List 3: Prepare the safe holding space

  1. Make sure the room/location where the cat will be held for a short or longer time is prepared well before arrival and the start of the long-term stay and make sure that it can be completely locked and secured; if there are other pets in the house, you do not want them sneaking in or the guests sneaking out
    • This is not just to prevent fights and damage to property, but more importantly to prevent spread of disease. You will perhaps not be able to have a vet check the health of the animal before it delivers the new litter. And you should not interfere with mom and family in the first two weeks. This is important for bonding between mom and kittens. You don’t want your animal to get any kind of contagious disease, fleas, wurms and other nasties from the feral.
  2. Have a room thermometer so you can check that the space is not too hot or to cold. Stress lowers body temperature and kittens can get cold when mom takes a break. Make sure there is no draft. Too hot is worse than cool: remember that the cat probably is used to outside temperature changes
  3. Watch out with heat pads! For the obvious reason that kittens can barely maneuver away from them and can get burned when the pads get uncovered. But also: Mom’s body temperature is one of the signals kittens are searching for when they are cold and hungry. A heating pad on a comfortable soft blanket may feel like mom to them but it offers no milk. Sometimes this removes the trigger to go look for mommy. Heat pads are often appreciated during delivery though, but always make sure they are designed for pets and that they never get uncovered. Have the option to unplug them from outside the crate
  4. Secure crate(s) to a sturdy table so you don’t have to kneel down to do your caretaking. Better for your back and less chance of dust and dirt getting in your guest’s eyes and nose; this is less relevant when you start your animal out in a room with an open floorplan, than when you hold it in a basement or garage
  5. Block the lower levels of the crate’s sides with carton or towels so newborns cannot fall through and to catch fallen waste; alternatively: use door-stoppers (see list 1)
  6. Here is how we did it in our unfinished basement:
    • Cover ground with tarp (have 2: one for holding space, one for transport in car, both cut to size)
    • Have the biggest size dog crates you can afford to hold the cat in, if holding for more than one night; if you expect kittens, connect 2 of the together, with the second as a safe space for you as the caretaker and at the same time a future play space for the new litter.
    • Place the crate in a spot that gets natural light
    • Too hot is worse than chilly but check a thermometer to keep temps between 21 – 15, especially with newborns
    • Put puppy pad in the crate as ‘base carpet’ and cover with anti-grip cloth and some soft blankies (but nothing too fancy as these tend to get dirty during delivery and you will not be able to refresh them right away)
    • Fill in the lower 2 inches of the sides of such a crate with cardboard or another material so that kittens, should they roam the crate in the first weeks, cannot crawl through
    • Have the litter box and food as far away from where the animal spends most of its time. This helps with hygiene but above all with keep you and the animal safe. Let the trapped animal take ownership of crate where it sleeps and lounges, and limit your interference to the other crate, to refresh food, drink and litter
    • Some crates come with a divider that you can reduce the space for the animal with. We think that this is not relevant to housing feral cats, as the space they need when they have a litter is too small, rather than too big. But it can be helpful for your protection. Practice how it works before the animal arrives, so you know what to do when the pressure is on; if it is too cumbersome or too noisy to use, put it aside.
  7. Invest in one or two WIFI webcams that film continuously. You will enjoy watching the cat (and it is a good way to gauge how she is doing) and it will lessen your urge to go and visit. I used one in the ceiling of the carrier and fastened it with velcro. The other cam was in the ceiling of the primary crate and gave us a good view of the whole thing. It also recorded the birth of our 6 kittens which was awesome! We left the cameras on infrared the whole time, because we caught more details that way. It results in black and white footage and for some that might be better to stomach when it comes to the bloody moments of delivery.
  8. If you are planning to hold the new family until the kittens are old enough to surrender for adoption, one crate will not be enough. It is a good idea to have 2, unless you have a safe dedicated room to keep them in
    • You can prepare this crate ahead of time, following the recommendations above; but open the connection only when it is time to do so; at 3 weeks the kittens will start to become more adventurous so it would be good to have everything in place by then. See the post that describes how to open up the second crate.

Practice & practice & practice!

Practice your upcoming routines multiple times without the pressure of the animal’s presence if you are a newbie like we were!! Get confident and build a routine, get a helper (husband/wife/friend).

  • Make sure you have practiced a routine for:
    • Moving the cat (if relevant) from the trap into the crate (use dividers with bite gloves on) – do not do this alone. You might need help. Having a second person present can also signal to the cat that they are now the weakest link
    • Refreshing food/drink without opening the crate so cat cannot escape
    • Cleaning out the crate or trap without getting attacked and without the cat being able to escape

Post script: in hindsight, knowing that our feral turned out to be non-aggressive and well-behaved, we would probably have started her nursery in the spare bedroom. Now we had the added stress of moving the cat family upstairs half-way through their stay. See the blog posts to find out how that went down…