next few weeks, and became a wonderful part of our lives.

  39. I don’t have cats, but I’ve enjoyed the Feral (Feral, Colin Feral) stories. The attitude of this kitty reminds me a bit of one of our rabbits, Fat Bunny (that’s her code name) — she’s 4.5 pounds of bunny, but 50 pounds of attitude.

  40. We have a Maine Coon, and my partner is just as allergic to him as the other ones. (Even when it was just the Maine Coon and the ocicat.)

    I also have a cat who will huddle in the corner and glare quite sullenly if anyone approaches him except me. By “approach” I mean “come within a 25 foot radius.” If it’s possible for a cat to be feral to all but one person, this little dude is it.

  41. Our plan, then, is to continue leaving food out for the thing in the garage (small amounts, during the day, to avoid raccoon infestation), and keep an eye on what it does next. If he decides to stick around, then in a month I’ll trap him in the garage again and take him back to the vet (I will be wearing heavy gloves for that escapade).

    Dude! What if he reads Whatever?! You fool, now he has time to sharpen his claws to armor penetrating keenness.

  42. Acording to my alergist most folks allervic to cats are allergic to a protein in their saliva that gets spread into the air when cays groom themselves. The amount of the protein varies cat to cat more than species to species, but for some reason long haired cats often make less, or get less in the air when they groom. The big issue with longhaired cats is that many folks alllergic to cats also have dust mite issue and lpng haired cats leave more hair around for dustmites to munch on. On another semi related cat topic, we recently , after 13 years in the same house ,have aquired mice in our basement. This has caused great amusment to out two cats. The mice seem to be eating the naural corn based cat litter we switched to last fall. They so far have for the most part avoided both the cats and mousetraps, but we know they ate there becase there are mouse dropings in the cat litter.

  43. My pick for new feral cat name: Chingis. It’s what I named my white netherland dwarf rabbit a long time ago. Adding the ‘Khan’ part is your choice.

  44. MFitz: Kind of amused about the mice eating the litter — probably the same as what we use for our 7 cats, World’s Best? We moved recently and I’d wanted to try another kind in parallel because I thought one of our cats might have developed an aversion to it, so I got some Swheat Scoop, which I vaguely remembered as being not bad though not as good as World’s Best. Well, I found out some nearby wildlife liked eating the wheat litter… ANTS. I was not happy. I had other reasons to stop using it (mainly that it sticks to the box when wet), but the ant invasion accelerated the process. Also trying a walnut-based litter which seems to be doing OK. No idea if there’s anything around here that would want to eat it; not really willing to put samples out for the ants to try.

  45. John, WTG ;) Save the kitties!

    Just a tip: Get yourself a raccoon trap and save your skin (and your time). In the end, though I am no expert, it will save the kitty stress. (no being trapped in a garage, no being chased and cornered, no being squeezed by a bloody/screaming author)


  46. I’m with Heinlein on this, “If you would know a man, observe how he treats a cat.”
    Good luck with your endeavours.

  47. @debraji: I’m allergic to cats and dust-mites (asthma), including Maine Coons, but not to Persians. The people at the animal shelter said that is a reaction they’d heard of before.
    After having no problems with a rescued dumped Persian, I thought my allergies weren’t triggered by long-haired cats, but when he died and I got a Maine Coon from the shelter, after a few days I was having a lot of asthma-attacks. Happily, the neighbour wanted a Maine Coon, and that cat is quite happy with her.
    To try out if I could handle another Persian, I asked at the animal shelter if I could be with her separately in a not-dusty room, for an hour or so, to pet her and see if my lungs or skin would react (including touching her fur with the inside of my wrists, as I find that the palms of my hands react less than the rest of my skin). They left us alone in the (empty and cleaned) vet’s examining room for an hour; the allergies didn’t react, I took her home and she’s been with me ever since. I’d seen the Maine Coon in the room with all the other cats (a very bare and clean room with the outside door open), and stroked him a little bit but only with the palms of my hands – that hadn’t been enough to really trigger the reaction, and the little tightening of the lungs was easily blamed on all the other short-haired cats.
    If you are allergic too, and want to try out if a certain kind of cat won’t trigger your allergies, this might be a way you could do so. It’s a lot less stressful for the cat than adopting it, and then having to return it to the shelter if it doesn’t work out well.

  48. We also had the good fortune to have a feral cat adopt us. It did take a while and we did get him “snipped” eventually, but as an earlier contributor mentioned, his survival skills seemed to take a hit and he “disappeared” within a couple of months of his surgery. He was wonderfully sweet and I miss him very much. That experience taken in conjujnction with the vet’s information that if he quits impregnating the local females, some other cat will just take up the slack makes me wonder if the “snipping” is the right route for this particular individual.

    Also – another vote for “Colin Feral”….

  49. I’ve had an adult feral cat that insta-tamed. I had tamed her to letting me rub her and seconds long lifts off the floor. To get her in the cat carrier-for spaying- I started feeding in the carrier for days then a string on the door to pull it shut.
    So post spaying the big dog walks across the room and kitty launches a screaming, hissing fit at him. (It really upset him, he loved cats.) And kitty comes back and SITS IN MY LAP! And I can carry her around in my arms! Poor dog has to endure tip-toeing around kitty for the next month but she was now tame because the spaying was ALL THE DOGS FAULT!
    Good luck to you and (older)feral kitty.

  50. To eBbrInSaltLake: They did a study in England and found that belled cats kill more birds than unbelled cats… I suspect that the study was biased, after all, why bell a cat if he isn’t a hunter. But the numbers remain. Bells don’t save birds, they just don’t use that kind of sound to protect themselves. On the other hand, dogs do hunt by sound. If a cat is hunted by a pack of dogs, or is clearly out classed in a fight, it will try to slink away. Bells kill cats!

  51. I have a belief that I am less allergic to short haired than long haired cats. And least allergic to Siamese. In reality, if you are allergic, you are allergic. We tell ourselves stories to let us cuddle the sweet cat face.

  52. If he sticks around, you will probably want to provide an outdoor shelter. There are lots of instructions out there for building your own as well as pre-made ones.

  53. Guess —

    Cats can’t carry HIV. Despite the similarities in name and illness, they’re caused by two different viruses. Humans can’t get F(eline)IV, and cats can’t get H(uman)IV.

    Cats actually are susceptible to a number of diseases that are similar to human ones (cat flu, feline leukaemia), but mostly they don’t cross the species barrier. The only one I can think of that does is toxoplasmosis.

  54. I suspect our host is putting off naming zeh khitten in part because he hopes to offload him onto…er, place him with the prospective family member he mentioned, who will probably want to name him herself. Also, not naming it makes it easier to avoid having the softies in casa Scalzi getting too attached.

  55. Alas, the prospects don’t look good for an allergic cat-lover. Thanks to those who replied. If I get the opportunity, I’ll try @Hanneke’s one-on-one kitty test.

    I’m allergic to dogs, too, but not to wiry-coated terriers, so I have a dearly-loved Airedale.

  56. For the allergic cat-lover, there’s always the Sphinx. I understand they can get a little greasy, but you just give them a pass with a baby wipe every once in a while.

  57. Debraji, just chiming in to say my sister has a Maine Coon and I have a stronger allergic reaction to him than any other cat I’ve ever met. He lived with us for a while and I thought I was going to die. There may be some truth to the theory one poster suggested, that people can be bothered by MCs but not Persians – my friend has a Persian and I haven’t noticed any strong reaction to him when I visit their house, but then he’s also kind of a priss and doesn’t really come near anybody, so who knows.

    Another Liz, Sphinxes are not hypoallergenic. They produce the same saliva proteins as other cats, and they still lick themselves. I’ve even heard Sphinx owners say their cats produce *more* dander. I guess you might be able to manage it better than a full-coated cat, because you can bathe a Sphinx more easily. But they aren’t really less allergenic than other cats.

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