New cat is scared and I'm at a loss. What can I do to ease her stress without making her traumatized of me?
January 7, 2012 8:02 AM   Subscribe

New cat is scared and I'm at a loss. What can I do to ease her stress without making her traumatized of me?

My neighbor's daughter is moving into a new place that doesn't allow animals. She asked us if we would give her 9-month old female cat a home. We love cats. Besides, we have a fat black 6 year old female who's brother died a few years ago and I've been wanting to get her a new sibling.. so we said yes.

Neighbor brought her over yesterday while I wasn't home, but my mother was. This new cat got introduced to my mother without incident (She was able to hold her) and then, as you'd expect introduced to her new sister.

This is not love at first sight (I didn't expect it to be), so I came home to the new cat holed up in our spare bedroom and my old cat unsure about what to do. She kept coming to me to tell me and wants to show me that there's this new cat in this bedroom and what does it mean and I should really come see right now. (She does this with everything, when she's hungry, when her water bowl is low, when her litterbox needs cleaned, etc. She's behaving as she normally does in other words.)

I couldn't find the new cat when I immediately came home, but I figured she found a hiding spot away from the smells of these new people and this new cat. I told myself she'd wander out eventually when she was hungry or braver. So I changed out my black one's litter box, set up her's and put out some food and water for her.. and waited. Couple of hours before bed, I hear this unfamiliar meow come from the spare bedroom and I go to investigate. New kitty is sitting up on the desk. This is perfect time to introduce myself so I step up to her slowly and hold my hand out. She growls low and hisses, but I don't back away.. I just hold my hand out for her to smell.

Couple of minutes go by and she does smell me, but is still growling and hissing. Problem is that we can't keep her in the spare bedroom. Not only can we not monitor her to make sure she doesn't have an accident in there, we can't monitor the interactions with our black cat. She shouldn't have had access to it in the first place, but C'est la vie, she got in. So it's important that we get her out of there.. so I get her cat carrier and put it near her. To my amazement she crawls in. So I start to zip it up and she freaks out and starts growling and meowing loudly. After some fighting I manage to get her zipped up and out of the bedroom.

My mother wants to trim her claws at this point because she's worried that she's going to harm our black cat (Who's declawed). I'm less worried, but acquiesce. The problem is, I'm the claw trimmer person. This cat isn't letting me anywhere near her. She hisses and growls and is clearly unhappy with me. So we take our black cat and seclude her in the laundry room for the night and give the new cat free reign to roam the house.

Fast forward to this morning, where I find her resting atop my mother's bed. We need to trim her nails before we can let our black cat out. So I fling a blanket on her. She has a conniption. Starts growling, meowing, and writhing like I'm committing kittycide. She defecated+urinated in the blanket she was so scared. I get her wrapped up but it's clear we're not going to be able to cut her nails until she calms down. So while my mother holds her in the blanket, I put her box and food into the bathroom and then toss her in there.

tl;dr: New cat is scared of me and scared of our other cat. I'd be more then willing to let her roam the house and let her get use to her new environment, but there's worries she will hurt our other cat.

At this point I don't want to do anything else to this cat that would make her even more scared of me, but my mother is handicapped and unable to chase or bend over to pick her up.. besides she just started hissing and growling at her when she tried to go into the bathroom.

Should I pick up some Feliway at the store? What do I do with it if I do? Should I go sit in the bathroom with her for awhile? I know it's only been a day that we've had her, I'm at a bit of a loss. When we adopted the black cat and her brother, both times it was from a shelter. There was curiosity, not fear. This is the first time I'm helping transition a cat from one home to a brand new one.
posted by royalsong to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Leave her alone. Her claws don't need trimming *that* bad (also, what does that actually do? They're still claws, they're still plenty sharp.), stop throwing things on her and her into things, pick a place for her to be and leave her alone.

Honestly, I think the spare room, with the door closed and litter box, would have been the appropriate place to put her for 2-3 days at least. But if she must immediately reside in the same space as the other cat, make sure she has multiple places to get water and a box and let her do her own thing for a week or so and see if she doesn't start approaching you and the other cat on her own.

You're just going to have to take your chances with her hurting the other cat, if you won't isolate them to acclimate first.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:13 AM on January 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Is there anyway you can just let the cat be for a week or two? How serious are your mother's issues?

I really, truly think if you just make sure that cat has access to a litterbox, fresh food, and fresh water you'll be fine. You might want to be extra careful when going in or out, and you may hear some scuffles in the night, but I think it will all work out if you let the kitty be.

If you can possibly get a cat bed or an unwashed sweater from the former owner, you could put that somewhere as a hideout. And if this cat is familiar with the carrier, you might want to leave that open and sitting in a hiding place.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:13 AM on January 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Wow, you've a bit of a mess.

There are a number of threads here I suspect most of them will tell you that you've done this all wrong (sorry :-\ ).

The common practice is to bring the new cat into an isolated room for a period of time (days, weeks sometimes) where the new and old cats can't have contact but know the other is there.

The last cats we brought into our house (two cats in addition to three already here), were put in a bathroom (with food, water, litter) off the master bedroom for a week, they were then allowed out of the bathroom but confined to the bedroom/bathroom for a couple of weeks. When allowed out they headed for the basement and hid out there for about a month before finally coming upstairs again.

Even with this slow process, the cats still had some territorial/dominance issues to resolve.

You need to step WAY back and start this process again.
posted by HuronBob at 8:14 AM on January 7, 2012 [12 favorites]

posted by seriousmoonlight at 8:14 AM on January 7, 2012

Best answer: One day? Give it some time and relax! Do you have a room you can close the new cat up in, with food, water, and a litterpan? The guest room or even a bathroom? (Cats consider bathrooms amusement parks.) Do that for a few days until everybody settles down. Go in and spend an hour in the room with the new cat, just sitting and reading a book and being non-threatening when you bring new food in. Let the new cat have a "den" that the other cat can't come in and get used to the new situation, and let the old cat get used to the new cat's smell.

After a few days (lots of places say a week, but I've never waited more than 3 days, just my cats' temperaments), let them out in the daytime when someone is home to break up any SERIOUS fights (shouting, "HEY! QUIT THAT!" is plenty, which your mom should be able to do). I personally continue to separate them at night a little longer until I'm sure we're past the raucous fighting stage -- it's quieter for me and it gives them a break.

If allowed to roam freely, I think she's unlikely to hurt your other cat. She's more likely to squash herself under some piece of furniture and make a ruckus every time the other cat gets too close, and spend a couple weeks doing that.

When I brought home my second cat he and my first cat reached detente within a day or two, but Cat #2 spent seriously six months mostly hiding in strategic locations when people or the other cat were in the room, before abruptly deciding he was a lap cat and he and Cat #1 could be BFFs. Cat #3 (who was more or less a kitten) adopted Cat #1 instantly, but didn't warm up to the people in the house for a solid year. He stopped fleeing us after a few months, but wouldn't come see us on purpose until he'd had a year to decide we weren't horrible cat-murdering bipedal monsters.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:15 AM on January 7, 2012 [9 favorites]

Yeah well, the declawing was unfortunately not a good idea. You only can do that to cats that really trust you, and sometimes not even that.
You need to build up her trust first and that costs time (talking about weeks), treats, and regularity. This is about not giving up, and absolutely not breaking the pattern of niceness from your part. Don't destroy through one action what takes weeks to build up.

(I have no idea what you have to do regarding your own cat, others may have the answer.)
posted by Namlit at 8:17 AM on January 7, 2012

Best answer: I really think you need to just give the cat space. She should be alone (with occasional visitation from members of the household) for a few days and then allowed to come out when she's comfortable - I feel like you're forcing too much interaction on her all at once. You might also try mixing some scents up - something from New Kitteh's old home, something from your home, especially with your cat's scent on it - to help her acclimate.

At this stage, I wouldn't recommend Feliway. I would recommend you leave the cat alone. At the very least you must create a hiding space for her away from all the New People and New Cat - even the carrier is better than nothing.
posted by sm1tten at 8:22 AM on January 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

HuronBob and on preview sm1tten are correct. Slow the introduction down. WAY down. Cats are territorial, far more so than many people realize. The first step is to set up a "safe room" for the newcomer.

Please read this article from the Messy Beast; it covers cat introductions well. Go slow, and then go twice as slow as that.
posted by vers at 8:25 AM on January 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Buy feliaway and diffusers and put them all over the house.
Online is cheaper. But you can get 1 at a pet store right now.
posted by k8t at 8:37 AM on January 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Feliway, Feliway, Feliway. It helped us tremendously in a similar situation. We have a 1400 square foot house, and we used 2 at a time, for 3 months. (They last a month, so a total of 6.) Within a couple of days our cat problem had decreased dramatically. By the end of the 2nd month the problem was basically solved, but I did the 3rd month just to be safe. And our cat problem was totally resolved.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:40 AM on January 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cat fights are typically prefaced by a loud vocalizations that will make you well aware that trouble is brewing long before tooth and claw comes into play. Cat bathroom breaks have no such early warning system so unless you're constantly vigilant, you are not going to be aware that the new cat is about to miss the liter box.

Also, cats are not big on that whole theory of self thing so it's not like you can make them understand that your motives are pure in the short term.

If you're worried about the floor move the cat to a room with an easier to clean room and a good place to hide and let it chill in there for a while. After it's calmed down, open the door and let it explore. It will come around.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:02 AM on January 7, 2012

Nthing HuronBob, sm1tten, and vers.

I've had cats all my life. They need space to themselves when they come to a new place. I've only ever met one adult cat who was peachy-keen on me petting him within five minutes of meeting, and that was my Grey, who had to have been the sweetest cat I have ever known. Some cats will be okay with physical contact at the beginning, but in every case, it needs to be on their terms. (Grey was purring, rubbing up against me and showing his tummy practically on arrival, for instance, so I knew I had his permission to pet him :) ) The kitten I recently got spent two days crying on arrival (seriously, she wailed day and night, the poor dear), then declared herself my other cat's Best Friend Ever within about an hour after she stopped crying. Normally you should take more time than that to introduce cats, just as HuronBob says. My other cat had already had a friend before (Grey), and had also met a neighbor's kitten recently, so I knew his reactions well enough to tell that things would go well between the two. I'm happy to say it has, but you also need to be ready to step back if you ever see the cats really getting aggressive/freaked out with each other. I let the kitten do what she wanted, never tried petting her until she trotted up to me and said, "Mew!!" then jumped on my lap. (She's been a lap kitten since. Either my lap or my other cat's.)

I'm sorry to say it, but you damaged your relationship with the poor new cat out when you threw a blanket on it. Please give her space and time, and barring life-or-death emergencies, do not throw anything at her, grab her, or even try to pet her unless she has approached you, and is showing trusting body language. This could take days, especially after the shock of the blanket-throwing.

I don't think you'll need to clip her claws, by the way. If she's introduced slowly, calmly, and she's allowed to grow into her new place on her own terms, she should be relaxed enough that she won't claw at your original cat. My two cats are very much be-clawéd and have never so much as nicked each other, despite regular wrassling and forehead-thwapping. When a cat's relaxed, knows it's safe, and knows the people and animals present, barring any aggressive behavioral quirks (or past bad training), it will usually know how to behave with its claws. Positive reinforcement is best with cats, btw.
posted by fraula at 10:02 AM on January 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

In addition to laying off the grabbing and wrestling for a while, to make friends with a timid new animal, I suggest taking a good book into the room where it's hiding and sitting in there reading for a while. Talk to it, or even read to it, and let it get used to your presence.
posted by Occula at 10:02 AM on January 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

It may well take time. I recently adopted a cat, and she has only in the last week or two stopped hissing and spitting when approached. (So, three months.) She is a bit of an outside case, since she was a very traumatized and half-feral stray when I got her, but I agree that this is very likely going to be a long process and that claw-trimming is certainly not something I would expect to happen anytime soon.

With mine, I kept her shut in a "safe" room where she couldn't harm herself for a week, then started leaving the door open when I was home for a few weeks, closing her in there at night. Then started leaving the door open all the time after about a month, so she could retreat to her "den" if she needed to at any time. If I had to I would very carefully and gently approach her when she was out and needed to be in, during the transition time, and move her back into her "safe room" for the night.
posted by Arethusa at 10:15 AM on January 7, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone!

I had full intentions of introducing her to our 6 year old cat gradually. The advice HuronBob and many others gave is what I did when I introduced the black cat to her brother. Unfortunately, I wasn't here to enforce that kind of thing and my mom is of the opinion that the cats should just work it out on their own terms. (She thought it was silly when I did it with the 6 year old)

My concern was less with cat and cat interactions and more with cat and human interactions. I would love to move her off into the laundry room and let her be for a week.. but since my presence freaks her out so much I don't want to touch her anymore and upset her.

What I think I'll do is just let her be in the bathroom for awhile. Left with a little bit of a problem because the only place to put her box was in the shower stall. Maybe by tomorrow evening she'll have calmed down enough that she'll let me move her into the laundry room (where she can be safe and secluded for as long as needed.)

To clarify something, we haven't declawed the new 9 month old. It's the 6 year old who's declawed. There's concern that the 9 month old might injure the 6 year old... which is why we wanted to trim her claws. Claws might still be there, but dull nubby claws are less likely to draw blood then sharp ones.
posted by royalsong at 11:23 AM on January 7, 2012

I think that any benefit of claw-trimming is outweighed by the added stress/trauma the attempt would induce. If the new cat has time & space to retreat & relax, she's unlikely to feel that an all-out gladiator battle is necessary. Also, I don't think that in a real cat fight that they go all Freddy Krueger slashy with the front claws -- first there will be hissing & posturing & feinting "stay away from me I mean it" swipes. Since the cat being swiped at has fur, a swat isn't going to draw blood as easily as a swat at a human does. And once it goes to a full-on fight it's more of a wrestling match where they use the front paws to do a bear-hug and then do the real damage with biting and doing rabbit-kicks with the back feet. So, having sharper front paw claws may give one cat a slight tactical advantage in their ability to hang on to the other cat, but, it's not the deciding factor on who can do more damage.
posted by oh yeah! at 12:23 PM on January 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would give your new kitty a lot more time than a few days. When I adopted my current kitty, Filbert, and took him home, I did not see him AT ALL for at least 5 weeks. I knew he was in the house, because the litter box was being used and the food and water was being consumed. Of course, I didn't have another cat -- as you do -- to compound matters.

Just be aware it may take much more time for your cat to acclimate. Oh, and Filbert is now a daddy's boy who follows me around and talks to me constantly. Little pain in the butt. ;)
posted by jrchaplin at 4:35 PM on January 7, 2012

nth-ing having your kitty in the bathroom for a little while until it gets used to you and other members of the family. bribe it with turkey :). good luck!
posted by joannqy at 1:14 AM on January 9, 2012

Response by poster: Just updating with the required photo. :)

As you can see, we are doing much better. We're learning to live with our brand new sister. There are still more growls and hisses then naps together.. but this is a big improvement.

Decided to get a Feliway diffuser. That helped tremendously.

Thanks for all your suggestions everyone!
posted by royalsong at 7:44 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

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