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We have a 2+ year old male, neutered cat, name George, that we recently picked from a local shelter.

George was dropped off at the shelter at about 4 months old, and has been there ever since.

He now lives in a spare bedroom/office, behind a closed door. We have had him just over 3 weeks.

We have no children, but two other cats, Bella and Gracie (both spayed girls), but they have not been introduced formally. Gracie occasionally likes to hang outside of the room at the door.

He is a very shy cat. He spends pretty much all of his time in the corner under a small couch in the room. When we first brought him home, he did not eat for 4 days, but now he eats and drinks regularly. When he finally ate, he had a pretty robust play day. The food was eaten, toys were scattered, mouse eyes yanked off.

My wife has been working with him underneath the sofa. Gently approaching him, talking to him sweetly, trying to play with him with a feather wand. She spends several hours a day doing this. This space is her work from home office, but she moved out for over 2 weeks.

The cat has been relaxing, sleeping, exposing his tummy to her, bathing. She’s petting him with the wand. Touching his feet, tummy, body, etc. At one point, he almost poked his head out from under the couch. Beyond touching his tail, she has not been able to touch the cat with her hand. Mostly he’s just too far away.

He’s not an aggressive cat, he hissed at her once or twice early on, but otherwise has been quiet.

We have Feliway, both the thing you plug in to the room, and some spray that we put on toys and stuffed animals. We have a stuffed animal with a “heartbeat”. All these we hope to sooth the kitty.

We thought we were making good progress, but on Saturday we had a scheduled appointment to take him to the Vet for a wellness exam and to get microchipped.

This did not go well, he got upset and lashed out when we tried to get hands on him to get him the carrier (he eventually went in the carrier himself). At the vet while the initial exam went well (the doctor said he was sweet and gentle), when they went back to chip him they decided to weigh him on a scale. The scale was in a corner, and he lashed out again, eventually going back in to the carrier with a little gentle nudging. The doctor does not consider him aggressive, just the corner and handling spooked him.

Since then, he has not returned to his more relaxed self. He’s less interested in my wife, less interested in what little play attention he was giving her in the first place. He’s not relaxing, and stretching out, and sleeping with her there. Rather, he’s grooming himself. We don’t know if this is him just grooming himself or as a sign of stress.

We are now adding Rescue Remedy For Pets to his water.

We are at a loss as to what to do next in order to gain confidence. We have a camera in the room so as to watch him remotely. He moves about at night, mostly he seems to go in and out of the litter box. He’s explored the room thoroughly, he got on the window sill, etc. But his movements are quite cautious, he’s certainly not uninhibited. His tail is not up and he is not displaying confidence in owning this space.

The doctor suggest we just introduce the cats, so that the other cats can teach him about the safety of this place, and us, and our home. We don’t know if that’s a good idea or not. We certainly don’t want to traumatize him any more, he’s a timid cat. Our two cats get along great, but Bella, the older one (10, Gracie is 6) has alpha tendencies. They don’t fight, but they wrestle and chase occasionally. Gracie is the one that hangs out by the door. She is skittish in her own way. She has a lizard toy she likes to drag around the house, and more than once that toy has landed in front of George’s door. Coincidence or offering, who knows.

We don’t know what to do next. We don’t know how long to wait. So, we’re looking for advice about steps to take and expectations so that we can get him out of the corner, out of the room, and engaging with the rest of the family.

  • Hi and welcome to Pets SE ^.^ – lila Sep 22 at 16:09
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Firstly, I have to emphasise how noble it is for you to take home such a cat.

There are a few questions on this site on how someone might regain the trust of a cat after they abuse the cat. Your situation is not very different. The cat is probably abused, either by other cats or by people and you need to regain his trust to humanity.

In my opinion, your wife, touching the cat with a wand is a mistake, unless she first makes the cat sniff the wand. She should make sure her scent is on the tip of the wand. You have to ask permission of the cat. Later, in the long run, she can switch to shorter wands, until your cat sniffs her extended finger.

Again, in my opinion, your wife shouldn't touch the tail as well. I know it is frustrating not to be able to touch the cat, but he should be given more time.

I am not knowledgeable enough to challenge a vet, but if your cat was abused by other cats, introducing them might not be the best idea. However, you can test it. Make him listen to calm meowing cats while you are not in the room. Also, give him some toys of your cats which smell of them and watch him. If he tries to search for the source of the sound curiously and if he plays with the toy, you can start the initiation process. The meow sounds could be of your cats, other female cats or kittens. Never make him hear male sounds.

You should also practice lazy cat blinks with him, if he makes eye contact.

From what I understand, it is a long process but since he is eating and exploring at night, you will definitely succeed at the end. I hope my suggestions hasten the process.

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  • 2
    Thank you @C.Koca, my wife is certainly "pre-scenting" everything, and she's slow blinking as well (the post was long enough :)). We've started introducing the scents of the other cats in to the environment, via socks and such. He was with a pair of other cats at the shelter, they were all quite quiet when we were there (in contrast to the little kitten chatter box following us around). The cats are vocal enough that he certainly has heard them through the door. Gracie vocalize when she wants things, Bella just vocalizes. It's said Siamese cats can't be black, but Bella makes me question that. – Will Hartung Sep 22 at 20:22
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he got upset and lashed out when we tried to get hands on him to get him the carrier

This a mistake that so many people make even with well-balanced cats. They make the carrier into "the scary box that you get manhandled into to go to unpleasant experiences".

Because you are obviously very caring and are willing to spend time rehabilitating this cat I will give the long answer. Most people wouldn't have the patience to read it let alone carry it out.


The long answer

A carrier is an ideal cave for cats to curl up in and feel warm and safe. It should be left in his room so he can use it as such. Once it becomes home, he will run to it rather than away from it. Even at the vet's waiting room it will be a comfort, although being pulled out of it will be scary. However, at the end of the consultation he will be only too pleased to get back in again as soon as possible.

How do you get the cat into it when it is time to go to the vet?

Answer - practice

  1. You practice opening and closing the door gently when the cat is already in there. Leave it closed for one second to start with and build the time up to minutes - ideally the length of the journey to the vet.

  2. When he sees the carrier as a safe home, take him for short outings as follows:

(a) Outside the room in the carrier for a few minutes with other cats absent. When that becomes comfortable ...

(b) Take him in the crate see the other cats from safety so they can sniff each other through the bars. Remove as soon as there is even a hint of aggression/fear from any of them. Try again the next day.

(c) When that is easy, take him to the car to sit there for a few minutes. First without the engine. Next time with the engine. Next for a 5 minute drive going home if any yowling occurs. This doesn't have to be on the same day. Use your judgement.

  1. Next, go on a visit to the vet just to sit in the waiting room, then going home without actually seeing a vet. Next go there but this time get an appointment with a vet nurse just to go into the consulting room, preferably without doing more than opening the door of the carrier. Next week have a visit to the nurse to be petted.

Summary

Make the carrier the safest place in the world for this cat. He can go anywhere in it indoors and out and nothing bad happens --- 99% of the time! Only on that 1% does he have to come out at the vets but can then go back into safety and back home.

Notes

But how do I get him to go in the carrier when it is vet time? The chances are that a nervous cat will run into the crate at the slightest change of routine. Then quietly close the door and go ahead. By now you will have practised this loads of times anyway.

Training. You can make a point of giving a portion of breakfast in the crate each morning (don't leave food overnight). Again build up gradually. When he is used to eating in the crate with its door open, close the door gently without locking while he is eating. Gradually increase the time.

But, you say, This sounds incredibly hard and time intensive. Anyway the vet nurse won't want to be bothered with fake visits!!!

Not true. I have done this process with cats and dogs many times and now that I'm good at it I can get the whole vet rehabilitation accomplished in a couple of weeks with practically any animal. The key is not to do it mechanically but to observe the animal at every microstep. Stop if they look scared and take a step back.

Believe me, vet nurses and vets are only too glad to help with teaching pets to learn to be calm. It saves them scratches and they are there to reduce animals' suffering mentally as well as physically. I have never been charged for this sort of thing.


I've left out lots of little contingency things you can do but this is a SE answer not a book. Feel free to ask it it will be helpful.

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  • Ok, so the part about the carrier is good, but the OP wasn’t asking about how to get the cat to the vet, rather how to proceed with getting the new cat accustomed to the new home and to get the the group of cats to cohabit peacefully. I feel that this post borders on “not an answer”. – Stephie Sep 24 at 11:06
  • @ Stephie - Thanks I understand your point. However my suggestion is that the OP use the carrier for this purpose. Once the carrier is seen as a safe place, it can be used to introduce the cat to new parts of the home whilst in the reassuring environment of the carrier. Similarly the cat can be introduced to the other cats with a safe barrier between them to begin with. Rather than take risks - give the cat a comforting barrier between it and the scary outside world. P.S. I'm speaking from experience of rescuing and rehabilitating animals. I'll edit my answer to reflect this when I've time – chasly - supports Monica Sep 24 at 11:29
  • ... continued ... I'll also say how to wean the cat away from the carrier. – chasly - supports Monica Sep 24 at 11:30
  • That would make it a great answer! The information in the comment is basically what was missing or hidden in a small remark. – Stephie Sep 24 at 11:36

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