There are hundreds of feral cats in Spanish towns and villages. Usually they hang around the bins looking for scraps of food and they keep the mice and small creature population under control. These feral cat gangs are un-neutered and produce litters of kittens a couple of times per year. The population of cats in a feral cat colony is regulated by the short lifespan the cats have due to malnutrition, natural predators and cars. For us cat-loving Brits a “needy” feral cat or kitten is usually too difficult to ignore.
Two years ago we found 3 kittens abandoned in a box by the bins in our local town. They still had their umbilical chords and their eyes were closed, the vet estimated they were one or two days old. We took them home and I hand reared them using bottled milk – 6-8 feeds per day, every few hours for 4 weeks, then weened onto babycat crunchies initially mixed with a little baby cat milk. Fortunately all 3 survived, which is quite unusual – they are Randy, Catalina and Gearl. They have turned into the sweetest, most loving cats, they consider me their mommy and suckle frequently. We lost Gearl in January, she just disappeared and after 4 days and nights searching we eventually accepted her loss.
Now, we have taken on 3 new babies. Six week old feral kittens that we found in the village. This is quite a different prospect, as they are a little older and at the moment still quite afraid of humans. I have researched the chances of success and started applying the principles suggested in this article: Feral Cat Taming. So far I’m having slow but steady success.
Diary Of Our New Feral Cats
Day 1 – Caught first baby very easily as she (we now think she’s a he!) was very weak and tired. She cuddled straight away and was happy to be taken home. When we got her in the house we let her free in the bedroom we had set aside for the purpose (which just happens to be my office too!)
Day 2 – Found and caught her two siblings – they were a little more difficult to catch as they were stronger. They gave me a few good bites during the process, I suggest you wear gloves if you attempt this, I didn’t prepare and just took advantage of the opportunity when I found them! These guys (1 girl and 1 boy, probably) were altogether more challenging. When we put them in the bedroom 1 remained pinned to the bottom of his box and the other bolted for under the bed. We left them alone for a few hours and when we checked all three kittens were completely hidden.
Days 3-4 – Didn’t see any of them, they were always hidden when I went in to provide food and water and remove the poo! They were obviously eating, but I couldn’t be sure if all of them were doing OK. I had moved my computer out of the room so they could have some peace and quiet to settle down.
Days 5-7 – We installed webcams in the bedroom (good idea from my husband) and I monitored them from my new office at the kitchen table. Great news, all 3 were eating and drinking.
Day 8 – I moved back into the room and worked at the desk, they frequently looked at me from under the bed, would eat and drink whilst I was in the room (as long as I wasn’t typing too loudly) and were happy pooing (great)! If I made any advances I would get a little hiss, but no running away.
Days 9 onwards (today is day 12) – each day I have put their food out (4 times per day) and then sat on the floor near the food. I have some toys (string, stick with mouse on the end, balls) and after they’ve eaten I play and let them play with me. We had a breakthrough last night, I had two of them playing on my lap with the toys and I surreptitiously got a couple of strokes in whilst they were busy! They sniff my feet (and then pull disgusted faces), jump over my outstretched legs, scratch my legs when trying to get the toys (I’d forgotten how much babycat scratches sting!), bite my toes and have started to ignore me a little.
I’ll keep you updated of progress and take some more photos when I have their confidence.
Things I’ve Learnt (or relearnt!)
1. Wear gloves when catching feral cats and if you do get bitten make sure your tetanus is up to date.
2. Take it very slowly and be patient – they will do things in their own time.
3. You can get worming medicine into kittens even without handling them, just spread it on the cat crunchies!
4. The first batch of kittens were relatively easy as they were so young when we had them. These older kittens are more challenging. The older they are the more difficult it appears to be to tame them.
5. Kittens make a mess!
Well we have 2 big cats who are very interested in what’s going on. So, when the baby cats are a little stronger we’ll make the introductions. We’ve started by attaching a curtain to the doorway and for a short time we let the big cats come and sniff. The little ones are too scared at the moment to make any advances, but we’ll take it slowly. We also have two dogs (rescue dogs, Fuggles and Dani) who will need to learn to be nice to the babycats again.
We have tentatively named the cats, but as I’m not that good at sexing kittens the names might change – they are currently Hotlips, Hawkeye and BJ (spot quiz – what TV show are these names from? – responses in the comments section please!)
As I’m writing this all 3 are playing around the room, jumping on the bed, climbing the bookshelves (and throwing books off) and using the rolled up rug in the corner as a high jump to launch themselves onto the bed (and each other). They are also making noises for the first time – little chirruping sounds – so far so good!