10 Tips to Socialize a Feral Kitten: An Update on Juniper

Juniper is almost 5 months old! Wow, the time sure goes by really quick when they are so little. It is hard to believe we brought home our little orange kitty 3 months ago, we are just so in love with her.

But bringing her home did come with some struggles. It wasn’t exactly perfect sunshine and rainbows from the start. So, I thought I would share with you an update and also some tips and tricks we learned along the way bringing home this little fur baby.

When we brought Juniper home in June, we instantly fell in love. She was just so tiny and cute, aren’t they always? We also quickly realized that she was a little different and that she seemed a bit too disinterested in us and our affection. She was only about 7 weeks old at the time.

We soon started to notice some signs of anxiety and worse, signs of aggression. She began charging our two older pets, Holly and Imp, and would frantically charge around the apartment puffed up and back arched. She would bite and scratch us a lot, even outside of play. She would not respond to her name even after a couple of weeks, and generally wasn’t interested in engaging with us unless it was for play. She wasn’t even that interested in her food.

I won’t lie I was worried, while I have had a lot of pets and cats over the years I had not had one with aggression problems. I was much more experienced with shy and nervous cats and their reactions were always to hide or run away. Whereas with Juniper, when she felt scared she attacked.

My husband, bless him, decided to really face the problem head on and got to doing a lot of research. We consulted Jackson Galaxy the cat guru, the Kitten Lady, and any other blogs or sources we could find.

I also put out a “help” call on Facebook to see if any of my friends or family had any knowledge they could share. I want to say a quick thank you for everyone who reached out to me, your support and advice helped us a lot.

Best of friends – Holly & Juniper

Its been a couple months since beginning our research, and we have seen huge changes in Juniper. She is no longer attacking us or needlessly puffing up, she is biting significantly less, and hardly ever puts out a claw. More importantly, she has really bonded with us, as well as with our other two babies. Each morning she comes looking for us and greets us with a rub and a chirp. She snuggles with us in the evenings, and licks our fingers. Holly (our dog) and her have become fast friends and now sleep together and rough house every morning and most evenings. Imp, our older cat, and her still have a little ways to go but are also getting a long much better.

So I thought I would compile for you some of the things that helped us to achieve these behavioral changes and help Juniper. Here are my tips and tricks to socializing a feral kitten:

  1. Treat them as if they are feral. Even if you get your kitten from a breeder, it doesn’t hurt to go back to the basics and treat them as if they are feral. Socialization is an important process of development and starting from the ground up is a good way to make sure they’ve been properly introduced to you and their environment.
  2. Give them a safe and isolated space. Set-up a room or play pen that is just for the kitten, it should not be shared by other pets. Introduce them to this space from day 1. This will help them to feel secure, safe, and like they have some claim over where they are now living. This will help reduce anxiety and territorial behavior.
  3. Go slow, let them get to know you and your other pets. While you may have been waiting for this little kitten for weeks, you are completely new to them. They have just been separated from their environment, litter mates, and mother. It is important to remember to go slow and not overwhelm them. This also applies to other animals in the house. Introduce them gradually through play, meal times, and make sure they also have alone time to de-stress and unwind. It took us about a month to fully introduce Juniper to Imp (cat) and Holly (dog).
  4. Build trust by hand-feeding and being present. One of the biggest things that helped Juniper to calm down and begin trusting us was when my husband decided to hand feed her. Yes, it’s a little yucky with wet food, but it really established with her that we were the sources of her comfort, needs, and most of all that we weren’t going to hurt her. Also, just try to be present around your kitten as much as possible. You don’t need to pet them 24/7 but just spending lots of time around them helps them to get used to you.
  5. Feed they’re playful side, make sure to play with them enough to get out their energy. It is super important to make sure you are helping your little kitten to drain their energy. Pent up energy can lead to aggression and frustration. Also, play is a big part of how kittens learn to be cats. Play helps them to feel normal and understand the world around them. Playing with them also helps them to bond with you!
  6. Don’t tolerate biting, scratching, or other forms of aggression. If your kitten is biting or scratching even in play this can never be tolerated. It may be cute when they’re 1 pound and don’t have many teeth but it won’t be cute when they are 13 lbs and have big teeth. Tolerating bad behavior encourages it. You can use time-outs in a play pen, taps on the head (use only 1 finger), or simply discontinue play if they become aggressive. It can also be helpful to verbally exclaim “Ouch” and pretend to be hurt to help them recognize they have hurt you. Like human babies, kittens have to learn that other animals and people experience pain. Kittens teach this to each other when they play together.
  7. Use calming supplements. Once your kitten is at least 8 weeks of age you can give them calming drops. These are all natural supplements made from herbs, essential oils, and other plants that help the kitten to feel less stressed. They can be given in their water or wet food. They aren’t heavy medications and they won’t sedate your kitten but they just help them to be more balanced and calm. Here is one that I have found very effective and helpful for both of my cats. Of course I am not a veterinarian, please check with your veterinarian before beginning the use of any of these products.
  8. Consistency is key. Whatever plan you are implementing be it hand feeding, separation over night, play time, whatever, make sure you are doing it consistently. This helps the kitten to have a sense of routine and security, but also helps them to set expectations and actually learn. You can’t expect their behavior to improve if you aren’t giving them clear expectations.
  9. Be patient. It likely won’t change overnight. Don’t force interactions but be present and give them opportunities to approach you on their own time. Like babies and small children, kittens are learning about the world, and learning to trust their human caretakers. They will change as they grow. It may take weeks, even months for them to get fully comfortable with you, other animals, and their new environment.
  10. Be compassionate. Even if they are aggressive, know that they are just little babies trying to figure things out. Be kind to them, even if they aren’t kind to you, they are sensitive growing beings. If you continue to show them love, eventually they will love you in return.
Imp & Juniper – Imp tolerating Junipers presence.

With a little patience and lots of love, it is possible to socialize a feral kitten. It won’t be easy but if you are committed to having them in your life, it’s worth the work.

It has been hard but amazing to add a third little fur baby to our fur-family. And it has been even more rewarding in a way because we’ve had to work a little harder to bond with this little lady.

She’s a brave, fiery, sweet little cat and it has been so incredible getting to know her. We are just so grateful and happy that she is ours.

Write soon,

Hannah B.L.

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