How To Help An Abused Cat Recover

Helping a formerly abused cat to regain his or her trust in humans and become a happy pet cat is a challenging – yet immensely rewarding – project. We’ve put together this guide that will show you how to recognize the symptoms of abuse and how to help an abused cat recover.

help abused cat recover

What is an abused cat?

As cat lovers, when we hear about cat abuse, our stomachs turn. Abuse of pets is more common than some people may think. It may not always be as tragic as the awful cases that make headlines, but it takes its toll on poor cats everywhere.

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of pet abuse. The more common one is simply a matter of continued neglect. Our pets depend on us for their well-being. We need to provide them with

  • a suitable environment
  • adequate food
  • medical care
  • and lots of love

A cat that’s routinely and systematically denied any of these cannot live a happy life. A hungry cat, one whose injuries and disease are left untreated, or a pet cat that has little to no loving interaction with humans, is not a happy one. That cat is likely to withdraw into his or her shell under the stress. More often than not, neglect spreads across all aspects of cat care. These abused cats are often sick or malnourished and suffer from emotional deprivation.

Then there is the other form of abuse: deliberate infliction of pain on a cat. Fortunately, that kind of horrific cruelty is rarer. It’s the kind that makes headlines that make cat lovers shudder.

Sadly, some cats suffer from both neglect and cruelty.

How to tell if a cat has been abused

The telltale signs of abuse are often quite visible. Physical symptoms of cat abuse include –

  • Untreated injuries
  • Chronic health issues from untreated medical conditions
  • Parasites such as fleas, ticks, and worms
  • An overall unkempt coat, often with bald spots and other skin conditions
  • Emaciation (the cat is very thin)
  • In cases of actual animal cruelty, the cat may suffer any number of injuries – fresh and old.

In addition to the physical symptoms, abused cats are almost always scared and try to avoid human contact. Some may be aggressive, often due to physical pain and discomfort. Others may just see a dark corner where they can hide away and suffer in silence.

Not every cat that’s showing one or more of these symptoms is necessarily abused. If you notice a cat that’s emaciated, has fleas, or looks sick, that does not mean the owners aren’t trying to take care of the situation. If you suspect a cat is being abused, don’t try to act on your own by taking the cat. That’s illegal, dangerous, and possibly not helpful to the cat. Instead, report the issue to the local animal control agency so they can investigate the case.

The good news is that abused cats can be helped. Depending on the cat’s temperament, age, and condition, many of these cats may end up being loving pets again. Others may be helped through medical care and being given a safe environment where they will no longer suffer abuse.

How to help an abused cat recover: The Principles

These guidelines should put you in the right mindset for helping an abused cat recover and regain the quality of life every feline deserves. We’ll cover the specifics next.

Unconditional love and dedication

To help an abused cat recover, you must help her or him regain their trust in humans. That means offering love – for the long run and with no conditions. Even if that cat never becomes an adoring lap cat or even allows you to pet her or him. Even if they turn aggressive in some situations and bite or scratch you or someone you know. You will never get angry or impatient with them. And of course – as is true for every cat – never shout at them or around them and never ever – under any circumstances – punish or hit them.

Take care of the cat’s physical well-being

Cats who were severely abused may need urgent medical care. Malnourished cats will need a good few days or even weeks of quality feeding to recover physically. The cat must first be free of pain and hunger before you can start working with him or her on trusting humans again.

Be patient

Patience is key when dealing with any behavioral issue in cats, all the more so when working with abused cats. There are no timetables for this process. The pace is dictated by the cat and the cat alone. Age, temperament, and the type and severity of abuse can all affect how long the cat will take to regain his or her trust in any human.

Don’t set your expectations too high

Your goal is to give this kitty the best possible quality of life. This may not necessarily mean he or she will turn into a friendly lap cat. Ever. Even with no history of abuse, cats have their own boundaries, which we must learn to respect.

Some abused cats suffer from invisible neurological damage, which may affect their personality forever. Our member @kieka shared with us the story of Cinnamon. “We are pretty sure that Cinnamon had brain damage from being physically abused,” she said. Cinnamon had trouble recognizing and relating to others around him, human or feline. “We used to call him the roommate cat because he acted more like someone who rented a room from us than a part of the family,” Kieka added.

How to help an abused cat recover: Practical Tips

Helping an abused cat heal is a project of love, a long one that can take years and even stretch across the cat’s lifetime. Here are some practical tips for making this happen.

Slow introductions

As a formerly abused cat enters your life, you will have to introduce her or him to a new environment. Kitty will have to become familiar with a home, new people, and possibly new pets. This is always a challenge, even for the most emotionally stable feline, but even more so for a traumatized cat.

Start with a safe room and expose the cat to new elements very gradually. Read this guide on how to help a cat adjust to your home and follow through slowly.

Avoid direct eye contact

Cats tend to be intimidated by direct eye contact. In “cat language,” staring can be a sign of imminent aggression. Try not to look directly at the cat. Instead, use the “eye squint” method of communication. When the cat is looking at you, slowly and gradually squint your eyes until they are almost shut. In all likelihood, the cat will squint back. That’s a great way to make any cat feel comfortable around you, so repeat this exercise from time to time.

Let the cat come to you

Never force any kind of contact on the cat. Don’t lift, hold, or even pet unless you are sure the cat is happy with that kind of attention. It’s best to let the cat come to you if and when he or she is ready. Offer your hand when that happens and let Kitty rub against it. Only then move to petting.

Never rush this. Our member @gitabooks works with shelter cats, many of them traumatized. She says: “If a cat shows trust and approaches you, don’t push the matter. You can spoil the moment and set progress back by reaching out towards them.”

Tread lightly

Literally, try to be quiet and gentle when you move around the cat. No sudden movements, no sudden noises. Easy does it.

Get low

Try to spend time with the cat when you are low on the ground. Many shy cats feel more comfortable with their humans at (their) eye level. Sit down by the cat or even lie down. No need to do anything – just be there with him or her in the room and let them get used to your presence.

Our member @losna found this technique to be very helpful with a rescued cat named Bêlit –

We kept her in a bathroom for a while because it was a small enclosed space, and I would periodically go in and just sit with her. I learned that she was the most comfortable if I just lay down and closed my eyes, so I started bringing in some pillows and a blanket and doing my best to sleep.

Do spend time with the cat

You will need to spend time with the cat, as often as possible. Follow the previous tips: Don’t force the cat to do anything and don’t try to initiate contact. Just be there, low on the ground, speaking quietly and letting the cat see that you do not pose any danger. A good way to pass the time is to read out loud, preferably a children’s book. That exposes the cat to the sound of your voice, used in a quiet and non-intimidating way.

Offer Treats

While many cats are suckers for treats, a scared cat is likely to ignore them. Safety first – food later. Always offer the cat free access to food and water in the room and never let a cat go hungry, so she or he is more tempted to come to you for food. It just doesn’t work like that. Food should be unconditional, just like love.

Having said that, once the cat has become used to your presence, you can and should offer treats. With a trusting cat, treats can definitely make you more popular! Our member @di and bob works with treats, but she leaves them for the cat and moves away. “Sit near the place you leave the treats/food and move closer over time as they allow,” she suggests.

Gradual exposure to the source of fear

Some formerly abused cats fear something specific. It may be men, women, children, dogs, or even thunderstorms. If you can find out what scares your cat, it’s possible to work on reducing that fear. Please keep in mind that this stage can only take place far into the recovery process, only once you have established a trusting relationship with that cat.

Our member @IndyJones shared her experience with rescued cat Kabby.

He was terrified of anything with castors (computer chairs, garbage cans etc) and hated storms to the point of pacing and panting.
I worked with him by sitting on the computer chair and holding him. I did this for increasing amounts of time each day, and over time he got better and better; now he will even jump up on the chair by himself and sleep there.

With storms I would cuddle him and play a CD of storm sounds; he also has a weighted jacket called a thunder shirt. This really helped him with the anxiety.

When in doubt, look for help

Working with a formerly abused cat is a very rewarding experience. It can also be frustrating and confusing at times. When that happens, experienced rescuers can be a wonderful source for advice and support.

If you don’t have any experience working with abused cats, try to find a local rescue group and get a mentor who can help you. That person may be able to visit you, help assess the cat’s condition, and offer more advice.

Don’t forget our forums too. We have many experience d rescuers right here in TheCatSite.com’s community. Post about your situation in the Caring for Strays and Ferals forum and ask for advice.

Are you currently helping an abused cat? You are literally saving a life (some may say nine lives!) when you help a cat recover from abuse. Please share your experience and any other tips you may have in the comments below. Don’t forget to share this article with your friends on Facebook – everyone can benefit from knowing what the signs of abuse are and how to help a cat in need.

20 comments on “How To Help An Abused Cat Recover

Douglas’ Dad October 6, 2020
Such a great article. You guts know cats so well. Safety first, food later. So true. And food must be unconditional.
Katrina September 20, 2020
We rescued an abandoned, starving cat two weeks ago, and are learning as we go. First, we created a safe environment in our garage (removed cars to driveway). My husband keeps the garage very clean, so we set up two bed spaces, food, water and litter. We did not approach Poppy (Mary Poppins!), but spoke softly and at her level and always put my hand out for her to sniff if she wanted. We did bathe her because the fleas were chewing her up! Poor thing! Then added flea treatment, and followed with veterinarian appointment next day for complete checkup, shots, deworming and discussion of her condition. The doctor offered some more tips, most helfpul. Within two days, she not only allowed us to scratch her neck and pet her, she came to us for love and attention! She was starved physically and emotionally when we brought her home, but she clearly wants human interaction and love. We do not know if she is spayed, but are scheduled to see the doctor again and be sure she is spayed. Most importantly, we talk softly, nicely to Poppy all the time. I noticed she looked fearful of all sounds, washing machine, dryer, water running in the kitchen sink. So I talk to her as I did to my children when they were babies. Walk around the house, tending to the daily chores and cleanup and maintenance, and describe everything I am doing. Only difference is I used to carry my babies around in my arms as I talked, but with Poppy, I let her follow me is she so chooses. Poppy has been in the house now for four days, and she is loving her new home. She was reluctant to come in from the garage at first, but eventually I picked her up gently and hugged her and carried her in and talked to her. Then I let her explore. For whatever reason she went downstairs to our basement and seemed contented. Half is a finished second master suite not in use, so she enjoyed the exploring. The other "unfinished" half is nicely painted for the laundry area, storage shelves and additional pantry for nonperishables. Again, she like exploring. We moved her food, etc. into downstairs. She is happy, but not inclined to come upstairs. Yesterday I encouraged her to follow me up the steps, which she did. She finally explored the main part of the house, but it may be have too much, too soon. She is very vocal, meows quite a bit in a talking way. She enjoys talking with us! But I think encouraging her to come up the stairs to the main floor was too soon, because she pooped in a closet that was open! I did not realize this right away, but I think she may need more time in one space at a time, to become comfortable and familiar with her surroundings. Of course, I wasn't upset with her, but upset with myself for missing her cues with her meowing. We decided to let her come up when she wants and adapt more slowly. Today, we again left the door from downstairs to upstairs open, and we go down to see her and talk with her and pet her and just spend time with her. But when she decides to lay on the rug in front of the washing machine, we respect her quiet time and come back upstairs. When she is ready to "claim" the rest of the house as her home, too, she will do so at her own pace, one room at a time. Poppy is such a sweet little kitty. The veterinarian thought she was three years old. We were stunned because she is petite, and we thought she might be eight months old! It was heartbreaking to know somebody had neglected and abandoned her. But I am grateful that she is recovering every day and trusting us more each day. The grandchildren have come to meet her, and they absolutely fell in love with her. She loved the extra attention, too!
tarasgirl06 September 6, 2020
I just wanted to add one (discouraging, unfortunately) point to this excellent article. While of course the authorities should be informed in the case of anyone being abused, reality is that not every community has recourse to that. Sometimes, I must disagree, the cat MUST be seized, just as kids are seized in abusive situations, for the survival of that cat (or kid/s). Each situation is unique. There are a lot of communities in the US and all over the world that do not have good laws/laws that are enforced/caring law enforcement personnel/rescues and sanctuaries/or even ACCs, Humane Societies or "shelters." Always and ever, the top priority MUST be the life and wellbeing of the cat. It's like rescuing someone locked in a car with the windows up. Some communities now have laws giving people the right to break those windows to save the lives of those inside. ALL communities should have these laws, prioritizing living beings above material things. Sadly, though, not all communities DO prioritize life above materialism.
Darlene18 September 6, 2020
Just give it time. I adopted a cat I was her 3rd owner I don't know what she has been through her name was Nicki she was about 6 yr old when she came too my house and I had 4 other cats but she really didn't come out of it she would hide in the closet and that is where I fed her and petted her and gave her the love from there she was a good baby she passed at 15 yrs old. Nobody knew I had 5 cats they nevered saw her. Cats don't forget what happen in their lives. I felt bad for her I accepted her that way. She had a mom who loved her unconditionally. That is how we left it.
Liz Patterson December 31, 2019
I just rescued a mom kitty was tortured guy cut her toes off he got misdemeanor she hid shelter under blankets for 6 months then a baby kitty came in they bonded. I got them both dec 21 in my bedroom w food and water litter box blankets toys catnip . They come out at night but still no interaction w me but stare at me . I put soft music on open blinds so can see birds ? Any suggestions! Hadn’t had cats in 10 years! Cuz mastiff was afraid of them ! He passed! House is quite just me ! I work from home ! They were talk of shelter when I got them they had one day left! Beautiful cats! don’t blame them for fear . But I want them to interact w me ! I’m lonely too my beloved husband died and my mastiff both cancer my heart broke . I want fur friends
    Anne January 4, 2020
    Hi Liz, Thank you for rescuing the poor cat. You can find more help in our forums, where members will be able to help with advice and support. You need to register first (it's free!) but once you do, post your question in the cat rescue forum here.
Furballsmom September 12, 2019
Pawzi said:
I need help. Please I own two cats, they were the only things i made it out of my abusive marriage with. As a woman who cant have kids, they are my babies. My boy friend and i have been having issues because of their behaviour issues that resulted from my ex husbands abuse. One is so terrified of people that she is aggressive to the extent of attacking people for being near her or they are sitting where she wants to be. My boy friends kids are terrified of her and if i cant get her to stop attacking them i will have to put her down as no one will take a aggressive cat. The other is a bengal and is skiddish and has a tendency to pee on one spot on the couch, our dogs bed, my spot on the bed and my boy friends clothes. If i cant get her to stop i will have to rehome her or send her to a bengal rescue. This behaviour from both didnt start till my ex husband started to abuse them. Please any suggestions or ideas will help.
Hello @Pawzi ! You will receive advice and support from members if you post in this forum Cat Behavior If you are unfamiliar with forums here is a link that will help get you started How To Create A New Thread
tarasgirl06 September 11, 2019
Pawzi said:
I need help. Please I own two cats, they were the only things i made it out of my abusive marriage with. As a woman who cant have kids, they are my babies. My boy friend and i have been having issues because of their behaviour issues that resulted from my ex husbands abuse. One is so terrified of people that she is aggressive to the extent of attacking people for being near her or they are sitting where she wants to be. My boy friends kids are terrified of her and if i cant get her to stop attacking them i will have to put her down as no one will take a aggressive cat. The other is a bengal and is skiddish and has a tendency to pee on one spot on the couch, our dogs bed, my spot on the bed and my boy friends clothes. If i cant get her to stop i will have to rehome her or send her to a bengal rescue. This behaviour from both didnt start till my ex husband started to abuse them. Please any suggestions or ideas will help.
Sorry to be blunt, but cats are living beings, sentient, intelligent mammals like we are. NO WAY should a cat lose his/her life over an issue like this. Personally, my cats are family and anyone who wants to be with me has to love cats -- not just my cats, but cats in general. Anyone who doesn't would not be welcome in my life.
Pawzi September 11, 2019
I need help. Please I own two cats, they were the only things i made it out of my abusive marriage with. As a woman who cant have kids, they are my babies. My boy friend and i have been having issues because of their behaviour issues that resulted from my ex husbands abuse. One is so terrified of people that she is aggressive to the extent of attacking people for being near her or they are sitting where she wants to be. My boy friends kids are terrified of her and if i cant get her to stop attacking them i will have to put her down as no one will take a aggressive cat. The other is a bengal and is skiddish and has a tendency to pee on one spot on the couch, our dogs bed, my spot on the bed and my boy friends clothes. If i cant get her to stop i will have to rehome her or send her to a bengal rescue. This behaviour from both didnt start till my ex husband started to abuse them. Please any suggestions or ideas will help.
tarasgirl06 February 16, 2019
di and bob said:
All these poor, abused little ones need is for someone to truly care for and love them. My heart bleeds each and every time I see a neglected, hungry cat looking for someone to care. Each and every one of them needs a home and love, and the only way that is possible is for there to be no more unwanted and uncared for litters to be born. Just like human babies, each one coming into this world should be looked forward to with joy and the ability to properly care for them, monetarily, physically, and emotionally. PLEASE, spay and neuter to prevent any more tragedies and heartache. It costs much to do this, but saves infinitely more in the long run!
I couldn't say it any better, @di and bob. Agree 100% and devote my life to advocating for cats with that message.
di and bob February 16, 2019
All these poor, abused little ones need is for someone to truly care for and love them. My heart bleeds each and every time I see a neglected, hungry cat looking for someone to care. Each and every one of them needs a home and love, and the only way that is possible is for there to be no more unwanted and uncared for litters to be born. Just like human babies, each one coming into this world should be looked forward to with joy and the ability to properly care for them, monetarily, physically, and emotionally. PLEASE, spay and neuter to prevent any more tragedies and heartache. It costs much to do this, but saves infinitely more in the long run!
Stevil342018 May 26, 2018
I just adapted an abused cat horribly neglected i have had him almost a week and he is starting to trust me he comes out from under his safe place when he hears my voice his name is chunk he loves to give hugs hes a sweet cat he is 12 . I have another cat her name is Sassy she was 9 years old so far they stay out of each other's way but it's going really good I want to give chunk and Sassy the best days of their life
mocha bee November 20, 2017
Thanks for the advice, our cat was in 2 shelters and then in a Petco when we adopted her. She was 4 years old then. She would hide under the bed or other places. When we first brought her home we put her in a bathroom with food, water litter ect. We went to check on her and she was nowhere to be found. we had a small vanity with drawers and we found her in a drawer, she had climbed up the drain pipe from the floor and into the back of the drawer. That was almost 3 years ago. Now she will come and sit next to me and sleep on our bed and bring us her toy mice but we can not pick her up . She still walks away fast, she use to run, when my husband comes in the room but that is progress. Maybe by next year she will be comfortable with him in the room.
maggie101 September 21, 2017
tarasgirl06 said:
I can't thank you enough for this article, which is invaluable in its suggestions of how to help abused cats. Just as with traumatized, abused people, unconditional loyalty and love, as well as good care, are key. TRUST is something earned, and once it is broken, it takes a lot to get it back.
This morning my old cat Josiel licked her for 5 minutes! Maybe she will have the courage to leave my bedroom if this keeps up. Josie used to hiss at her but has gotten much nicer in her old age. I have had CoCo for a year. CoCo will still not stand up to my other 2 cats
Lylith Raven September 21, 2017
Good article. I was curious to read it because my cat is afraid of everyone except for myself and my boyfriend. He will literally hide for hours until a guest we have over leaves the house. He's super close to me though..thankfully.
maggie101 September 15, 2017
maggie101 said:
What about mental abuse?
Yes, you described it perfectly. I believe my cat CoCo was mentally abused for numerous reasons. She hides but wants people to give her lots of tlc then she will give it back
mazie September 15, 2017
maggie101 said:
What about mental abuse?
You know, "mental abuse or emotional trauma" affliction is a good question. It's easy to fix the physical, we can see what the problem is, but emotional abuse is a bird of a different feather. My guess would be lots and lots of love and gentleness, with the idea of restoring trust in humans. That would be my take on that topic.
tarasgirl06 September 14, 2017
I can't thank you enough for this article, which is invaluable in its suggestions of how to help abused cats. Just as with traumatized, abused people, unconditional loyalty and love, as well as good care, are key. TRUST is something earned, and once it is broken, it takes a lot to get it back.
maggie101 September 4, 2017
What about mental abuse?

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