After some advice on a seemingly permanently frightened cat

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Lloyd Barnes
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After some advice on a seemingly permanently frightened cat

Post by Lloyd Barnes »

Hi, looking for some advice as we’ve run out of ideas. Sorry for the lengthy post!

We’re experienced cat owners, always had one or two over the last 40 years! We live in a very quiet rural location, ideal cat territory!

We got a “new” cat about 4 years back. Morgan came from a local rescue centre (Cat Protection League). We were told he’d been owned by a lady with learning difficulties and had been locked in a shed. We have another cat, Ollie, he's been with us for many years, as well as a Labrador.

Morgan was very frightened when we got him, we thought it was normal stress of new owners and environment. However 4 years later and he’s no better.

His life is ok, he has places to hide, sneaks down at night to eat and adores Ollie. However Ollie is getting on, we’re worried that poor Morgan will have nothing left when Ollie goes.

He poses no problems to us at all, he goes outside to the loo, doesn’t attack if you get close etc, so it’s simply a case of whether anything we can do can improve his life.

I’m wondering if anyone else has had this experience and has any ideas we could try to attempt to improve Morgans life?

Some details

It’s quite clear humans are the issue. He adores Ollie and also will actively seek out Cadbury the Labrador to lie next to. I’m sure he’d be deliriously happy if only my wife and I simply moved out but there are limits!

Morgan hides all day, he’ll often venture onto a bed, but if you go into the room, he’ll usually flee under the bed. Sometime he’ll let you briefly touch him but is clearly petrified. We keep “escape routes” clear for him so he doesn’t feel trapped.

We’ve tried making every experience of human contact a positive one. Taking him food, rubbing his head then leaving before he hides so that his memory is not one of running away but nothing seems to shake his terror of humans.

He’s watched as his mate Ollie lying next to him on the bed is rapturous at having his chin scratched etc. We’d hoped that would be an example but sadly no.

Vet suggested Feliway which we tried but hasnt any other suggestions. Seems to make no difference at all.

Any ideas we could try or is it best simply to accept he’ll never improve. Any suggestions gratefully received! :)
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Lilith
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Re: After some advice on a seemingly permanently frightened

Post by Lilith »

Hi there, I've had two cats like Morgan.

One was brought to me by her feral mother, who had had some socialisation. Mouse at 6 months had had none. I did manage to pick her up as a kitten, briefly, but she was incredibly timid. She and her mother (long story) eventually moved in; Mouse was so terrified that at first she messed and wet herself; gradually, copying her mother, she gained confidence and would show affection - but even now, after 13 years, she hates to be picked up, howls in distress if I do (and I have to sometimes for claw-trimming, defleaing etc) and as for another human - forget it! Mouse is straight under the bed. Unlike Morgan, she does come to me and head-rub; she has an incredibly loud purr. But there are times, even now, when, I go into a room, Mouse, if startled, disappears.

My other shy one was a Siamese. I used to breed them, a long time ago, and Shashi was born by caesarean. Her two siblings were normal and bold; Shashi was terrified of everything and everyone; I didn't sell her, of course. Again she had a bit more confidence when with her mother; she was the eternal kitten, in fact. If she was playing with her mother, I mustn't watch her; if she caught my gaze, she would run and hide. This was in a very quiet household, with few visitors, a walled garden, me at home most of the time, no traumas...It was only at the end of her life, when she became ill with mouth cancer, that she let me handle her and appeared to trust me at last, poor Shashi.

Nature or nurture?

I used to have a notice pinned up on the wall -

If the kittens won't do
What you want them to do,
The thing to do
IS
What the kittens want to do!

And I realise this doesn't solve your problem, but I feel that's the only thing we can do with these shy ones, just let them do their own thing. Morgan may become bolder with time, like my Mouse - though I realise you may long, just for once, to gather him up and give him a cuddle!

With the Ollie situation - would your house hold another kitten, to take over as companion after Ollie's left you? I'm all for adopting older cats but in this case I feel a kitten might be less threatening to Morgan's rather fragile personality. He might even mother it (boys often do) and be tempted to follow it about. As long as Ollie doesn't mind either, of course!

There will be other people on here with more experience and more ideas. I'm glad you're so understanding of Morgan and wish you all the best in the future :)
Lloyd Barnes
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Re: After some advice on a seemingly permanently frightened

Post by Lloyd Barnes »

Hi Lilith,

Thank you for the reply. There's always room for more kittens! lol.

Its an interesting point to ponder whether Morgan may turn mother to a kitten, that could be a really good idea when the time comes. I think with Ollie now getting rather frail (poor old boy is down to one fang, dodgy knees and seems to forget where he is) it would be better not to upset the apple cart in the short term. However certainly worth a try when Morgan finds himself alone.

You may be right and we just have to accept it but it seems such a shame to see a cat in such a state of fear. Hard to imagine what must have happened to him to make him never trust a human again.

Lloyd
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Baggypants
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Re: After some advice on a seemingly permanently frightened

Post by Baggypants »

This seems to be the tip that I suggest rather often - have you tried zylkene? It's a natural supplement that you put in their food to help them deal with stressful situations. I used it when I had to move my cats overseas. It has quite a 'natural' effect and just helps them calm rather than knocking them out like a sedative. You can get it from the vets but it's cheaper online (Amazon or vetuk). It might be worth a try?
Lloyd Barnes
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Re: After some advice on a seemingly permanently frightened

Post by Lloyd Barnes »

I haven't tried that. Vet recommended Feliway which we tried but it had no effect at all. I'll get some and give it a go. :)
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notjustacat
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Re: After some advice on a seemingly permanently frightened

Post by notjustacat »

Hi Lloyd. I was beginning to think I had a one off with Cheyenne (that's her photo on the left). I think her and Morgan would make a great albeit very nervous pair. I, like you, got her as a 4 year old rescue. I understood that she was nervous but felt heaps of TLC would overcome it. Well two years on and I have yet to stroke her. She is not aggressive in any way but if in the house, is always aware of where the bolt holes are. I tried Feliway with no result. I tried playing with her with various toys, but to no effect. If you look further down the posts you will see one (Cheyenne an update). That will give you an idea of the route I have had to take. She comes in for meals. but as the weather improves, her away stays are getting longer. Sorry if this is of no use to you what so ever. But it sure make me feel better knowing I'm not alone. As for Cheyenne I love her to bits.
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Re: After some advice on a seemingly permanently frightened

Post by nanny pamy »

I also have a very nervous cat who I've written about on here. Theo. Beautiful cat who we got last march from the rescue. He's absolutely fine with me and hubby but runs and hides if anyone else is here. He seems at his happiest with just us and him. But it also saddens me that he's so frightened of everything and everyone. Hes an indoor cat and even if we open the back door to the garden he hides under the furniture. The vet was quite shocked the first time he saw him. He said for him to be so nervous he thought hed either been very badly treated or had been taken from his mother too young. He's only recently started to meow which the vet said is a sign he's getting some confidence. He's such a funny lively boy with us and he makes me laugh at how he loves his routine. He likes everything done at the same time every day. Grooming, feeding, playing and bedtime. I can tell it makes him feel so secure. Ive decided he's always going to be the same. Its just his little personality just like some people are shy and some are out going.
Lloyd Barnes
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Re: After some advice on a seemingly permanently frightened

Post by Lloyd Barnes »

Thankyou for the replies. I've ordered some Zylkene, worth a try. We had to some extent accepted Morgan will always be frightened. I think it was just that we wanted to be sure that we weren't overlooking something that could help. Its good, if sad, to know that he's not alone in his fear.

I'll let you all know if the herbal remedy works for him. Here's hoping Ollie doesnt get his paws on the stuff, he's that laid back already I'm not quite sure what would happen! :lol:

Thanks again for taking the time to respond. :)
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Baggypants
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Re: After some advice on a seemingly permanently frightened

Post by Baggypants »

I was thinking of this last night and had a couple of thoughts:

Have you checked his sight/hearing? Is it possible he might not actually know you're approaching him until the last minute because he doesn't see/hear you and therefore you're startling him? Unlikely I know but worth thinking about? Our Elsie can be a bit jumpy sometimes when OH comes crashing through the house in his typical manly way but that's more to do with the layout of our house and she can't always tell if the noises are from inside the house or outside and she decides it is safer to hide behind the sofa until she's sure.

And do you ever get down to his level - ie sit on the floor? My cats always come to investigate if I sit or lie on the floor - I've got a bad back at the moment and it eases if I lie on a flat surface for a few minutes but as soon as i do the cats come to check me out and follow suit - I call it cat yoga time!! Perhaps if you can sit on the floor and read a book (or even better a newspaper), completely ignore him and see if he comes to check you out??
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Re: After some advice on a seemingly permanently frightened

Post by lilynmitz »

Hi Lloyd, thank you for trying to make his life happier, recognising this is for his benefit rather than yours. It must be really distressing to see him so scared, and I do think it was due to his life experience in his previous home. Feliway and Zylkene have their place, but I'll be surprised if it makes a huge difference. Worth a try, even if it eases his feeling of anxiety just a little.

I thought my new puss Elsie would be just the same, having had a very frightening time in on the streets and in rescue, so I was prepared to lie on the floor in her room for a few months talking to her! Luckily she came round very quickly, but my game plan was to be in the room just quietly doing stuff (reading or typing) so she got used to human company. I would also lie on the floor and just talk quietly to her under the bed, doing the "blinking eyes" thing which is cat smiles to them, and occasionally breaking eye contact, sneaking treats in by hand and putting them in as far as I could without her backing off, and slowly and gently offering a finger to sniff, all from below their eye level, and then quietly withdraw my hand again before they got anxious. After a few days of this, Elsie went from shaking and backing off to letting me stroke her. To my amazement she suddenly decided to trust me and came out from under the bed and rolled on the floor next to me, but I suspect if I hadn't done this she would still be under the bed now. We let her escape back up there whenever she wants to, which is quite a lot still, so she's building her confidence at her own pace, but she's doing well considering.

I know Morgan has much more deep rooted fears, and it sounds like you've been meeting his needs - to hide, feel safe, be fed and watered, safe and warm. It's a compliment that he will occasionally let you touch him. Like anyone suffering post traumatic stress, which is basically where Morgan is, now you have him in a safe place, it's his fears you need to work on, so he can learn than humans are more than safe, they a nice to be with, and hands aren't threatening things, they bring pleasure too. Try a few tricks I've described, it will be a long slow process, but you might see some improvement. I do hope so, for him, and for you. But if not, pat yourself on the back for having given a frightened cat a safe, secure and loving home. The alternatives for him could have been very very much worse.
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Re: After some advice on a seemingly permanently frightened

Post by nanny pamy »

What a lovely reply.
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Re: After some advice on a seemingly permanently frightened

Post by greenkitty »

I'm sure you've probably tried this but what about engaging him in play? Feathers on sticks, something on a long piece or cord so you're not near him but he can enjoy a good play... With treats afterwards so he associates you with fun things..
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lilynmitz
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Re: After some advice on a seemingly permanently frightened

Post by lilynmitz »

I tried the remote playing with Elsie (feathers on sticks, small throw toys, ribbons etc,) but it just frightened her, so while good advice for some, don't be surprised if it doesn't always work. However, once Elsie started coking out, she discovered play all by herself, which was wonderful to see. I knew we were on the right road when that happened.
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