My cat is too freaked out to eat. What do I do?
August 15, 2007 11:59 AM   Subscribe

My adopted cat is freaked out about her new home, and getting more freaked out with each passing day. Now I'm afraid she's so freaked out she's not even emerging to eat or drink. What do I do?

Last Saturday I adopted two cats--two adult sisters. In the kennel they were very attached and got along wonderfully. It was immediately clear that one was twitchy and the other a bit more adventurous, but we figured they'd both eventually settle in. I kept them solely in my room (I live in a rowhouse with four other people) the first couple days. They spent the first twelve hours under the bed--well, that's normal. Slowly they began emerging, and once they seemed comfortable I started letting them into the rest of the house.

Adventurous is doing fine. She seems pretty comfortable with the rest of the house and is very affectionate with everyone. Twitchy seemed OK the first couple of days--she was still scared but would follow her sister out from under the bed and even sought affection from me and my boyfriend. But once I opened the door she's been a wreck. She's spending all her time hiding in various places around the house. She doesn't seem to be able to adjust to the noise and number of people here. She cries when her sister's not around. And since I took her to the vet yesterday she's lost all vestigial courage and spends her time holed up in the mustiest, moldiest areas of the basement, not moving from the same spot for hours. She doesn't even seem to be emerging to eat.

To make matters worse the veterinarian diagnosed her with a fever and respiratory infection--so we have to give her meds twice a day which is doing nothing for her nerves. After only administering it twice (last night and this morning) she's completely destroyed. She runs when she hears anything, sees any living thing but her sister, and starts yowling if you approach her. I put food by her hiding place but she hasn't touched it. I'm deathly afraid of hepatic lipidosis and worried that the lack of eating is making her even more sick, thus more likely to hide instead of eat. Not even the presence of her sister (who has been spending all her time hanging around) seems to calm her.

Part of me thinks this is something she'll just get through, and the other part is worried that this house is too big and too full of people to be a right home for her and as a result she's going to starve herself to death. What should I do? I desperately don't want to return her and her sister--they've been waiting for adoption since March, and the chances of them being re-adopted are low because they have to be adopted together.
posted by schroedinger to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Just keep the food where she can get to it easily. She'll eat when she gets hungry enough. My vet told me this, and that cats won't starve themselves to death.
posted by hermitosis at 12:03 PM on August 15, 2007

When I adopted two adult cats, it took one four weeks before she decided to come out and meet me. For four weeks she'd hide in the space between my clothes dryer and the wall and would only come out to eat/drink/litterbox when she was certain I was asleep or at work. I actually set up a webcam trained on the food dish to see if she really did leave her hiding place.

She still is that way when there are new humans in house. Most of my friends think I only have one cat because they've never seen the other one.

She is great and very social with me and the other cat now, but for the first few weeks I was wondering what to do about the hiding cat. Cats are weird. Which what make them worth having around.
posted by birdherder at 12:10 PM on August 15, 2007

I think as long as your vet feels she is eating enough, you should just be patient, very patient. We adopted two siamese (brothers) from their owner when they were about 10 years old. The hid in the basement for almost a year. But, eventually, they adjusted, ventured out and took over (even lording over our puppy when he joined the family).

She might always be shy, but I've found that cats can take quite a while to get comfortable. Let her explore on her own schedule.
posted by robabroad at 12:16 PM on August 15, 2007

How about trying Feliway? Some folks swear by its ability to help kitties deal with stressful situations. (Sorry no link, I continue to have some weird cut/paste issues in Firefox.)
posted by thebrokedown at 12:18 PM on August 15, 2007

We've had our ninja for a year now, it took about 6 months for her to emerge from under the bed when there were humans in the room, but she'd happily follow the other cat around when we were either sleeping or not home. She eventually adjusted.

If you're worried, return the critter to your bedroom and restart the adjustment cycle, it just takes a long time for some of them. the biggest risk isn't food, it's water, as long as she's drinking water you should be good.
posted by iamabot at 12:19 PM on August 15, 2007

Have you tried re-isolating her in your room? A smaller space with fewer strange noises and smells might calm her down. Just make sure she has a hiding place, so she can avoid you and your boyfriend as long as she feels the need to be alone.

Also, I've never tried Feliway, but it seems to have a lot of enthusiastic fans on askme.
posted by Mavri at 12:36 PM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Nthing patience. Your two cats sound like my two cats: one adventurous sibling and one very timid sibling. When we brought ours home, the timid girl vanished in our house for several weeks: at one point I had to call the vet and fess up that she would be skipping a scheduled appointment because we couldn't find her. I knew she was in the house, I just never saw her.

To make it easier on her, I left little bowls of food and water scattered around in the depths of closets and under beds. I'm not sure if she ate anything out of them or if her brother just pounded down the extra offerings but she certainly didn't start as at about the three month mark, she started showing herself (and bolting anytime anyone moved). At the year mark, I have a tough time getting her big fuzzy butt off my desk.

It just takes time for the cautious ones.
posted by jamaro at 12:45 PM on August 15, 2007

Have you asked your vet about the possibility of some short term anxiety meds? At least while you're supposed to be treating her infection, it might help.
posted by wayward vagabond at 12:49 PM on August 15, 2007

I moved a mellow cat and a scared-of-everything half-feral cat across the country several years ago. Mellow cat was all "Dude, nice place. Think I'll" The half-feral scaredy cat hid in closets and under the bed for....days. Weeks, possibly. I put Rescue Remedy in her water, and made sure that food, water and litterbox were accessible from her hiding spots (the ones I knew about, anyway). Scaredy cat is still nervous - the sound of plastic bags crinkling, or tinfoil being torn, will send her into hiding, as will someone moving too quickly, or looking at her for too long, or the sound of someone shouting swear words at the TV (she doesn't like baseball season in our house).

I don't know if the Rescue Remedy had anything to do with it, but she eventually quit hiding and resumed her normal existence - actually, she's slightly less nervous than she used to be. It will take time - you brought them home on Saturday, and it's only Wednesday. She'll eat and drink when no one's around, and really, she'll be ok (as long as you can keep getting her meds into her, of course).
posted by rtha at 1:02 PM on August 15, 2007

Same story as everyone else. We adopted two cats - NOT litter mates, which added to the stress. They'd been caged at a no-kill shelter for quite some time. The one started out being mean and ornery - he's just a big old puddy now. The other one was timid - hid under the bed for at least 6 weeks. She's still timid, but she's fine.

Confining her to a smaller & more accessible space until she's done with her meds might be a good idea. I tried Felliway and didn't have the great success with it that everyone else has had - but time and patience cure almost everything.
posted by clarkstonian at 1:25 PM on August 15, 2007

Some just need way more time than others. Keep giving her the medicine. Make sure she has access to food, water and litter box. Have patience.

I adopted a Burmese who hid in the closet for 3 months. During the dead of the night, she'd emerge to eat and use the litter box. After 3 months, she decided that the room was all she could deal with and stayed there for another 3 months. After 6 months, she announced herself to the world. At the time, we had another cat, a very vocal dog, a toddler and regular, noisy gatherings of 10 or more people on the weekends. She adjusted to it all.
posted by onhazier at 1:28 PM on August 15, 2007

One thought for you about the meds.

My puddy tat recently had a fever and resp infection, and I had a similar problem - he's still shy around me (he's also a shelter cat), but he really needed the meds. It got to the point where he'd hide when he saw me, because he didn't want his dose. I'm pretty determined, so I was grabbing the poor creature and force-feeding him the drugs, but I felt so cruel about it. I discussed the problem with my vet and she gave the cat an antibiotic injection which is effective for two weeks.

Obviously I have no clue whether this is an option for your cat, or even exactly what the meds are that your cat is taking, but it might be worth asking. One traumatic vet visit is surely better than two weeks of twice-daily meds.

And apart from that, seconding everyone else - it's been less than a week, so give her lots and lots of time. In the end she will settle in, to a greater or lesser extent, but so far her behaviour sounds completely within the range of normal. Cats are territorial animals, and when they're taken to a new territory it can really, really shake them up.

You've done such a great thing in adopting them and I wish you years of happiness with your new cats!
posted by different at 1:50 PM on August 15, 2007

As everyone else has said above, similar scene in our household which resolved after time.
If you can move scardy cat back to bedroom, consider moving both of them for the moral support they give one-another.
I really liked the suggestion of a shot rather than all of those unpleasant encounters!
Also, smelly food can be your friend. Canned tuna, maybe baby food chicken (look at the ingredients and make sure there's no onion/garlic). Sit quietly with smelly food nearby to re-establish trust with fraidy cat. Don't force it, and it will take time. Patience and food are how we established in our formerly wild kitty the concept that we were good things to have around! Yours isn't wild, but is under a lot of stress from the relocation and the sickness.

And, nthing the goodness that you're doing by giving them a home. Also, pictures, whenever kitty is up to it?
posted by mightshould at 2:09 PM on August 15, 2007

She still is that way when there are new humans in house. Most of my friends think I only have one cat because they've never seen the other one.

You are describing one of my two female cats to the "T!"
posted by ericb at 2:21 PM on August 15, 2007

Yeah, I'd just give her more time. And bring her up to your room the next time you find her and keep her in there so she has less new stuff to process. (That'll make giving her the meds much easier too.)

Also, any question you post about these two kitties will automatically be eponysterical.
posted by MsMolly at 2:24 PM on August 15, 2007

nthing the patience and time thing. but here's a tip about the food issue. when i first took my shelter cat, she wouldn't eat for 2 days. i freaked out, and i called the shelter. the shelter suggested that if by the third day she was still not eating, i should "force feed" the cat with a medicine dropper and some baby food. i think this had the effect of jump starting her appetite, because one squirt later, she was chowing down her food like the food whore she is now.

good luck with the kitty, and know that you're doing an awesome thing by giving these grown cats a chance. karma baby, karma.

also, please post pictures.
posted by ceesbees at 2:33 PM on August 15, 2007

I once adopted a cat who came with a respiratory disease as well, and he didn't eat a thing for a week. Part of the problem is that a cat won't eat anything he can't smell, and when he's all stuffed up he can't smell anything.

What worked for me was heating up some tuna and canned chicken to place underneath his nose. The heat brings out the good smells.
posted by OpinioNate at 3:34 PM on August 15, 2007

I've said this in a couple of other AskMes, but when my big scaredy cat stops eating due to a move or other stress, I:

1. Get him all nipped up with a very strong smelling catnip toy, or even fresh catnip.

2. After he has the munchies, put a plate of Fancy Feast Fish & Shrimp under his nose. A lot of people have recommended it (owners of cats with CRF, etc...)

Works every time. I know what you mean about the HL, that's why it's so important to keep cats eating and drinking.
posted by Liosliath at 4:33 PM on August 15, 2007

I adopted a feral female cat at home in Portugal two years ago with the intention of bringing her to the UK, but she was so terrified I ended up leaving her at my Mother's house. She lived in my closet for almost two months, only coming out at night to eat and use the litter box ... though there were days when I'm sure she didn't even eat.

The fact that you must give her medication makes this difficult, but don't force the issue if you can - just leave her be as much as possible. She eventually came out, fell in love with my Mother, and now follows her around the house all day. :)
posted by Andorinha at 2:24 AM on August 16, 2007

Have you tried re-isolating her in your room? A smaller space with fewer strange noises and smells might calm her down. Just make sure she has a hiding place, so she can avoid you and your boyfriend as long as she feels the need to be alone.

I'd also recommend this. Whether it is your room or elsewhere, move her to some space that is quiet, with a predictable routine, and with some hiding place within it where she can retreat. It should be a place where you can keep an eye on her, too. If it's your room, you might start by keeping her in the room only (again), with her sister going in and out, for a few days until she seems comfortable again. Make sure she has some hiding place somewhere in your room to retreat to from the very beginning, though. Then once she's used to hiding there and seems more confident, give her access to the rest of the house. What she needs is a safe place to retreat to when she gets scared. Which sounds like it may be often for awhile at least.

Since she may not be able to smell the food, you might try the suggestions up thread, and also try feeding her with her sister. If it gets bad, and you do try to force feed, be careful not to use much pressure. You don't want to push cat food down the wrong pipe-- that's dangerous. And also since she'll probably want to hide from you when you medicate her, try to make the medication time as extra positive (petting and treats a few minutes before and after) so that she's less inclined to hide somewhere less predictable.
posted by Tehanu at 8:12 PM on August 17, 2007

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