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Tough task to tame tiny tabby tykes

Dr. Jeff NicholALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Q: There is a tame but stray cat in our backyard. She recently had three kittens, who are now 8 weeks old. The kittens seem feral, but we suspect the mom used to have a home. What should we do? We would like to adopt the mom, but if she is not spayed soon, she may have another litter.

Dr. Nichol: Your commitment to this cat family is certainly their best hope, but the road ahead for the kids may be challenging. There are multiple factors affecting their fuzzy little personalities. Beyond genetics and environmental influences, a feline mother’s experiences around the time of delivering her litter have an indelible lifelong effect on the babies. Developmentally, those 8-week-old brains are at the end of their sensitive period for acclimating to life as pets. They need gentle exposures to people, cats and dogs from outside their territory ASAP.

Orchestrating a parade of creatures of various species, ages and sizes to approach and handle these kittens could actually worsen their fear of the unknown. “Scary monsters” advancing on untamed toddlers would trigger adrenalin release, causing their pint-sized nervous systems to rehearse the fight or flight response.

If those three little tykes are to have much hope of losing their fraidy cat natures, you’ll need people, dogs and cats, skilled at feigning unconsciousness, to sit or lie quietly on the ground, waiting patiently for curious kittens to approach, sniff and investigate. This would be a tall order; if a playful pet or human were to pursue these jittery juveniles, the wheels would fall off your ambitious socialization plan.

The alternative would be to allow this group to permanently enjoy your largesse, rent-free. You can contact Animal Humane New Mexico (505-938-7861) to borrow box traps so this wild bunch can be humanely captured and surgically sterilized. May the force be with you.

Today’s Fetch column marks a milestone: 1,200 consecutive weeks of sharing information on behavioral and physical maladies of well-loved pets. It was July 1996 when Albuquerque Journal editor Karen Moses called and asked me to provide this service. It is my continuing privilege.

Each week, Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video, blog or a Facebook Live to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet questions at or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.