Help stop us from scaring our cat ....
May 24, 2006 2:54 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I recently adopted a rescue cat, he is a 1 year old moggy male. But after a month or so he still won't let either my wife or myself come near him.

We already had a female 4 year old black cat in the house and she get on with our new cat well, and still affectionate with us and regularly comes to us for a stroke. But if we go near, or sometimes even look at the new cat, he will run and hide.

A couple of times we have caught him and stroked him, which he loved and stayed for a while and purrs. But it is still very difficult to get close enough to him to pick him up and even harder to get close enough to stroke.

We have tried treats and food, which he eats but doesn't stay near us; we tried playing with him with toys and again he will play but not stay close; and we have tried leaving him to it and seeing if he comes forward, but that doesn't work.

We were told that he was given up to the dog warden because his owners didn't want him any more. At the shelter where we got him from he was affectionate and on the first night he was affectionate also. But since then just looking at him or walking in the same room makes him go under something and hide.

We do partially want to stroke him and get him more comfortable because he does seem affectionate when we get close enough. But our biggest worry is that getting him to the vets to get vaccinated and microchipped, at the moment we cannot pick him up as he is too scared.

Oh yeah, both cats are indoor cats.

Advice and help please.
posted by ndaguiar to Pets & Animals (14 answers total)
We adopted 2 shelter cats two years ago. They had two different "shelter personalities." One hid from everything. It took her two weeks to come out from under the bed! She was very forward in the shelter, patting us through her cage. The other one scratched and bit and hissed. You couldn't pet him at all.

Two years later, they're just our cats. They're both very affectionate. The scaredy cat will still run at the drop of a hat, but she has to have constant attention. The other one has mellowed and also wants constant attention. Not sure at what point they changed, but it was the better part of a year. It takes time. And yes, the vet is a big issue. Just about the time the scaredy cat was coming around, she had to go to the vet and have some teeth pulled and get chipped, and it took a while longer to win back her trust. The thing is, you know you mean him no harm - but he doesn't know that yet.
posted by clarkstonian at 3:43 AM on May 24, 2006

It's a good sign that your new moggy and the existing one get on well. You can use this to your advantage when befriending the new timid one. A couple of months isn't a great deal of time for a new cat to settle, so your best friend here is time.

It sounds as as if your cat is acclimatised to humans but is anxious and possibly unused to being petted so this is causing conflict behaviour in him. He enjoys petting but hasn't worked out that the approach from you equals the petting that he enjoys. You haven't had a detailed history of his early life and you need to consider, he may well associate human glances and close contact as a precursor to pain, aggression, teasing or punishment. Time and consistent, calm behaviour from you will help change his response.

Get kitted up with some Feliway, both diffusers and environment spray. This will help the new cat feel more secure in his new home. You can use the spray on your hands as well as furniture, ready for when he comes to you for petting. Just make sure you've applied it 5 minutes or so before you anticipate contact as the carrier substance takes a little while to evaporate and some felines find it a bit sharp. This will be a good method of initiating trust building during close contact with your cat as you will smell (to his nose) primarily like him, but also you.

Avoid extensive direct eye contact with him. In cats, direct and held eye contact is read as aggression or an assertion of dominance. A long slow blink, then looking away as you open your eyes, followed by a long, luxurious yawn will say "hello, all here is well" to your cat. Try to be as relaxed as possible around your new cat, easier said than done when you anxiously want to bond.

Don't seek out his attention directly, allow him to observe you petting and playing with your other cat, he will watch from a safe distance and eventually come forward and join in, especially if he sees your first cat receive treats and being full on relaxed with you. He's still a young cat at 1 year old and will be actively open to new learning. Often traumatised or unsocialised cats will read even the most gentle and calm approach by a human as a big threat, so the way around this is to just allow him as much time as he needs to make the decision to befriend you himself.

Have a look at the Messybeast Cat Resouce Archive.

This page has some good information on nervousness in cats.

When the time comes for the visit to the vets, ask your vet beforehand for a mild sedative to administer via food. It's not an ideal solution but will calm the new cat enough so that you should be able to calmly get hold of him in a closed room and get him into a carrier.

Best of luck! :)
posted by Arqa at 4:17 AM on May 24, 2006

When we got our first cat, who was a 7 year old rescue who was very nervous, she ran straight under the bed and hid behind a suitcase. I pushed a plate of food (which the shelter had told me was her favourite and what she was used to being fed) halfway under the bed so she could get to it without coming all the way out. I then lay on the floor a little way away from the bed, where she could clearly see me but I but so I wasn't looming over her, and just talked and sang to her for the rest of the afternoon, saying her name frequently and telling her how lovely I thought she was, and how much I was looking forward to getting to know her. I didn't try to force her to come out, nor did I stare directly at her or try to reach in after her. Half the time I didn't even look at her. I just tried to help her get used to my presence as non-threatening.

I was expecting to have to do this for several days, but after just one afternoon she came out that evening and slept on the bed all night. After two days she was brave enough to come downstairs and explore the rest of the house.
posted by talitha_kumi at 4:51 AM on May 24, 2006

Mod note: moved more to inside
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:46 AM on May 24, 2006

Ask a vet about giving your cat an anti-anxiety medication temporarily. I think the common ones are diazepam (Valium) and buspirone (Buspar).

A little while of that (a few days or weeks?) might be just enough to get him to the vet and generally relaxed enough to get used to everything. Then wean him of it and hope he's a happy little cat.
posted by pracowity at 6:14 AM on May 24, 2006

It can take months and months for the cat to get used to you. Our Burmese lived in a closet for 3 months. She then stayed in the same room as the closet for another 3 months. When she came out and made her presence known, there was no putting the cat back in quiet mode. Three years later, I still have to grab her to get her to stay still long enough for a good scratch. Otherwise, she's in constant motion and never shuts up. She's only quiet when sleeping or curled against you for a drool inducing rub.

Some cats just take a lot longer than others to adjust to a new environment or a change in their existing environment. He'll come around.
posted by onhazier at 6:50 AM on May 24, 2006

Some cats just take a lot longer than others to adjust to a new environment or a change in their existing environment. He'll come around.

posted by Mayor Curley at 7:16 AM on May 24, 2006

I adopted a shelter cat who turned out to be skittish and shy. It took us months and months to bring her around, but it helped to figure out the sorts of behaviors that caused her anxiety, and work around them. For example, my cat gets nervous if we are standing up and lean over to pet her; so, we either get down on the floor to pet her, or we sit down on a bed or a couch and invite her up for petting. She's more comfortable when we're not towering over her. My cat also hates to be picked up or to sit on a person's lap -- we learned to respect that, and to give her affection on her terms. Within a year she'd gone from reclusive to happy and affectionate, though still shy around strangers.
posted by junkbox at 7:24 AM on May 24, 2006

I had a similar experience with my husband's shy, half-feral cat. It took several months for her to become accustomed to me. A few things that seemed to put her at ease: avoiding direct eye contact; slow, predictable movements; a gentle voice; making sure she was aware I was approaching her - say, walking through the same room - by making myself audible far before I ever neared her (again, a gentle voice and audible, but not loud, steps did the trick well); singing; allowing her to approach me for treats or sniffs without advancing on her in any way, including any attempt to pet her for the first long while. Being aware of her body language and not pushing her boundaries seemed to be the key.

Eventually, she started following me around the house. After a while she would tolerate some touch. Now, years later, she is my little one-eyed familiar. She comes to me for comfort and all-over scritches, pushes her way under my blankets and clothing, and helps out at the computer. She's become much more sociable with other people, as well. She can still be a bit skittish with noises and sudden movements, but the change in her is amazing.

If I had known about Feliway at the time, I would have made use of it. We recently moved house, and the diffusers did beautiful things for our cats' anxiety levels.
posted by moira at 10:15 AM on May 24, 2006

Try approaching your cat while walking backwards or sideways (just remember not to step on him). I don't know if it's the fact that you're not making eye contact, or the odd walking behavior fails to parse as you approaching them, but I've had this work before. If you're successful, and he doesn't flee in terror, don't pick him up. Instead, try sitting on the floor next to him and petting him. Talk to him in a soothing voice.

Also, try just sitting or lying on the floor of the room he's in so that he can get used to your presence, smell, voice, etc. Bring a book or laptop so you don't get bored - it may take a while. Stay where you're at, and let him get used to you. It's important to leave him alone and let him come to you so that he knows he can escape if he feels too uncomfortable with the situation. If he doesn't come to you the first time you do this, keep trying. If your other cat wants attention from you while you're doing this, give it to her. Seeing you treat another cat well may help improve his confidence in you.

Time is the key, and kindness. Don't get discouraged.
posted by i feel possessed at 11:52 AM on May 24, 2006

Doctor: Does it hurt when you do this?
Patient: Yes.
Doctor: Well, don't do that.

Your cat is scared when you approach him. You want to not scare him? Don't approach him. It's a bummer to have a pet that doesn't want to receive affection as much as you want to deliver it, but them's the breaks. Pets have personalities and if this one's is to be kinda distant you need to honor that.

Besides, you're harming your own cause. You've got to let him control the access if you expect him to ever warm up and want more. By forcing yourself on him - even if he purrs when you do so - you're reinforcing his instinct to run when you approach him. There may be some positive results from that against-his-will snatch but there's also the negative one: he wants to get away and you grab him and don't let him get away.
posted by phearlez at 1:43 PM on May 24, 2006

Read a newspaper, while laying on the floor. Do this every day for a while. Ignor the cat completely. Now you're at his level for extended periods, and he can approach as slowly and unobtrusively as he likes. He'll eventually come and sit on exactly the column you're looking at, so don't expect to actually get any news read after a few weeks.
posted by mediaddict at 1:57 PM on May 24, 2006

A couple of times we have caught him and stroked him, which he loved and stayed for a while and purrs.

My cat is the same. They love being stroked and "petted", but I think they are scared of your movement. Don't race after him like he's a pot of gold, go about your regular routine. mediaddict is right on, try to ignore him completely when you move around the house, but do some things on the floor where he can approach you on his terms. Ignore him when he is coming towards you, but when he does lay down stroke him and make him purr. Try not to get up when he is beside you, but move very slowly if you do.
posted by lain at 7:51 AM on May 25, 2006

Our cat was a 6 mo. stray when we got him and wouldn't let us get within two feet of him for at least half a year. We decided to mostly let him tell us when he was ready for petting and how much, and he did - very gradually, as he grew to trust that we weren't going to try to grab him, accepting first head stroking, tail pulling (which he loves), and butt-thumping, and recently added back-stroking to the list. When he feels like it, maybe 3x/day from each of us. We're expecting picking him up to be a long-term project (years).

Re getting him to the vet, this worked for us: keeping his carrier out like furniture, all the time, next to where he eats, with the door open and a comfy rug inside, and tossing his favorite treats in there (bonito flakes; catnip) a few times a week. He has to accept that most of the time he gets his favourite treats, and that occasionally we close the door on him and bring him to the vet. (don't start out doing what we originally did, which was to toss a can of food he liked into the newly-brought-out carrier and shut the door on him after he'd dived in. Took us a long time to earn his trust again, and he has refused to eat ANY kind of canned food whatsoever ever since.)
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:11 PM on May 26, 2006

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