Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I rescued a feral cat that was laying on the side of the road presumed dead while I was working out of state. I took her to an emergency vet and got her taken care of, and now two weeks later she’s in good health. Here is my problem–she has obviously never been domesticated. She weighs only 3 pounds and is an adult (checked via teeth and verified by the vet). She hides all day and is terrified of humans. She won’t eat in front of me, she won’t even leave her dark hiding spot unless she needs to eat and even then she waits until no one (or at least she believes no one) is watching. She is not aggressive in any form or fashion, although she does hiss when cornered. She purrs when I manage to catch her and pet her and is very affectionate. I’m curious if she will ever become social and, most importantly, if she’ll ever gain any weight or size. She doesn’t appear to be any variety of small or miniature breed. Thank for your help!
Thomas: Well, Lauren, first of all, thank you so much for saving this kitty’s life! That’s a wonderful thing you did!
Bella: Secondly, it sounds like maybe what you have there is not a totally feral cat, but perhaps a semi-feral or scared stray.
Tara: If she were completely feral, she wouldn’t be affectionate when you pet her, or even allow you to pet her at all.
Thomas: Taming feral cats certainly is possible, and we’ll guide you through the basics.
Bella: The most important first step is what you’ve already done: you’ve taken her into your home and you’ve started feeding her. Feeding her will help her to bond with you.
Tara: Then, spend time with her without touching her. Hang out in her room, if she’s in a separate room, and do quiet things like reading, writing, crafts or watching TV. That way she’ll get used to your routine and learn to trust you as a safe and calm person.
Thomas: The next part is to play with her using a “thing on a string” toy. Playing with her will not only increase her confidence, it will help you bond with her. Use the toy like real prey–for example, if it’s a mouse on a string, make it move like a mouse (scurrying around corners, stopping and starting, and the like).
Bella: If it’s a bird toy (which I love and it’s my all-time favorite), make it fly and flutter around.
Tara: Don’t get too close to her with the toy; you don’t want her to think the toy is attacking her, after all!
Thomas: Allow your cat to come to you, and be very patient with her. It sounds like you’re doing a great job, but do try to avoid backing her into a corner if you can, because that will make her scared (hence the hissing). If you sit and work quietly in the room where your cat is, she’ll slowly get used to you.
Bella: As to whether your cat will ever get bigger–well, that depends.
Tara: When Mama adopted her Dahlia many years ago, the vet said she was five months old, and she was still as tiny as a 3-month-old kitten. The vet told Mama that Dahlia would probably never get bigger than six pounds …
Thomas: But with good nutrition and lots of tasty food, Dahlia grew up to weigh about nine pounds at her healthiest. She was never a huge cat, but she did get to be full-sized.
Bella: It’s quite possible that your cat didn’t get enough nutrition when she was younger, and that’s why she’s so small. But it is possible that she’ll get bigger.
Tara: But don’t count on her getting any bigger than about six pounds. If she’s still under a year old, she may keep growing now that she’s getting plenty of food.
Thomas: She may be younger than a full adult. After all, all our adult teeth are in by the time we’re six months old, and there’s no way the vet can fully know her age without taking X-ray to see if the growth plates on her bones have fused.
Bella: The growth plates are places on the ends of the long bones, like her leg bones, that are not quite connected to the bone, which leaves room for the legs to keep getting longer.
Tara: Once the growth plates have joined with the bones, or fused, then your cat is finished growing.
Bella: I kept getting bigger for a little while after Mama adopted me, and I was almost a year old at the time!
Thomas: That’s right. When Mama brought Bella home she was a skinny, gangly little thing, and now she weighs nine pounds, too.
Bella: I’m a great, big girl!
Thomas: Yes, you are, sweet Bella, and I love you! *purrrrrrrrrrr*
Tara: Oh yeah? Well, Mama spent lots of time petting me this morning and telling me what a big, brave girl I am, too. So there!
Thomas: Oh, Tara, you’re beautiful, too. That’s why I chase you and want to lick your head.
Tara: Eek! Stop that, you big lug! *hissss*
Bella: Anyway, Lauren, you can get this cat to be comfortable with you. She may never be a lap cat, but if you’re patient with her and let her come to you on her own terms, you’ll find you have a good kitty friend.
Tara: And she may just grow a little bit more, too!
Thomas: Taming feral cats takes patience and time, but it can be done.
Bella: What about you other readers? Have you ever tried taming feral cats? How long did it take? Have you had a tiny cat that was older than six months old, and if so, how much bigger did he get? Please share your thoughts in the comments!