Feral kittens are those born to untamed mothers. These kittens may be anywhere -- out in the country, in a suburban backyard or a city street. While taming an adult feral is a difficult if not impossible task, feral kittens can grow up to be tame cats if socialized promptly.
To begin the taming process, you first have to catch the kitten. Make sure the kitten is at least 4 weeks old -- before that, he's receiving all of his nutrition from his mother's milk and is less likely to survive if you catch him. The best age for trapping feral kittens is when they are between 5 and 7 weeks old, as they are at the weaning stage. Start out by feeding the kittens, so they realize you are a food source and they won't automatically hide when they see you. The more often they see you, the faster they'll get used to you and your meals. On the day you intend to catch them, bring along a large towel. Scoop them up with the towel while they're eating. Place the kittens in a large cage or pet carrier once they're caught. Remember that taming feral kittens requires a daily commitment, so don't start if can't devote the necessary time.
Before catching the kittens, you should call your vet about setting up an emergency appointment for the babies once your catch them. They'll need shots and will probably have fleas or other parasites that need treatment.
Isolate the kittens in a small area, such as the bathroom or laundry room. Provide them with a litter box, food, water, toys and something to sleep on. Spend time with the kittens, but don't rush them. They should start responding to you within a few days. Pet them gently and speak softly and kindly to them. Don't try to pick them up and hold them until they consistently act friendly with you. If you have multiple kittens and one is not responding, separate him from the other kittens in another small area, or keep him in the original room after the other kittens are tamed enough to leave it. The shy ones may come around if they don't have contact with their littermates.
While you can tame older kittens, the process will take even longer. Once feral kittens reach the age of 12 weeks without socialization, taming them is difficult. At best, you're likely to have a semi-feral cat, who may allow some contact but is not friendly by any stretch of the imagination. However, kittens from 8 to 11 weeks old still have that taming window of opportunity. If you have more than one kitten of this age, try separating them for a better response. Remember, patience is a virtue.
The sad fact is that the supply of cats and kittens far outstrips the demand. It's difficult enough for shelters and rescues to adopt out friendly, tame felines -- cats with issues are that much harder. Many shelters will tell you outright that ferals trapped and brought in will be euthanized. If you have feral kittens in your neighborhood and aren't able to make the time commitment necessary to tame them, contact a local rescue group that may be able to help you. The resources of many rescue groups are stretched thin and they rely on volunteers, so taming the kittens may not be possible. Ask a rescue or shelter about local trap, neuter and release programs. Feral cats are trapped, spayed or neutered, given shots and returned to the original location, where the colony is fed and overseen by volunteers. At the very least, this stops the reproduction cycle.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.