How to bring our stray cat out of her shell?

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Goobbee
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How to bring our stray cat out of her shell?

Post by Goobbee » Tue Jan 14, 2020 2:14 am

Last August we noticed a new stray cat in our forest. We set up trail cameras to watch her at night. By Sept. she was pregnant so we fed her in the forest until Nov. while she nursed her babies. When the weather got cold she brought her 3 babies into our hay shed where we live-trapped them. Our vet took good care of them and they have all been adopted out. We finally trapped the mother, Allee about 5 weeks and brought her into the house. She is a beautiful grey tabby about 9 months old and in good health.
Our problem is that after a month of trying to get her to accept us she still cowers away and goes into a limp state whenever we are near. She shows no signs of aggression and purrs when we handle her but as soon as we put her down she just lies in one spot motionless.
At night in her large pen she is very active and plays by herself. She eats well and uses the poddy ok and has no health issues. For a cat that has shown such bravery and fearlessness in the wilds and raised 3 lovely kittens she certainly is very timid.
We have rescued 14 cats over the years and placed them in wonderful forever homes but Allee is a real challenge.
Does anyone have any suggestions how we can get her to show an interest in life?? She seems so depressed! We carry her on tours of the house and sing and talk to her and she seems very interested but once we put her in a spot she just shuts down. Thank you.

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exlibris
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Re: How to bring our stray cat out of her shell?

Post by exlibris » Tue Jan 14, 2020 7:12 am

Maybe her soul is with the outdoors? Or perhaps I've read too much James Herriot :)
The rescuers we got our previous cats from had rescued a huge cat colony, too many too all rehome. They ended up neutering all then rereleasing many, just feeding them, providing outdoor shelter and keeping an eye on them. Would this be an option? Or do you think a forever home would still be a better option?

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Re: How to bring our stray cat out of her shell?

Post by booktigger » Tue Jan 14, 2020 1:08 pm

She is clearly too used to fending for herself to be able to trust humans too quickly, 5 weeks is early days, but if she seems depressed, I'd be tempted to release her again as long as she has been neutered.

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Re: How to bring our stray cat out of her shell?

Post by Goobbee » Tue Jan 14, 2020 6:17 pm

exlibris wrote:
Tue Jan 14, 2020 7:12 am
Maybe her soul is with the outdoors? Or perhaps I've read too much James Herriot :)
The rescuers we got our previous cats from had rescued a huge cat colony, too many too all rehome. They ended up neutering all then rereleasing many, just feeding them, providing outdoor shelter and keeping an eye on them. Would this be an option? Or do you think a forever home would still be a better option?
Thank you. She is so sweet and kind and loving that releasing her back is not an option for us. We live in an area of predators like coyotes and hunters and a lot of road traffic. Allee would be perfect we think for some housebound person who needs a quiet companion to sit on their lap and look out the window.
At night she is very active in her pen which is very large with many levels. She eats well etc but as soon as bring her upstairs in the morning she just freezes up and does not even walk about. Though she is curious and does not seem afraid but she has yet to make a sound. Here is her photo - very lovely!
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Allee

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lilynmitz
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Re: How to bring our stray cat out of her shell?

Post by lilynmitz » Tue Jan 14, 2020 11:44 pm

I agree that 5 weeks is VERY early days for a feral cat to adjust, even such a young one. She has probably had little or no experience of humans and has a lot to learn. She only feels relaxed enough to play when you’ve all gone to bed.

Is there any reason you don’t let her have free run of the house so she can explore on her own? This should include somewhere she can hide away where she can feel safe if she’s feeling overwhelmed, and high places where she can sit and observe you. While the purring while being handled suggests she may have got used to you, she hasn’t had a chance to get used to being in a house, and it sounds like this is quite frightening for her, hence going limp when you put her down. Let her explore at her own pace, and perhaps play with her while she’s out of her pen so that she learns that the house is a safe place to be, and it will help distract her from her anxieties.

Don’t despair, for some cats settling in can be a long journey, but she’s worth the effort, I certainly wouldn’t even consider rehoming her until she is much more confident.

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Re: How to bring our stray cat out of her shell?

Post by Goobbee » Wed Jan 15, 2020 12:24 am

lilynmitz wrote:
Tue Jan 14, 2020 11:44 pm
I agree that 5 weeks is VERY early days for a feral cat to adjust, even such a young one. She has probably had little or no experience of humans and has a lot to learn. She only feels relaxed enough to play when you’ve all gone to bed.

Is there any reason you don’t let her have free run of the house so she can explore on her own? This should include somewhere she can hide away where she can feel safe if she’s feeling overwhelmed, and high places where she can sit and observe you. While the purring while being handled suggests she may have got used to you, she hasn’t had a chance to get used to being in a house, and it sounds like this is quite frightening for her, hence going limp when you put her down. Let her explore at her own pace, and perhaps play with her while she’s out of her pen so that she learns that the house is a safe place to be, and it will help distract her from her anxieties.

Don’t despair, for some cats settling in can be a long journey, but she’s worth the effort, I certainly wouldn’t even consider rehoming her until she is much more confident.
Thank you for responding. The problem with letting her have the run of the house is that we have 3 rescue cats of our own who are very territorial and unwelcoming of new cats. Having said that we bring her up to the bedroom in the morning and perch her on a nice fleecee observation post where she can watch the birds through the windows. We have brought our calico girl in for an hour or so to stay on the bed and they seem to get along in that there are no altercations. But Allee just lies on her perch and does not move at all. We brought in our orange tabee too for a few hours but Allee doesn't pay any attention to him. We do cuddle her on our lap and show her the house and talk to her. When we leave her alone in the bedroom for a few minutes and come back in she is hiding somewhere, usually under the bed. . She has had all her shots and is scheduled for her spay in 2 weeks - maybe that will make a difference. The vet said she has never seen such a docile cat given what she has been through. We love her dearly.

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Re: How to bring our stray cat out of her shell?

Post by exlibris » Wed Jan 15, 2020 12:37 pm

She looks beautiful, and quite content to be picked up - does this mean she's not feral and was originally brought up with humans? I've never rescued direct from the streets, just adopted.

Do you have an enclosed garden, where she can't escape? If so, try some play therapy outside maybe? (Bring a thick jumper!)

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Re: How to bring our stray cat out of her shell?

Post by booktigger » Wed Jan 15, 2020 1:28 pm

The comment about her being so docile might not be a good thing, I had a semi-feral mum and kittens and she was docile at the vet, but the vet said because of her leaving pawprints on the table meant she was very stressed, but was withdrawing into herself and should be homed as an outdoor cat. I didn't listen to my vet, homed her with someone in a semi-rural location, and despite keeping her in for 7 weeks, and her seeming happy in the house (like yours, she would happily be in the same room and allow strokes) as soon as she was let out, she was never seen again, she chose to be a feral cat again.

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Re: How to bring our stray cat out of her shell?

Post by lilynmitz » Wed Jan 15, 2020 6:13 pm

I agree that docility can be a sign of fear. Certainly what you describe when you put her down (ie going “floppy”) is very much a fear reaction. We had a Siamese when I was young who was terrified of thunder, and she would go like a limp rag, incapable of much movement, till it was over

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Re: How to bring our stray cat out of her shell?

Post by Goobbee » Wed Jan 15, 2020 9:02 pm

lilynmitz wrote:
Wed Jan 15, 2020 6:13 pm
I agree that docility can be a sign of fear. Certainly what you describe when you put her down (ie going “floppy”) is very much a fear reaction. We had a Siamese when I was young who was terrified of thunder, and she would go like a limp rag, incapable of much movement, till it was over
And yet Allee was so fearless for 4 months outside as she faced predators, traffic, terrible storms and so much more as she had her kittens in a culvert but still brought them to safety, fed them and nurtured them. It is amazing that she was so strong but now she is still fearful of us even though she knows we were the people who fed her 3 times a day since August and built her outdoor shelter.
When we first trapped her 3 babies and put them together in a very large pen it was amazing to watch them frolic and play together and yet never make a sound!! It was eerie to say the least. Allee must have taught them to play quietly so as not to attract predators. We will never release her to the outdoors again and if needs be she will just be cat # 4 for our household!

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Re: How to bring our stray cat out of her shell?

Post by Mollycat » Wed Jan 15, 2020 9:13 pm

Our point of view on what is dangerous isn't a cat's point of view though. My Molly has never been a stray and has had two loving homes for 5 years and 6 years now with me, and yet the first 9 months of her life in a chaotic noisy house have left her deeply scarred. People scare her the most but plastic bags and anything that rustles is also high on the list, and yet storms, fireworks and an aubergine exploding and blowing the oven door off never fazed her. She is the best patient ever at the vets and that's because she is frozen in fear, she doesn't need to be held for injections and never fights, hisses, bites or scratches ... vet can't understand why I say she's unpillable and have to have reiki just to get her in the carrier. At home of course she's a different cat.

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Re: How to bring our stray cat out of her shell?

Post by booktigger » Wed Jan 15, 2020 9:16 pm

Being fearless outside when they are raising babies is completely different to being in a home environment around humans, and harder than taking in a stray, their survival instincts are much stronger and harder to break. As someone said about mine, they believe their coping methods have kept them alive and they will not readily give them up. While it is admirable to want the best for her, forcing her to live with territorial and unwelcoming cats may not be the best life for any of them.

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Re: How to bring our stray cat out of her shell?

Post by Mollycat » Thu Jan 16, 2020 6:25 am

Your problem with Allee has been bothering me. If your other cats are territorial and aggressive, why have you been bringing each one into the room with her when she is not settled with you and the house yet? It would take time for any cat to relax knowing this territory belongs to another cat or cats believing she may be attacked and driven away at any time.

Taking her from one place in the house to another may not be helpful. Cats need to explore and know they can run back to safety if they need to. Remembering the way back when they have been carried is different to having made the journey, even if it's just a few feet, on their own paddy paws and checking for threats along the way. I read years ago that most cats who have a road accident have it on their way home, when they are spooked or hungry and less careful, or fighting and not paying attention. Being taken to different rooms would feel like whole new different places to a cat and frightening all over again each time. Could the others be shut away somewhere while Allee gets to explore at her own pace?

If Allee's fear is about the other cats and she can't have the opportunity to explore and settle at her own pace because of the other cats, maybe she should be rehomed as she is. I'm suggesting this because she seems ok with people and being handled, so maybe a forever home with no other pets where she can have freedom to explore and settle without the scent of other cats around might bring her out of her shell naturally and surprisingly quickly. But I really don't think carrying her around to different parts of the house can possibly be helping. I was lucky that my girl came to me direct from her previous home, if she had been put into foster and taken the years to settle as she did when I got her, she might still be there now and labelled unrehomeable or mistakenly placed as a farm cat outdoors.

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Re: How to bring our stray cat out of her shell?

Post by booktigger » Thu Jan 16, 2020 1:04 pm

That is a good point, Allee has had a lot to contend with in 5 weeks and carrying her round is forcing her to do things on your terms rather than hers, which will be made worse by the fact that she isn’t comfortable being in a house yet, and could be having an effect on her cowering around people, cats don’t naturally like being picked up, held and carried, so she has the stress of that, and then being put somewhere entirely different, then being shown other cats who probably don’t respond positively to her.

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Re: How to bring our stray cat out of her shell?

Post by Goobbee » Thu Jan 16, 2020 2:33 pm

booktigger wrote:
Thu Jan 16, 2020 1:04 pm
That is a good point, Allee has had a lot to contend with in 5 weeks and carrying her round is forcing her to do things on your terms rather than hers, which will be made worse by the fact that she isn’t comfortable being in a house yet, and could be having an effect on her cowering around people, cats don’t naturally like being picked up, held and carried, so she has the stress of that, and then being put somewhere entirely different, then being shown other cats who probably don’t respond positively to her.
Thank you all very much for your insights. Allee is the 14th cat we have rescued. She is the 3rd female but the first one that had kittens while we were helping her in the forest. Do you think this has made her more fearful of people and more on edge generally since she had to care for her babies? We worry that she sees us as predators since we took her kittens away from her (they are all happy now in their forever homes - 2 were kept together). We work with 2 adoption agencies that have placed our cats eventually in their forever homes and we are always complimented that we bring them the best socialized and kind animals. But they refuse to take Allee in her current state and we would not do so anyway. Our house is rather small with just 1 bedroom, bathroom and study and a basement though we live on 100 acres! After reading your suggestions we will give Allee the bedroom for the day with lots of hiding places and not bother her as much. Our own 3 cats were "feral" when we first trapped them years ago and now they are our best friends and caregivers. We know Allee will be the same way eventually.

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Re: How to bring our stray cat out of her shell?

Post by booktigger » Fri Jan 17, 2020 1:32 pm

Yes, if you read my post from Wed, having reared babies will have made her survival instincts stronger and harder to break, plus the fact she hasn’t been neutered, so still has extra hormones. She may indeed view you negatively as you trapped them all and took away her babies. I would definitely leave her more to do things in her time, but also look for homes as has been suggested, that isn’t a lot of space for 4 cats when you have 3 that are territorial (and ex-strays do tend to be more territorial as they have had to fight for it more), so yours might not be the best long term.

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Re: How to bring our stray cat out of her shell?

Post by Goobbee » Fri Jan 17, 2020 8:36 pm

booktigger wrote:
Fri Jan 17, 2020 1:32 pm
Yes, if you read my post from Wed, having reared babies will have made her survival instincts stronger and harder to break, plus the fact she hasn’t been neutered, so still has extra hormones. She may indeed view you negatively as you trapped them all and took away her babies. I would definitely leave her more to do things in her time, but also look for homes as has been suggested, that isn’t a lot of space for 4 cats when you have 3 that are territorial (and ex-strays do tend to be more territorial as they have had to fight for it more), so yours might not be the best long term.
Thank you. We gave Allee the bedroom today by herself and she much more active compared to when we sat with her. She came off her cat tree and explored the room, used the poddy box, sat in the windows and had a nap on the bed. Previously she would just hide her head in the cat tree. She will be spayed on Tuesday. Thanks again.

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