Taking on a frightened cat..

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Catfan5
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Taking on a frightened cat..

Post by Catfan5 » Mon Apr 07, 2014 10:20 am

Hi, this may be a bit long but here goes. Yesterday we very unexpectantly acquired two 6 year old cats. History: they were very loved by their owner and were her 'babies' but she met and married a man who is allergic to them ie asthma, rashes etc.. Now they have a young baby and the cats have been confined to a tiny utility room for long periods itseems. They have been fed and had water and had a litter tray. We used to look after them occasionally in the past and they were lovely affectionate cats so am a bit shocked with the change in them. Bailey is a female Ragdoll, has always been highly strung and demanding attention. Beaker is a male Ragdoll cross and a quiet friendly boy. Their fur is full of matts and their owner has shaved the neck and chest area on Bailey which was very badly matted.
It's early days I know but Bailey is traumatised and growls and hisses when we go near her which is not the cat I remember. Not sure if this is because she was shut in for a long time, I made the mistake of handling her earlier and have deep bites and scratches which serves me right I'm sure. We are keeping them separate from our other three cats for now and have set them up with food, litter, beds etc in the conservatory. I will be getting some feliway later today too. But how do we deal with a cat like Bailey, how do we help her? What should be our approach?
Last edited by Catfan5 on Wed Apr 30, 2014 8:04 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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greenkitty
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Re: Taking on a frightened cat..

Post by greenkitty » Mon Apr 07, 2014 10:40 am

I wouldn't force contact and let Bailey set the pace. It sounds as though they've had a very stressful time of late so just let her initiate contact with you when she's ready. Keep going into their room, sit on the floor and talk to them, read aloud from a book so they get used to your voice. Offer treats but let them come over to you, hopefully if Bailey sees Beaker taking treats from you she'll realise you're not a threat.

As for the vet visit I would be inclined to get it over with as soon as possible as it may well set them back, you don't want them to start coming round and then set them back when you go to the vet.

Well done from rescuing them from what sounds like a pretty dire life.

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Re: Taking on a frightened cat..

Post by Catfan5 » Mon Apr 07, 2014 11:30 am

Thank you so much for your reply, it's very helpful. It's heartbreaking to see her like this. You are right about seeing the vet sooner than later but the vet we usually see is away this week so not sure whether to see another one or not. She is the 'cat lady' of the practice, not sure of the others. I'm so glad we have them now and hope Bailey will settle down ok with us in time.

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lilynmitz
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Re: Taking on a frightened cat..

Post by lilynmitz » Mon Apr 07, 2014 11:56 am

Well done taking these two on. What a heartbreaking story. One can only imagine what was going on in their household to turn them into such terrified and mistrusting cats, after such a promising start.

It will take a lot of time and patience to let them rebuild their confidence and trust. They see human contact as very threatening at present, but hopefully with gentle handling from you, they will remember their earlier happy experiences and realise that they are in a safe place again. They sound completely traumatised at present, and like any human who has been through the same, they need a lot of understanding to help them recover.

I agree with Greenkitty, keep them in one comfortable and quiet room for a while, with litter, food, water and comfy bedding, and ideally somewhere to hide if they want to (even if it's a box on its side with a fleecy blanket). Spend time with them in there just sitting reading, talking gently to them, so they realise being in your presence is safe. Avoid making eye contact until they are more relaxed.

They will probably start to approach you after a while, but be patient, it could take weeks. Initially don't stroke them. Offer them your hand, but from below their head height, rather than above, which they will probably find threatening. Let them sniff your hand, but don't stroke them unless they come forward to let you do so. At this stage you could also start offering them treats by hand.

If they are looking fairly relaxed, you could also try playing with them gently with remote toys, such as feathers on a stick, rolling toys, catnip, feathers on a bit of ribbon etc, anything that keeps your hands away from them.

Only start stroking them once they are relaxed in your company, and if they back off or hiss/growl, just gently move away from them. That's just them saying "I'm worried you're going to hurt me so please move away". Once they realise they can communicate this effectively to you and you do as they ask, this will help them learn to trust you.

I agree with Greenkitty re the vet visit - you might as well get it over and done with early. Given their past, I think it's important to check out health issues now. It's likely they won't let you groom them for a while, but try leaving brushes around, and when they've got used to you stroking them, try gently stroking them with the brush first (but not grooming) so they can get used to it and know it won't hurt them, then just a few seconds of grooming, then build it up gradually.

You will get them there in the end, but it may be a long road. It has to be done at their pace - you can't force these things. But there are plenty of people on this site who have managed to do this successfully and have cats that have turned from terrified creatures who hide all the time to loving lap cats. But it takes time and patience. My heart breaks when I hear stories like this, but it sounds like they've got a second chance in life with you, and you will find it immensely rewarding and have a very special relationship with these two once you've got them through the worst.

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Re: Taking on a frightened cat..

Post by Catfan5 » Mon Apr 07, 2014 12:21 pm

Thank you lilynmitz for your good advice, I can see it will take quite a while for Bailey to trust us. I hope she will remember us eventually from her past and know we will never be mean or hurt her. She probably did feel threatened by us as we didn't get down on her level and tried contact way too soon. So we will back off and take things much more gently and see how we go.
Unfortunately my bitten hand has seized up so I'm off the docs this afternoon! I've learnt my lesson there..

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Re: Taking on a frightened cat..

Post by Lyn from Australia » Mon Apr 07, 2014 12:50 pm

I just wanted to say thanks for taking these cats on. Not many would. I have a female Ragdoll who had been traumatised in her previous home and it took me 3 years to get through her fear to some extent and build some sort of relationship to give her a relatively happy life, but she'll never be "normal", if there is such a thing. I discovered by accident that she LOVES being outdoors and I've worked with that and to me, if no-one else, she is the sweetest thing (as long as she gets her own way!) :D

In time your patience will be repaid a thousand-fold, as mine has been.

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Re: Taking on a frightened cat..

Post by Catfan5 » Mon Apr 07, 2014 1:21 pm

Oh my goodness Lyn, she sounds just like Bailey! I really can imagine it will take that long for her to settle. She is very strong-willed and used to be very bossy with our boys in the past. She also loved to be out and about so being shut in a small room for any length of time has stressed her and driven her mad so to speak.

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Re: Taking on a frightened cat..

Post by lilynmitz » Mon Apr 07, 2014 1:55 pm

I know it will stress her, but you do need to keep her in for at least a few weeks to make sure she fully bonds with your home as her safe territory, and doesn't just run off if let out. Do you have other cats? If so, you will need to segregate Bailey and Beaker from them as well and manage those introductions very carefully.

Once you think they're settling in a bit, start letting them explore the rest of the house, a room at a time, but always make sure they can run back to their "safe room". If they want to hide, let them, so long as they're in a safe place and you know where they are. That way they can suss out the house without feeling too exposed or stressed. Letting Bailey have a bit more of the house may stop her going stir crazy, but do tough it out if she asks to be let out until you're really confident that she's bonded with you, and do escorted walks with her for the first week or so.

You never know, they may one day surprise you, heave a sigh of relief and think to themselves "thank heaven that nightmare's over and we're out of that place. Now, what's for dinner?"!

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Re: Taking on a frightened cat..

Post by greenkitty » Mon Apr 07, 2014 2:17 pm

I'd also keep her indoors for some considerable time, she's too frightened to be let out now and needs to have a strong sense of where home is and that it's somewhere safe that she wants to return too.

I'm sure the Bailey you once knew will return in time, it's just going to take time and patience.

Keep us posted on your progress, would love to hear an update.

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Re: Taking on a frightened cat..

Post by Willowgill » Mon Apr 07, 2014 8:39 pm

Oh gosh the poor things - they must have have been through a terrible ordeal and it will take them a long time to give their trust to you - please don't give up on them. When we took Daphne on we did exactly the same thing and kept her in the conservatory with water, food, a tray and blankets. I would go and sit in there with her and talk but not try to touch her - one of my other boys wanted so badly to play with her and would roll around on the floor in front of the conservatory door making little chirruping noises while she looked on with disdain. One day I took some tuna fish in and a spoon and she was tempted to come and eat from it - that began the bonding between us and gradually she allowed me a little closer. Eventually we left the door open into the dining room and she ventured in and started to follow me around - I never let her outside but she didn't actually show any inclination to go out and even now almost 3 years later she's an indoor cat. We are still not allowed to pick her up except on rare occasions and stroking is confined to eating biscuits when she will tolerate a tickle. As these two have lived together it might be easier to integrate them with your other cats but it needs time and patience. Daph's first visit to the vet totally surprised me after the trauma of managing to get her into the box that first time - the vet just lifted her out and started stroking her - it gave me more confidence with her although subsequent visits have not gone as well and she had to be sedated last month. They obviously do need to be seen though and probably will need the bad matting shaved off so as has already been said it's probably best to get it over with as soon as possible. Hope it goes well.

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Re: Taking on a frightened cat..

Post by Pinkglitter1 » Tue Apr 15, 2014 4:58 pm

Hi,

I know lots of people have posted replies, but thought I would give you some experience of my own. I took on my MAude after finding her in a rucksack, where she had been living on the street with some street homeless alcohol dependent folk. Long story...

Anyway, on getting her home, she was a very angry, frightened kitty. She would go for our faces usually and scratch and bite us. This carried on for some time, but slowly, surely, after 3 years, I now have the closets relationship with her. Time was a healer and I can only assume she learnt to trust us. She didn't purr for approximately 18 months. We still have to be aware of body language and he behaviour will switch occasionally, but we never sustain injuries in the way that we did before.

I once read a lovely article about a woman who rescued a terrified puss. The cat would hide and was so scared she wouldn't come out from behind the sofa at all. This woman sat calmly each evening and read to the cat from whatever book she was reading at the time It was such a touching tale: the cat seemed to respond to the calmness in her voice and the quality time and is no longer frightened. This took 3 months in total.

There are the usual go-to's:

Feliway
Zylkene-this is brilliant for reducing stress.

My hunch is that they have become frightened of your friend's boyfriend. Any boyfriend that hated my cats/was allergic would be dumped I'm afarid :)

Time and patience and you will have the old kitty back, I'm sure. Good luck.

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Re: Taking on a frightened cat..

Post by Catfan5 » Sun Apr 20, 2014 1:53 pm

Thank you Willowgill and Pinkglitter1 for posting about your experiences. I haven't posted back sooner as I've had a week in hospital due to Bailey's bite to my wrist becoming badly infected. My husband has been working wonders with both cats in the meantime, I even had a text to say Bailey was purring! We let them come to us and talk to them a lot. Beaker is a sweetheart and will let us stroke him a little. Bailey will jump up on the sofa and head bump us which is a good sign. We are a little wary as she is still very twitchy even with feliway plugged in and Zylkene. They had a check up when I got home last week and they seem in good health but need to lose a little weight. Both weigh 6kg and Bailey has a bit of a tum! Bailey is booked in for sedation to have her matts clippered out and her ears cleaned. They are big cats though so some exercise will help and we've been getting them both running and jumping about after da bird and mousey! Beaker caught a real mouse in the garden and the five cats sat around inspecting it, well impressed lol! They seem to prefer wet food to dry which is good as they've had urinary issues in the past. They only had one litter tray between them in the past so now they have a giant large cat covered one and five other normal one around the house!
They are quite aggressive with our other cats so we supervise them and call time out if it gets stressy for them. Sometimes they touch noses and walk by, but other time the newbies lash out and scare the others. Harry shouts at them when they come near and dives into a cube! Hopefully in time things will calm down.

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