This Cat Is Way Too Good at Hiding
December 17, 2020 8:18 PM   Subscribe

I saw this guy and fell in love for obvious reasons. He's been here two weeks and still hiding very, very, well. I'm trying to be patient, but I don't know if he'll come around. What's left to try (list inside)? How long does one give a cat before saying it won't work out?

Dart=senior cat

The rescue place brought Bean over a couple weeks back. Technically I'm still fostering but can adopt if I want to. It's hard to know much because I've yet to get a good look at Bean. He was born feral but rescued young and bonded with vet techs, his previous foster mom, etc, as well as other cats.

The rescue ladies did say they regret letting him out in my large bedroom rather than the bathroom. I live in a 1 BR apartment, but the rooms are big. I wasn't seeing or hearing him anywhere. I had a few other people come to help me look for Bean (was worried about eating, etc) without luck. One night he cried and I realized he was near the bookcases in my living room.

Even though I know he's in the corner with the three bookcases and often up high (I hear him jump), I still can't find him. He's that level of stealth.

Once I knew he was in the area, I could leave food for him, though he won't eat if Dart or I are around.

I got a multi-cat Feliway diffuser for the living room.

I've been talking gently to him, reading to him, singing to him, sitting near the bookcase and reading to myself, opening stinky food and waving it around the area, even microwaving said stinky food to try to draw him out.

The rescue ladies brought toys from his foster house, which he's ignored, and also my attempts to lure him with fishing toys and hunting toys have been unsuccessful.

He's emerged very briefly this week twice to check out Dart. Dart is very chill. The other night Bean came out and hissed at him, and Dart just went and got some water. So Dart certainly hasn't been aggressive; I'm not sure he even knows Bean is here.

I want to be patient and I'm willing to keep this up. But I also know some cats don't come around, or it can, frankly, take longer than I'm willing to give this. I feel so cold saying that, but I didn't get a second cat just so I could put food at the bookcase and leave the room.

My preference is to be able to draw Bean out some more. But I still don't even know where he stays for sure (I'm thinking of leaving my phone recording video) despite a few thorough searches. I want to get to know him and pet him and play with him--who wouldn't?

And I know cats take time, but I'm worried about being in this pattern where he only associates me with putting down food and leaving. And I'm also trying to be realistic and say I wouldn't want to adopt a cat I never even get to see.

I'm sure many cat-loving MeFi's have been in similar situations. I would be appreciative for ideas and perspectives on this.

Just to repeat this, I don't know exactly where he is and have not been able to get close to him. I've gotten a lot of cat-charming advice that seems to miss this point.

Thank you from this stressed new-cat mom.
posted by mermaidcafe to Pets & Animals (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Forgot to add that there is some space between the bookcases and the wall, so I am able to look in the obvious places there.
posted by mermaidcafe at 8:22 PM on December 17, 2020

Sorry, one more detail: both cats are indoor-only.
posted by mermaidcafe at 8:27 PM on December 17, 2020

I’m not sure about the bigger picture,but in the short term could you confine Dart to a different room for a few hours at least? It sounds like you and Dart and a whole new environment are just too much. Maybe Bean will come out once the coast is clear. And then if you can I would put Bean in the bathroom for some time, weeks maybe, so he can have extended alone time in this new place and short periods with you and not dart.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:28 PM on December 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yes, I've been keeping Dart in the bedroom for much of the day.

I wanted to get Bean in the bathroom, but I can't since I can't even find him, much less catch him.
posted by mermaidcafe at 8:30 PM on December 17, 2020

Maybe you could rent a box trap and put his food in it to catch him, then let him out in the bathroom.
posted by Redstart at 8:40 PM on December 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

Thanks, Wichienmaat! I appreciate the encouragement.
posted by mermaidcafe at 8:54 PM on December 17, 2020

Maybe part of the issue is the people you brought in to look for him, when he was hiding in a new place with all new smells and another cat and aaaahhh! That could have been really scary!

I think if you can finagle it setting up your place with spycams is a great idea. It can give you a chance to watch his body language when alone - if he's got a confident upright tail and forward ears and all that good stuff as he sniffs around, you'll know it's not the space (and smells) but the activity that's making him scared, and if he's slinking around all nervous you'll know he needs lots more time and calm. Maybe you'll be able to narrow down his hiding spots and create a perimeter so he always feels safe there. Also you will be able to see his adorable face!

Additionally if you can create and stick to as much of a daily routine as possible I bet that will help. If he knows you're going to be in the living room at certain hours, that there will be people food smells at specific times, that there will be cat food available at certain times and fresh water at such and such every morning, it will make him more comfortable. He won't have to be on alert, you know? And that can make room for curiosity. It's great that your other cat is so chill. I agree with the poster above who said the hissing was communication. That's some good boundary setting. It's also telling that you didn't mention litter box issues. I assume you've got at least two boxes so each cat can have one - if not, get a fresh litter box that doesn't smell like Dart. But regardless it's good that he's not peeing everywhere he shouldn't or anything like that.

Two weeks is early days. I haven't myself had a hidey cat but I was family friends with some folks who had a cat who hid in their computer room for about three months and then suddenly became the snuggliest most affectionate cat ever, but just with the oldest daughter. Not to say that Bean is guaranteed to go that way but sometimes the most hesitant cats can form the strongest bonds.
posted by Mizu at 9:54 PM on December 17, 2020 [6 favorites]

I have had cats much of my life, but if I were to assert some expertise on cat behavior, it would be exaggeration. Cats are great. You have Dart, so you know that. Cats are unique and can act in ways that are not intuitive to humans.

I came to suggest this camera for the room. It is relatively inexpensive ($30) and has a 360 degree view of a room. Can look for the Bean-ster from another room or anywhere. He is slowly learning about you. Now you can learn about him. In effect, the camera acts as your nose as you sniff him out.

Btw, you are not wrong for not wanting to adopt a cat you never see or interact with. It is like having a teenager that grunts at meal time and only comes out of their room on a Friday night to ask to borrow $20 so they can go out with friends.
posted by AugustWest at 10:50 PM on December 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

I had a cat who hid when he joined my household! We never did figure out where his first hiding place was. His NEXT hiding place was under an armchair. Every time I walked through that room, I would tilt up the chair, say hello, and put the chair back down. After a while, I could bring him out and set him on my lap for a while, but any movement elsewhere in the house and he was back under the chair instantly.

Fast forward several months and he was hitting up strangers for pats and remained gregarious and affectionate for the rest of his life.

All of which is to say: this can change A LOT. Progress is likely to be measured in weeks/months rather than days and will be at the cat's pace rather than yours, but no need to despair.
posted by inexorably_forward at 11:18 PM on December 17, 2020 [8 favorites]

Aw. Poor baby. Definitely give him some more time. Two weeks is not a lot for a scared cat.

I rescued my beloved cat as a feral kitten. He can be a snuggle-and-purr machine when he wants to be, but his nervous system is still set at a higher alert setting than most always-pet cats. When we moved, it took him weeks to feel comfortable in our new home. He even hissed at me at first, which hurt my feelings because I thought we were tight.

But he's a cat. Cats are different. They are prey animals, among other things, and their ancestors survived in large part because they were very cautious of new situations. Bean is just doing an especially good job of Catting.

You say you don't have unlimited patience to continue, but my vote would be for you to relax your efforts some. You don't have to devote your life to waving stinky food around, etc. It may even make him feel calmer when you are calmer. I'm willing to bet if you stop trying so hard, at some point when you're just chilling and not even thinking about him, you will have a feline visitor come up to you.

Bean can be your forever cat, and you can be his forever human. Hopefully someday years from now, you will regale your friends with amusing anecdotes about how much trouble he gave you way back when, as he sits purring on your lap.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 11:53 PM on December 17, 2020 [10 favorites]

If he's coming out when you're gone, in order to eat and use the litter box (is he? Is it his own fresh litterbox which he doesn't have to share?) then my vote is he's just fine, he just needs time to realize he's safe. I agree with 'relax, be patient and stop trying so hard'; cats, esp ferals, are really good at knowing when you want to get at them, and making sure you can't. If you act uninterested, they figure you are harmless.
posted by The otter lady at 12:13 AM on December 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

I adopted a shy cat this summer. She refused to be confined to the bathroom (seriously you have never heard such earsplitting, heartbreaking cries amplified by a tiled room) but when given free run of my apartment she spent the first week hiding under the couch. She would come out for meals but otherwise I didn't see her. I would check on her periodically by lifting up the ..couch skirt thing and she would immediately scoot to the other end.
One thing that helped was toys. Wand toys, crinkle balls, catnip, toy mice. I would very gently nudge something against the bottom edge of the couch, or drag the business end of a wand toy across the floor where I knew she could see it from where she was hiding. She didn't have to come out from under the couch to engage with it - I have an adorable video in which all you can see is a single paw slide out, grab the end of the cloth ribbon and drag it back into the darkness - but it was a good start. Toys toys toys.
posted by janepanic at 3:18 AM on December 18, 2020 [10 favorites]

Anecdote: We have a 19-year old cat, adopted at age 10. At age 14, we moved from a tiny apartment to a 2-level house. She hid downstairs for 3 months. I think it was just too much space for her to deal with.

She is now snuggling on my lap.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 5:46 AM on December 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

TBH, I'd ask the rescue group to help get him trapped and set up in your bathroom.

If he were a grown housecat I'd be inclined to give him the space and let him settle for a month. Since he's a feral kitten, I'd want him somewhere that he could watch me, and I could pester him a bit every day. (I didn't catch how old he was when caught, or how long in rescue, but would bet he still needs training on being a social housecat.)
posted by mersen at 5:57 AM on December 18, 2020

You might consider putting down some flour or other powder, it could give you clues with Bean's toe bean prints.
posted by nickggully at 5:58 AM on December 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

I adopted a cat who hid for nearly a month. He's now about to turn 16, and he's absolutely my baby. He hid so well the first weekend that I had him, I thought he escaped.

I didn't have another cat in my household, so what worked for me might not be reasonable for you. At night, I turned off everything in the house except one tiny light. I opened his canned food and sat on the couch and read. When I saw him come to check out the food, I'd try to engage him with fishing pole toys. I think you'd have to have Dart separated for this to work. But don't leave when you put the food down. Give him time to come out so you can be together, even without direct interaction. After he'll eat with you there, you could try luring him closer with high-value treats. My cats live for the smell and taste of grocery store rotisserie chickens. This Kitten Lady video is for kittens younger than Bean, but it might help.

I sympathize. It sucks trying to figure out how to ease your new cat into feeling at home while still caring for your beloved Dart. And if you decide that Bean's schedule doesn't match yours, that's okay too. You're not cold for saying so. No matter what, you're giving him experience being in a home and learning to socialize.
posted by gladly at 6:59 AM on December 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

The best cat I ever had was such a good hider, for the first week one of the people in the apartment straight up didn't know he existed. (Damn good prank, we already had one cat so the litterbox and food were already a feature, and the person loved cats anyway, so no feelings hurt.) And that was likewise a young cat previously fostered, if with a traumatic past. Kitty PTSD took a good while to pass, and he was always shy towards strangers, but the most adorable cuddlebug to his family.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 7:53 AM on December 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

An animal who has lived wild is going to see this as a dangerous situation, and Bean is being smart; hide, observe, be wary. I'd continue being patient, reduce excitement like having people over.

I'd probably reduce the available food; mild hunger and food security are huge motivators. I mean not over-feeding, not free-feeding, but providing enough enticing calories strategically. Free-feeding allows Bean to stay hidden happily, longer. Keep the food near you, because associating food with you increases your safety quotient, increases Bean's proximity to you so Bean will see you as safe sooner. So put food in your bedroom maybe by the door while you sleep, in the room with you when you work or watch tv. Sounds like Bean has found litter boxes and uses them. That plus eating means Bean feels at least somewhat safe.

Put bed(s), boxes, and/or blankets in good, really secure places so Bean can feel at home and rest. A box where Bean can be 'hidden' and look out a window would be a gift. Cut a small window so Bean can observe you and Dart. Use blankets or towels yo or Dart have slept with so Bean associates your scents with safety. Talk to Bean. I don't know how much this really works, but Bean will hear its name and your voice and your tone, and it will help you start to feel comfortable with this ultimately skittish cat.

Please come back with updates; many of us will want to know how it works out.
posted by theora55 at 8:14 AM on December 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

Recommending spycams as well! We didn't have the hiding problem when we adopted D.Va, but having a spycam in the room we'd sequestered her in eased our minds about what she was doing.
posted by telophase at 8:38 AM on December 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

We too have experienced the Invisible Cat trick. We adopted two cats from a rescue, let them out in a bedroom and they immediately disappeared under a bookcase for several weeks. They had access to food, water and a litter tray and we could hear them moving around but they were always gone when we got there.

We started with treats pushed gently under the bookcase, followed by fishing toys as suggested above, followed by just sitting on the floor in the same room a couple of times a day. Lots of chatting to them as well. It took time, but it was just a case of letting them come to us and when they were good and ready they did.

To the point where LottieCat thumped me in the face live on MS Teams in front of a bunch of colleagues the other week because I was talking over her head and she had A View on me doing that. No claws and lots of grumbling. Colleagues thought it was quite amusing ...

The point being that it took quite a while for the cats to feel comfortable enough to venture out and these were adults. Once they'd made up their minds it was safe, they were fine.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 9:06 AM on December 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

My little baby Choo-Choo was absolutely terrified when we got him from the Humane Society. He had been found in a parking lot and was totally wide eyed and afraid of everything. He stayed in the box that he came home in for about 4 days, came out when we weren't in the room to gobble food but as soon as he saw us he would run full tilt back into Box Friend. Then he occasionally came out of the box but only to hide under a piano bench that I had draped with a blanket (Humane Society recommended this and it worked great!) He probably hid under the blanket for another 5 days, and then one day when I was checking on him, ran as fast as he could out to the living room, where he was then horrified and hid himself. We couldn't find him for another day at least (he was hiding so far back under a bookshelf that I couldn't even see him as he's all black.) He didn't snuggle us for a long time or sit by us, but then about a month in, he suddenly realized that Laps Are A Thing, and now he is the most affectionate, talkative, playful, and sweet little guy. Sometimes cats just take a long time to relax enough for you to see who they really are and what their little personalities are. I have also had 2 other kitties, a feral rescue and one we adopted from a friend, and both of them took far longer than 2 weeks but relaxed into being wonderfully affectionate and loving kitties. I agree with the advice to get him some boxes, we put one in each room of our house so that Choo-Choo could always choose to be closer to us but feel protected by his box. We put soft little blankets and a toy in each of them. You are doing great! Kitties also feel your distress, so breathe and take care of yourself and regulate, because he will respond to your regulation and that sense of felt safety. Update us if you can, and good luck with your new friend!
posted by fairlynearlyready at 9:18 AM on December 18, 2020 [5 favorites]

Please do not have strangers come back in and trap and retraumatize the Bean! I have some decades of expertise with ferals. You are all doing fine. Stop pushing him, allow yourself (and him!) to relax. Every time you try things on your schedule, not his, you'll be taking two steps back. It will be fine!
posted by cyndigo at 10:26 AM on December 18, 2020 [8 favorites]

Two weeks isn’t a very long period of time. Could you put your older cat in the bedroom so the kitten can feel more secure?

Good luck! Please keep us updated.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 1:48 PM on December 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Echoing those suggesting creating a spot for him to hide in - at least that way he may start hiding there and you can know where he is. One of my cats is incredibly attached to his carrier and in times of change he will constantly return to it - like the second it comes out he runs in. I've learned now that I should leave it out and let him use it like his little house for a while when I move, which has been 3 or 4 times over his 11-12 year life. I let him stay in it as much as he wants, and then eventually he starts venturing out more. Once he's more acclimated, the carrier goes in the closet for use only when I need to take him somewhere. Bonus - it's great when it's time to go to the vet because he plays himself every time by walking straight in!
posted by amycup at 2:01 PM on December 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

I adopted Archie in August 2017. A year later he would let me hold out a finger for him to sniff (before that he would run away if approached). Two years later he would lean in for a chin scritch. Three years later he lays on me and purrs and follows me around and mews. I am SO GLAD I gave him the time and space he needed. I did force cuddle him twice (really) in his first years with us, and none of us enjoyed it. It's a long game with some cats. It's okay if you're not up for it. But give Bean more than two weeks as that is not a long time at all.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:35 AM on December 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Having been through the experience of adopting a shy feral cat into a house with other cats, I agree with the advice to not push him. He will gradually understand that he is safe, and will interact more when he is ready.

Our adoptee hid for months, until one evening she quietly came out and snuck along the sofa onto my lap.

Your little guy will get there.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 8:11 PM on December 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

> How long does one give a cat before saying it won't work out?

I think you'll find this reassuring:
Seriously? And they say ferals can never be tamed SMH
The truth is Eden isn’t a one off- during my time working at my rescue we took in roughly 162 feral presenting cats on intake over 4 months of age (the age many rescues consider “untameable if they’re older than that) - most are tamed in 6 months - 1 year and off to their forever homes
posted by sebastienbailard at 5:12 PM on December 24, 2020

Thank you all for the encouragement!

There’s been some progress. I figured out he’s under the sofa, so I know where he is.

One day he got scared and ran to a window, and I got to pet him for a while!

He’s been making brief appearances, quickly observing Dart and/or me, then retreating.

He will eventually eat with me in the room as long as I’m pretending I’m not paying attention.

I have been trying toys by the sofa, and sitting in the floor just reading or singing to him. I think I’m doing the right things but it takes time. I feel so much better knowing where he is.

I’m staying the course. If anyone can recommend special enticements, please do, but I know trust comes first.
posted by mermaidcafe at 10:06 AM on December 25, 2020 [7 favorites]

Alas, I have not shared this happy update with you people who were kind enough to help when I was freaking out. When you see Bean in the video, I think you’ll agree he was worth the wait.

posted by mermaidcafe at 7:31 PM on January 19 [12 favorites]

posted by hydra77 at 11:08 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]

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