14

We recently got an 8 month old cat from a breeder, it had lived its live in a cage with the rest of the litter up to that point. The car journey home was about an hour and the whole time I had my hand in the carrier and was stroking her gently. She didn't seem afraid at all, and made no attempt to leave the carrier.

When we got to our apartment I made the mistake of not confining her to just one room and I think she got a bit bewildered. For quite a while she just sat in the carrier and didn't move. I was able to pick her up and hold her without any apparent problem.

That night she peed and pooped on the sofa :-( So we decided to confine her to the kitchen with everything she needed. However, it was now impossible to get close to her to take her to the kitchen. We tried twice to corner her and pick her up but that just ended up with my arms all scratched up and her hiding under the sofa. My wife and I were starting to get a bit desperate.

In the end we managed to "herd" her into the kitchen without having to get too close. However, I think the failed attempts to "grab" her have traumatised her and made her really afraid of us.

She spent the next few days in the kitchen apparently fine. She ate well and did her business in the litter tray, but would always run and hide when any of us entered the kitchen. After a week in the kitchen (and having thoroughly cleaned the sofa!) we let her roam the living / dining room which is pretty large. She seems to be fine with that (and hasn't peed where she shouldn't). We've also managed to play with her with a stick with feathers on the end, but as soon as we get any closer she runs away. Petting her is almost impossible.

What can we do so she stops being afraid of us? She's a gorgeous cat and I just want to have her purring on my lap as I watch TV, and that seems like it will never happen the way things are currently.

FOLLOW UP: about 3 weeks after posting this question, without any of us doing anything in particular, just mostly ignoring the cat and trying not to get in its way, she gradually became more and more friendly to the point where she now always follows us around the house and will purr away endlessly as we stroke her. She now has no fear of us at all. I guess it really was just a question of time!

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    How do you feed her? Is there any treat she likes especially? If you become "treat-human", you will be less scary, her playing with you is already great! Also.. she MAY just be a non-cuddling cat... – Layna Oct 6 '15 at 10:43
  • I feed her a mixture of dry "pellets" (or "niblets" as Dear Kitten would say!) and wet food. We give her some treats from time to time too and she likes them, but hasn't yet associated them with us. I will be mortified if she's a non-cuddling cat :-( – mluisbrown Oct 6 '15 at 10:52
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    The more you try to force it, the more you push her away. She will warm up to you as you love her by caring for her needs and talking to her, without trying to push yourself on her (trying to pick her up or pet her, when she doesnt want to). – n00b Oct 6 '15 at 14:19
  • I agree and highly recommend treats and continued non-threatening bids for contact. Nothing will teach a cat faster that you're a safe person than a combination of: you being calm, waiting for the cat to approach you instead of you approaching it, and getting down low (or even sitting or lying down, not necessarily even facing the cat) and offering food near you or from your hand. – ErikE Oct 6 '15 at 16:21
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    "I just want to have her purring on my lap as I watch TV" Not every cat will ever do this. – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 7 '15 at 10:07

11 Answers 11

19

It will take time.

I don't know how for how long you have owned her now, but from my experience, the relationship can take long to establish itself.

To create this bond you are looking for, don't rush things. Never chase her, never hold her when she doesn't want to, and never make sudden movements when you are near her. This would only make her more afraid of you.

Instead, sit down next to her, with her daily food, treats or toys, wait until she comes on her own to eat or play. She needs to understand that you are not a threat. Just hold your hand in her direction, without moving. She will, eventually, come rub her head against your hand. This worked with 100% of the cats I have met :)

Speaking with her gently also helps. Try to call her by her name when you wait with her food/toys. She should learn that this means no harm for her.

  • My parents have a cat which is quite "wild and free", and it is only possible to cuddle when she decides. However, gentle movements, calm speech and patience will always gain her confidence for a cuddle :-) – Yotus Oct 6 '15 at 12:12
  • I once had a kitten like this, who was apparently traumatized by the processing of being taken home and put in a house. (That particular kitten had been born outdoors on a farm where it had lived for the first few days of it's life, but I'm not sure that mattered much.) He ate well enough, but was just a shadow hiding in the corners. It was literally two years of hiding in the shadows before he started letting me pet him. Even now he's about eight, and if unexpected guests come over he will hide and not come out for hours, sometimes even skipping a meal to hide. It will take time. – GrandOpener Oct 6 '15 at 15:01
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    Agreed with the bit about holding out your hand. Crouch down and extend your hand toward the cat, at about head height (the cat's head, not yours,) with the palm open. Cats tend to see this as non-threatening. There's a sound you can do with your mouth, sort of a "sss-ffsss-ffsss" sound (you'd know if you ever heard someone doing it) that tends to soothe them as well, for whatever reason. I've never seen a cat--including ones described as "mean" by their owners--not respond positively when I do those two things. – Mason Wheeler Oct 6 '15 at 15:05
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    In addition to this, I've also found that getting a cat used to my smell is very helpful - try putting a blanket that you've used or clothing that you've worn in the cat's area. – Holly Oct 6 '15 at 18:14
12

We recently got an 8 month old cat from a breeder, it had lived its live in a cage with the rest of the litter up to that point.

Unless the breeder spent the proper effort to socialize the cat with a variety of humans in the first few weeks, you have already lost the best opportunity to socialize your cat.

Don't expect all cats to behave according to your ideal. I've owned a few cats and they are all different. Some are more "aloof" and never sit on laps. I learned to appreciate all the more the times when that sort of cat would sit nearby for a short while and purr quietly while I rubbed its head. (In one case the cat's purr was usually inaudible unless I pressed my ear to his chest).

I believe the best approach is to be patient, gentle, unthreatening, persistent and consistent. Don't expect too much. If the cat tolerates being in your presence, that is a win. I would take it a step at a time and be prepared to work on it for months or years if necessary.

As cats get older they become less active outdoors (if permitted) and may become more placid. But cats vary a lot and some may never become lap cats.

See Kitten Socialisation

The experiences kittens have within their first two months of life are important in influencing their behaviour right into and through adulthood. During this early period, often known as the ‘socialisation period’, kittens learn what aspects of their environment are ‘normal’ and ‘safe’ so that everything that they come across during this period is likely to be accepted as something that is ‘okay’ later in life. This typically happens in the safe core environment of the nest and its immediate vicinity. Equally, anything that they do not come across during this period is much more likely to produce a fear response in adulthood.

Studies have indicated that the socialisation period in cats has been identified as being between two and seven weeks of age. During this time, the kitten’s brain and sensory system are still developing and the stimuli he encounters influence how this development occurs.

As cats do not have an inbuilt ‘need’ to be with people – tolerance of and desire to be around people being a learned behaviour – early handling by a variety of people during this time is essential in order to socialise kittens with humans. The onset of a fear response or hazard avoidance response is six weeks in kittens. It is extremely difficult to socialise those which have had no human contact after weaning and almost impossible after they reach sexual maturity.

  • This. Not all cats are lap-cats. Mine is an evil monster, who's only interaction is at feeding time, or when he jumps on the bed to attack my ankles in the middle of the night. – SeanR Oct 7 '15 at 8:19
6

I think the failed attempts to "grab" her have traumatised her and made her really afraid of us.

So do I. Chasing a cat or trying to grab it, especially before it knows you, starts off on the wrong foot. You now have some work to do to regain trust.

Instead of 'herding' a cat into the kitchen or anywhere else, you can use its chasing instinct to lure it to where you want it to go. The difference is huge. A cat that is chasing is focused and has very little concern for anything else, a cat that is being chased associates that fact with all of its current surroundings. It becomes hyper-aware when it encounters the same combination of environmental factors again. That room! Those people! Those noises! TROUBLE!

The slow remedy has already been covered by others.

This is a young cat and the quick way forward is to learn about reward-only operant-conditioning (or rather its offshoot, clicker training).

You can influence a young cat's behaviour in minutes provided you understand what you are doing and your timing is good. Example: It's possible to teach a cat to high-five in about half-a-dozen ten-minute sessions (I speak from experience). By occupying its mind, you stop it worrying about fearful stimuli and you can train it to jump onto a chair or your lap. It's a challenge though. Learning to be a quick and effective clicker-trainer takes patience, thought, insight and patience (oh and patience).

If you search online for 'cat clicker training' there is plenty of information. Karen Pryor is a pioneer of clicker-training and is excellent. Try looking at Youtube videos.

If you do it right, you can rehabilitate an animal in a week or even a day where it might otherwise take months. It is fun and rewarding once you get the knack.

Note that a hand-shy cat can be trained using a laser-pointer as a chase-toy. If you do it right the cat won't even realise you are training it. You train the cat to come to you instead of the other way around. It will forget you are there until it realises it is already sitting in your lap.

In any case good luck!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6wgbCmaD8o

6

The method I've found that works with all cats - even feral ones - takes time and patience on your part (my most recent success is with a 13-week-old kitten who had never been out of her birthing room when I took her home - although she had been socialized fairly well).

  • Start by sitting on the floor near her food or with a treat or a toy. Speak softly and gently to her, but don't try to touch at first (unless she gets herself stuck somewhere and cries for rescue, then you rescue her, pet her until she starts wriggling, and gently let her go).
  • Gradually get closer to her food/treat/toy until she's right beside you. Petting her then should be associated with good things.
  • Make sure you move slowly when you extend a hand to her. We're a lot bigger than they are, and until they realize the giant is safe, they can be quite skittish. It can help if your hand smells of something she likes (be warned - if you have catnip or fish smell on your hand, you might find her trying to eat it).
  • Catching her eyes then slowly closing and opening yours also helps - the slow blink is a cat signal of "I'm not your enemy" (I don't recall the reference for this, sorry).
  • Expect her to remain skittish for a while, particularly when you're standing up and walking around. This will gradually settle down.

You'll need to spend a lot of time on the floor at first - I spent the better part of three days mostly sitting on the floor in the room where I confined the kitten, letting her get used to me being there and talking to her. It helps - trust me on this - if the place you choose isn't close to the kitty litter and hasn't been used by another cat to stash the mouse he caught months ago! (We overcame that little problem - EW).

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    We should add that sitting next to a cat is also a good way to be smaller, which helps making the cat less afraid of "that big ape" running in the house. – Yotus Oct 6 '15 at 12:31
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To me it sounds like you are well on that path. She's eating, playing and using the litter box. Other than some snuggles now and then, there's not much more you can ask for from a cat (not that you'd get it even if you did ;p).

I think you're doing everything right, and sounds like you're making progress. It's slow progress, but it's good and that's what counts. She just needs some time. From her perspective, you guys are these crazy beings that took her from her family, brought her to a big strange place that initially had no obvious/familiar place to use the bathroom and had a few dramatic incidents involving unwarranted contact. That's ok though, cats are resilient; fussy assholes, but resilient. You're seeing that now, as she's starting to open up.

As long as you just let her be, and continue to interact with her the way you have been, she'll eventually learn you're not 'stranger danger' type people and will warm up to you. Don't come at her from above, and always hold your hand under her eye level as you extend it. Make soft/sleepy eyes at her to show that you're not excited and your a friend. This is like a cat kiss or handshake. Just softly closing the eyes. If she does this at you, you're in a good spot in her book. Trying to get her closer to you with treats might also work. If she can get close to you and not have any incidents then she'll learn it's ok to be next to you (and sometimes delicious!). Just don't try to touch or anything. Just get her within a few feet/inches of a body part and call it success. Stay there as long as she'll stay next to you. Eventually getting your hand closer and closer for some pets.

The first contact you can expect is that she'll rub her cheeks on your hand, then maybe you can move to head pets if she sort of head butts your hand, telling you she wants more. She's just scared that you're going to grab her again, so always let her see your hands and don't look like you're going to grab her. Don't sneak up on her or sneak a peak at her if she's in a different room. She might think your stalking her. Just do your thing like you don't care about her being there, but that you are aware of her. She's your roommate now. You can let her know you're coming by softly announcing yourself. Maybe try meowing at her a little. Cat's only meow at humans so it's a way to break the ice in a way she might understand. Eventually you'll learn each others meows and what they mean.

We had a feral cat, probably about 6 mos old that come into our apt one night. Her ears were flea bitten and she was a little mangey so we gave her a bath which she did not like AT ALL. We towel dried her but she struggled and we just gave her some tuna and we put her back outside in a box with a bit of a blanket likely never to see her again. We agreed that if it was there the next day, we would bring her in to the family. She was there so we knew she didn't have a home/place to sleep, but the first few days/weeks were a bit awkward because she was very much a scaredy cat almost exactly as you describe.

Now, 10 years later, she's still a bit cautious about strangers but she's super comfortable with my wife and I, and even some of our closer friends. She sleeps with us nearly every night and comes running to the door to greet us when we get home. There is hope for you.

Just don't let her go outside yet. She will run away.

3

Don't rush it. I've got a feral mom who I've only been able to touch once in 3+ years, and she was under anesthesia to get spayed at the time. We've gotten a routine down though, where she will sit across the room and watch when she knows it's feeding time. Sometimes now she'll even come smell my hand as I'm putting down food. I make a point of sitting in with her and watching TV or otherwise focusing on something else, so she can watch me NOT focusing all my attention on her. She's also a big fan of those "feather on a string at the end of a stick" toys, which let her stay far enough away to feel secure, but still allow us to interact (play!) with each other. Another one that I've found helpful is to sleep in her 'safe' room. Usually I'll wake up and find her peering over the edge of the bed/couch, only a few inches from my face. My case is a little extreme (wild-caught in an unfriendly area after at least one litter, and I think she still blames me for finding homes for her last litter once they were old enough) but your case doesn't sound so bad. It sounds like it's a little too soon to be worried; moving to a new home with new people is a lot to get used to, and it'll take her a while to get comfortable... probably longer if you push her too hard.

Oh, and just because I haven't seen anyone else say it: Please don't support breeders. There are plenty of cats (and dogs) at local shelters who desperately need loving homes. I'm not pointing fingers at you, OP, since I don't know if you have special needs (e.g. hypoallergenic) but just wanted to mention it.

Best of luck with your new kitty!

2

You need to accept that she is a living being, not a lap toy, and if she chooses never to become that, you'll need to accept that too. Expecting a cat to conform to your ideals usually doesn't go very well. As the other replies mentioned, don't do anything threatening. Blinking frequently (and keeping your eyes closed for a moment in the process), speaking softly with a positive tone, not raising your hands above the cat all contribute to avoiding more damage to your relationship with her. Trying to grab her, yelling at her, sudden loud noises all do the opposite.

When playing with my cats, I make sure to let them regularly catch what they are chasing for a moment (e.g. a cat chases a stick I'm holding, and I'll move the stick around her a few times and then let her catch it, as not 'winning' at games is depressing for cats just like it is for children). I use the moment they're holding on to their pray as a chance to pet/stroke the cat in a way that doesn't interfere with their enjoyment while verbally praising her too. Praise, treats, accepted petting all help you bond.

Giving her food 'personally' and talking to her while she eats (again making sure to be unthreatening as cats have to be particularly aware of their surroundings when eating...) also works for me.

2

We've had cats for about 15 yrs. Two were feral. It took over 6 months and one serious bite to allow them to calm down. Now one of them bumps heads with me when I pass and sleeps with me at night sometimes. He still avoids me in new situations, like when we allowed him into a new room. Took a couple of weeks before he acted normally. He still has quirks and moments when he acts very scared but he is very interesting and surprises me with new ways of showing affection.

Another of our cats came from a normal upbringing and isn't afraid of me at all but he has never shown any affection, seems to only be interested in eating but he is very affectionate with other cats.

My reason for posting this is that imo, each cat may be different and your kitty may never adapt completely but it is worth the effort and patience if it happens. My vet does not believe he was ever feral. I wish I had video.

(I'm sorry to say that the other cat who was feral and almost identical to our living kitty, died of a respiratory infection) He was tame too after months and I would not hesitate to take in another cat that is feral although he can not be replaced.

1

When we got to our apartment I made the mistake of not confining her to just one room and I think she got a bit bewildered.

Despite that, I think you're well on your way to a happy kitten. One thing you have to remember is that she was with her family for up to eight months, and then suddenly, she's with you and far from home. She can probably sense that you mean her no harm, but she's just not sure. Using the sofa as a litterbox that night was most likely her way of making her surroundings smell like her. If you had confined her to a spare bedroom, a bathroom, or a large carrier, she most likely would've done the same there as well.

I did the mistake of "herding" my two feral kittens when they were babies. I had to get them into a carrier to bring them to the vet so they could be spayed and neutered (one is male, the other is female), and I know I scared the bits out of them. They're five now and fine. More on that in a bit.

What the others have said is great advice and there's not much more I can add to it. I think it's a great sign that she's using the litter box, eating and drinking fine, and she's starting to play with you, which is huge!

What I'd do if I were you is this:

Ignore her. Fold your laundry in the living room, using gentle motions (no snapping bath towels or bed sheets), sing along with the radio, wash the floors by hand, lay out on the couch, surf the internet. Basically, just do what you do and let her see what you do. All she knew before you was her family. You're now her family and since you can't talk to her, you have to show that with your actions.

Let her come to you. Sit on the floor to watch tv. Let her come to you by placing the feathers on a stick toy (I'm presuming the feathers are on a string attached to the stick) toy on the ground, with the string laid out so that it's away from you. Gently pull it away until she's playing. Maybe try a laser pointer - take care to not shine it in her eyes, and let the red dot fall on a toy so that she has something to "catch" at the end of the play session. My female feral kitten loved to play almost right away, but her brother would freeze at the sight of the feather on a stick toy flying over him, and then run away. Now he plays readily and always catches the feather.

Try a homeopathic solution. This is debatable, but there's a product called Rescue Remedy that you can try. Or Jackson Galaxy's line, Spirit Essences, which are flower essences. Jackson's products are really good. I've used them with good results, and they're created according to the need of the animal. There's even one for feral cats!

It'll take time, but I think she'll warm up to you. I think that you can eventually have that cat purring on your lap as you watch TV. My female feral cat is sound asleep on my lap as I type this. It's all up to her though. My female cat won't let anyone but me near her, while her brother is cool as a cucumber with almost everyone. Neither will let me pick them up, but they will lay on my lap or stomach.

Make sure that she has lots of cat items. Or as Jackson Galaxy says, Catify your home. Make sure she has cat trees, or even shelves on your walls, so that she can get up high as she desires. Make sure she has a place to retreat to when things are too overwhelming for her. Try having people over, in small numbers, so she gets used to company. Had you thought about a second cat or kitten as a friend? It might make her more comfortable if she's by herself for long periods. A sibling would be the best idea, as it can be hard to mingle strange cats together. It's not impossible but it can be difficult, or you could luck out completely and get a cat who loves any newcomer and vice versa.

If she's not spayed, you might want to do that as soon as you can. It'll make her less moody, and keep her healthier. When you take her to the vet, you might want to get her microchipped, just in case (Heaven's forbid) she ever gets loose. Don't declaw her. None of my cats are declawed, and they only have ever used their claws on me if they were upset at me, if play got a little carried away, or accidentally (my male cat jumped onto my shoulders and slipped, clawing my shoulder as he tried to right himself). It's also a safety measure for her, just in case she ever gets out.

Keep this website on hand just in case. www.catsinthebag.org It has wonderful tips on finding lost cats based on their background (indoors only, indoors/outdoors, formerly feral).

I wish you and your kitten the best! I think she's got a great home with you.

1

A very important point (not to take away from all of the other great answers): Provide a high place that she can climb up on. Cats love high places, especially if they don't feel completely safe. A "cat tree" is a terrific investment - you can sprinkle catnip on it to increase her initial interest. It's even better if there's a way she can go from one high place to another in a room, like from the top of the cat tree to the top of a nearby bookshelf.

Oh, and if you do get a laser pointer, get the weakest one you can find. And even then take care to keep it out of the cat's eyes.

0

This is so easy. Go to the pharmacy and buy valerian, let her sniff some. With some cats catnip might work and silver vine branches. Try what works on yours. In time all cats come round, be gentle and when you need to handle her, let her sniff her favorite plant beforehand.

Check google/youtube for further infomation.

EDIT: There are many plants that affect felines, from the humble house cat to the mighty lion. They are being used in zoos to calm down the felines. The most accessible herb is probably valerian from your pharmacy, while the most powerful plant is probably the silver vine. The herbs can also be bought on ebay or grown at home. For example, you buy a box of valerian pills, empty one or two of their content and offer the herb to your cat to sniff. After you do this, fear will soon be the last thing on its mind.

  • Could you add some links as references? That would make it easier for people to check them out. – Kate Paulk Oct 8 '15 at 11:55
  • Try searching for "cat valerian", "cat catnip" or "cat silver vine" on youtube and/or google. – user1095108 Oct 8 '15 at 12:25
  • The information in those searches would be more useful to people here if it was summarized here - that way they can get the most important parts from one place, then look up other items afterwards. – Kate Paulk Oct 9 '15 at 14:54

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