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Adopted a VERY Shy Rescue Cat! Tips Please!

4215 Views 26 Replies 13 Participants Last post by  Amyshojai
I lost my cat almost 2 months ago and finally felt ready to adopt a new cat. I found this one via Craig's list and they did warn me she way shy. Still, I have never experienced this level of fear in a pet. She has been hiding and did not eat for the first couple of days or use the litter box, or pee at all from what I can tell.

I read some info online, which recommended confining them to a smaller space, one room so they are not too overwhelmed and to block all the hiding spaces. Also to create a safe place, like their carrier ... so using my office I did all this. She did not like the carrier and continued to try and hide, even finding her way into a large purse! So I covered my little typing table with a sheet and put a pillow in there and that seems to have worked well.

As of this morning she did eat and use the box! I have left her mostly alone... I did go in there to do some work this morning (they said you should conduct biz as usual) and gave her some fresh water and just removed the carrier completely... I also ordered a calming spray, (I had good results with a collar I got in the past for my other cat) which should come today. I plan to go in and spend a little time with her.. just chatting... making eye contact but no touching, I will not force myself on her...

Any other ideals or anyone else experience this situations? I have no other pets or people in my home... I do know patience is key. My last cat spent maybe 2 hours under a couch when I brought him home then he popped out and jumped on my lap and never left my side after that... I do know that is rare with rescue animals... I just feel like some kind of strange jailer! LOL!

Any advice would be much appreciated!
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buy one of those cat toys that consists of a long stick with ribbons at one end. The kind you hold and shake. Interactive play will get her used to you. She probably will just watch it the first couple of times. But cats are hard-wired to see movement, so sooner or later, she'll hunt and kill it.
Our rescue dog, Pippa, was very shy and quiet when we first got her. To the point we thought she had been de-barked. We were patient and gentle and let her get used to us. Now she's quite the snuggler and she barks loudly anytime she thinks the home is threatened. It just takes patience and time, I think.
What you are already doing and the advice above seems good to me. We adopted a small, thin, young cat from a local shelter that had been abandoned and living feral until she was too sick to run. We were able to bring her home after she was well enough to be spayed. We already had another cat, larger and a little older than her, who seemed to think that we had brought him a fun play toy. After a few days of getting to know each other through a door vent and supervised play, the two cats got along well but the new one was timid and shy around us. After time, patience, and interactive play, she likes to snuggle near us and purrs loudly. She still does not like much petting or any sense of confinement but is a happy and loving cat.
Awwww, poor baby. I think you do everything you can right now. It really can take a while. My now elderly kitten, we got from Petsmart adoption. He came with one of those igloo houses. He was so freaked out, I didn't see that cat for like a week. I just made sure he ate and pooped. One day he was gone. I could not find him anywhere, I thought he got out. I tore my apartment apart trying to find him. 3 days later, he was back in his igloo. I still don't know where he was hiding.

It took 2-3 months to get him not to freak out and at least come out and hang in the same room with us. I would just sit with him in the room we put him. Just so he would get used to me, my voice, my smell. My husband did the same. We would sit there sometimes talking to each other so he could get used to both of us talking, just hanging. After a while I just opened that door and let him try to explore a bit more.

I think another 6 months and from that point in, he was cuddly kitty and has slept with us every night ever since.  ;D. He couldn't be more of a baby if he tried now. Always has to sit on us, lean on us, cuddle on us. Sweetest most spoiled grouchy old man kitty you ever seen.

Oh, and once he came out and started jumping on the sofa with us by himself? He never went back into the igloo and so I put it outside and then opossums moved in for a while.  ;D
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Thanks every one. I think we have made some progress. Someone else suggested brushing her. I did that twice today and it got her purring and snuggling both times... :) Hearing everyone else's stories is also very encouraging!
We have a cat who was like that. We also got her from Craigslist. The first 2-3 days, she hid in a corner by the sofa. In fact, the first few months, that was her favorite spot to the point where there was a mat of her fur in there. She gradually came out and would lay on the couch and allow us to pet her. She bit me the second day we had her because she rolled on her side and her tummy looked so soft, I started to stroke it. Without a warning growl or anything, she just lunged and bit me. However, eventually, she started coming out more and more, and then started sitting on the arm of my daughter's chair. (very wide arm, and she could see out the window there too.).

It was literally months before she would sit in my daughter's lap, then another month for me. That was three years ago that we got her and it's hard to remember she was so shy. She now pesters us for attention all the time! Jumps up to the top of my chair and head butts me until I pet her, then reaches down and kneads my shoulder, which is just a prelude to making herself comfy on my chest, completely blocking the view of my computer. Also, I started putting a stuffed dog on my pillow at night, otherwise she'll find her way there and sleep on top of my head. Many times I've woken up with her sleeping like a princess in the middle of the pillow, while I'm relegated to a tiny corner.

So, hang in there. The payoff is worth the wait and the patience.
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I agree, you are doing things well.  Just give her time so she can learn to trust her.

Do you know the "slow eye blink" technique, also called "cat kisses"?

Google Jackson Galaxy.. I know on youtube he has a video showing how to do the slow blink.. if you can get your cat to return the blink that is a good sign..

You don't have to be total hands-off.  Let her smell your hand (Jackson uses his glasses). You can briefly try touch.. stay around the head for most cats.  Sometimes just a hand near the cheek/side of mouth and they will start leaning into you.  You can try little treats to reward (if she's food centric).

And a wand toy can be good, as mentioned.  The Cat Catcher mouse toy is excellent, and check out Da Bird, which is a favorite with many cats.  Jackson Galaxy also has a new line of toys and I have seen him use what looks like a segmented bug that cats seem to love!

I volunteer with cats at a shelter (Irvine Animal Care Center) and of course cats are super stressed there and some are very very shy and we have to give them time but we also have to persist in helping them to become adoptable..

A laser light might get her interested and can be used at a distance.

She might like some little mice and balls are popular too.

Well you've had  a cat so you know all that, but each one is so unique.

Good luck!!!     
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Though it might go against the advice you are getting from others, I've dealt with this many time and found that constant touching, not no touching, works extremely well.

I carried a shy cat around in a "tummy carrier" for babies for about three weeks, talking, petting, keeping a hand on the outside or inside as often as possible, and brought the cat into my bedroom to sleep with me.  I also brushed her two or three times a day, which she loved. It simulates the grooming that cats do to one another, and if a kitten is taken away from it's mother too young, it doesn't get enough of this touching.

She bonded to me very, very strongly in that time, and then would follow me around like a puppy dog everywhere I went after that. Food treats are good if you can find something she really wants to eat.  Be gentle of course, but I don't personally think a shy cat should be put away and ignored.

The contact and comfort method has worked on more that one cat for me.

No fear of contact.  No fear of people.

Good luck.

I'm sure there are hundreds of different opinions out there as well.
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Bless you for adopting this shy baby. It is a cat "rule" (and normal!) for adult cats to act fearful in a strange, unfamiliar situation. It takes different kitties various lengths of time to come out of their shell. I call it "stranger danger" reaction, and until you're no longer a stranger, and the new place becomes "home" there will continue to be reluctance to interact.

You're already doing many things right. I'm not a fan of "blocking off hiding spots" -- how would you feel being forced out in the open with a scary stranger/smells/environment surrounding you? ;D So the sheet covered desk with pillow is very good option.

Cats recognize what's "safe" by smell--what smells like them is safe. They share scent by cheek rubbing objects/people, mutual grooming, sleeping with each other, even clawing leaves scent markings behind. So associating YOUR smell with all-good-things can help enormously.

A quick comment on the "constant touching" advice--and a caution. That CAN work with kittens but for adult cats it can backfire and get you injured or even associate you with a fearful situation and make the angst worse. It's a technique called "flooding" where basically you surround the cat with what she fears until the fear mechanism shuts down. Sort of like locking an arachnophobe in a closet with can't get away and ultimately you freeze. So for moderately shy kitties it might be one option--with terrified cats, please don't. *s*

If the cat allows it, try petting her with a clean pair of socks over your hands (she may accept that more than your bare hands). These socks now smell like her--so put them on and voila! you smell like she's already ankle-rubbed/marked you with her scent.

Using a (clean!) toilet wand as a long distance groomer also works well with feral cats being acclimated to humans. Hold it out--cats often can't resist nose-touching and then rubbing against it and you are still at a safe distance.

Here's a replay of a free cat language webinar I offered a week or so ago that may offer some more insights. Good luck!
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I agree on not flooding..  of course I work with shelter cats and the last thing you want is to provoke a bite, which earns them quarantine and for those days, they aren't getting adopted.  in some shelters that could result in their death.  Luckily in ours that isn't the case except in extreme circumstances.

But in the shelter you do want those good associations to be made. 

Of course in your home you can get those scents, yours and your cat's .. associated with good things happening, food, play, security.  I always encourage my cat and the shelter cats to put their scent on my hands or on me (wash hands between cats for many reasons but it also doesn't come at them smelling of other cat.. some of them REALLY dislike other cats).

Also agree with letting them have hiding places and in a home, they can take their time coming out.

I like the clean toilet wand idea!
So glad you're able to work with and place (mostly) even the shy ones. Of course there's a percentage of cats (and dogs...and people) that are simply born genetically programmed to be "more shy" or "more gregarious."

Miss Louise Brooks, Lulu for short.

Thanks everyone fore the advice! She is doing well! Though she has yet to come to me on her own, or leave either of her safe places in my presence on her own, still she seems to have bonded with me. She loves to spend time on my bed as long as she is under a sheet! She will just stay there, even if I get up to do something! She has two "safe places" in the office... she eats all her food and uses her box. I think I am going to start just leaving the doors open now and let her go where she wants... at least during the day?

I don't know how else to let her adjust, if it overwhelms her too much I can take a step back... I am thinking of doing it in these steps...starting today.

Doors open during the day... food still in office.
Close her in the office tonight... (she does most of her eating at this time)
Tomorrow night leave door open... food still close by
Then move food to kitchen... in a day or two after that if all goes well?
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What a beauty! You have the right idea on gradual change but I'd slow it down even more. Simply open the door for her during the day and close it at night, leaving food in her accustomed spot. I wouldn't move the food dish until she's comfortable exploring the rest of the house and "discovers" the kitchen. You might add a second bowl there that "magically" has scrumptious treats appear now and then.

Awwwww, what a sweet face. So pretty.

Sounds like there is lots of progress already. Her being on your bed is great. Your smell and safety under the sheet.
Amyshojai said:
What a beauty! You have the right idea on gradual change but I'd slow it down even more. Simply open the door for her during the day and close it at night, leaving food in her accustomed spot. I wouldn't move the food dish until she's comfortable exploring the rest of the house and "discovers" the kitchen. You might add a second bowl there that "magically" has scrumptious treats appear now and then.
Great advice, thanks!
What a great looking cat!!!  Once she settles in I think you'll find a delightful friend!  I think her getting on your bed is a wonderful sign of good things to come.
She is beautiful!
It is awesome that you are willing to take the time to help her adjust.
I agree, she's a real beauty and  you are both doing so well.  Agree with slower than faster in the moving things around department and  better to have two feeding stations, two litter boxes (if  you want to move that) and then get her to morph over to the one  you want her to use.

My cat is a water dumper.. so her water is on a hard surface floor with a mat.. three bowls so she can dump and hopefully still have plenty to drink.. 

Her food is far away, upstairs so she won't drop food into the water.

I love Lulu's soft eyes!!!
I just recently adopted a five year old Russian Blue after the death of my kitty. She was very unhappy when she came to live with me. I had to learn all her favorite scratching places the hard way and even ended up with a tetanus shot and antibiotics for one particularly bad bite. She is a beautiful lady with a powder puff butt. Very feminine and prissy. She loves to snuggle up at night but still won't let me rub her belly. I won her over by keeping her in my bedroom with her old toys, food bowl, water bowl and climbing post. She hid for three days and nights behind the loveseat. Then I coaxed her out with her favorite cat treats making a trail of them to where I was. I kept myself eyelevel with her and blinked slowly to show I loved her. She eventually began to sit on me when I was reading my kindle. She allows others to scratch between her ears, but that's about it so far.
Right now she is asleep on the back of my chair. I started leaving the door open in the bedroom and letting the Pug walk around the bed with her watching the dog. She pays little attention to the other cats and the pug now. She ventured out into the hall and then explored the rooms one by one. The living room is on her schedule right now. That will leave only one more room to go. She was definitely worth the scratches and bites and has become a constant companion. Just keep on keeping on and you might watch "My Cat From H*ll" if someone hasn't already suggested it. His methods work.
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