Adopted senior cat scared of hands

lottama

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Hello
I’m new here at the cat site and happy to have found this place! It seems to be full of cat lovers with lots of knowledge and experience. I would like to share the story of my cat Alba, and maybe you have some tips and/or thoughts for us.This is my first cat so I’m kind of a beginner at this. My boyfriend grew up with cats so he has some experience.

We adopted Alba 2 weeks ago. She is an 11-year old beautiful grey tortie. She has spent most of her life homeless and in shelters. Before she came to us she lived in a foster home for about 6 months. She made a lot of progress there but would not let the foster parents touch her - so petting is not something she is used to. When we visited her in the foster home she was very shy and didn’t approach us, but for some reason we just fell in love with her.

Since Alba moved in with us (about 2 weeks ago) she’s been making progress. Very shy at first, but now you can tell that she is curious, walking around the apartment sniffing and scent marking with her cheeks. She’s playing more or less every day and she has been eating, drinking and using the litter box since day one. So that is good. It really makes me so happy just to see her out and about, sitting in the window sills looking at us and everything that goes on outside. She seems fine with hanging out in the same room as us and she sleeps in our bedroom, under my boyfriend’s bedside table (where we prepared a small bed for her) or on the window sill in the bedroom. This is also where she goes when she gets scared or just wants to be by herself.

We have not tried to pet her yet since we want everything to be on her terms and we really don't want to stress her. She comes up to sniff our feet if we walk by her and she reaches out to sniff our hands if we put it in front of her. But she always backs off after a little sniff. She has not yet made any invitation to touching. We let her sniff and walk away. One time she booped my boyfriend’s fist. We don’t know if it was intentional or accidental though :)

If we sit or lay on the floor with a treat in the hand she comes up, sniffs the treat and backs away staring at the treat. She does not take the treat from our hands. But if we put the treat on the floor she is brave enough to get it, most of the times. Sometimes when she has taken the treat from the floor she freezes and it seems like she just realized how close to the hand she is and you can tell she gets scared. One time she got so scared that she even hissed and scratched my hand, even though I just held it completely still on the floor. She did not run away but backed up a couple of feet.

It is interesting that she hesitates so much taking treats we put on the floor, since she has no problem eating from her food bowl if we hold it. When it is feeding time one of us usually sits on the floor holding her food bowl. She runs up to it, no hesitation. It seems like she forgets to be scared when it’s food time. One time she even licked my thumb because there was some wet food on it. But as soon as she has finished her meal she walks away. We thought about trying to touch her when she is eating (since she seems quite relaxed then) but we don’t want the feeding time to be associated with something negative for her. So I guess that is a bad idea?

As I said she likes to play. The feather wand is her favorite. She also has a catnip toy that she loves to snuggle with. During playtime we have tried to touch her very gently with the wand. Mostly she seems to be irritated by this and when we get that reaction we stop and continue playing. But sometimes she actually seems to enjoy it. One time she laid down and even closed her eyes as my boyfriend was stroking her with the feathers.

She has only been here for 2 weeks and we know that it’s not very long. We understand that it can take a long time for her to fully trust us. Our plan right now is to keep doing what we’re doing and hopefully she will eventually overcome her fear of our hands and touching. We are totally fine with her not being a cuddly lap cat and don’t expect her to be. But it would be nice to be able to touch her and for her sake we really wish for her to be more comfortable with touching. Eventually we will have to take her to the vet, check her teeth and trim her claws. It will not be easy if we don't make any progress with the touching.

Sorry for such a long post! We would be so happy if you have any tips/thoughts or just share similar experiences. What can we do to help Alba? Do you think she is too old to learn to like, or at least stop being scared of, petting? As I said the foster parents couldn't pet her for 6 months (not sure how much they tried though). Maybe she will never take the initiativ to being petted? Might she need a little ”push” to challenge her comfort zone? Should we try to reach in for a pet? We don’t want to scare her or make it worse but maybe that is necessary to get her to realize nothing bad happens if we pet her. We really want her to be comfortable enough for us to touch her.
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molly92

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What a lovely girl!
One time she booped my boyfriend’s fist. We don’t know if it was intentional or accidental though :)
Cats don't do things accidentally! They pretend to, but every time they're in the room with you or the lightly brush against you, they're choosing to be near you. This is great! I think you can pretty optimistic that she'll come around with patience and a little effort. Sometimes foster homes are stressful, so it doesn't mean much that they weren't able to pet her.

Extending a fist for her to investigate is actually a great way to let her make contact with you! It's not as scary as an open hand, it's entirely up to her if she wants to rub against it or not, so she's in control, and it's roughly the size and shape of another cat's head. Cats will rub their heads against each other to say hello.

Baby food is my favorite treat for a reluctant cat. Make sure it's a basic meat flavor with no added flavorings, like Gerber or Beechnut chicken, stage 2. You can put a little on a spoon and let her lick it off, and work your way up to putting it on a finger that she can lick to associate hands with good things! The great part about the baby food is that she can't grab it and run away with it; she has to sit there with you to eat it if she wants it. And cats usually do want it!

Mostly she's going to need time to watch you and learn about you without feeling like you're watching her. Being watched closely by a bigger animal makes nervous cats uncomfortable, so don't make a lot of direct eye contact, don't creep about quietly but just live your life normally. If you don't seem to concerned with her, she's going to be less concerned with you. Once she knows you well she'll understand that eye contact doesn't mean you're hunting her. You can also try slow blinking at her if you do catch her eye-cats slow blink at each other when they're happy and relaxed.

I think it'd be a good idea to do several short treat sessions a day to build her courage, separate from meal times so she can always relax at meal times. The sessions can be with various treats, and while she's accepting treats, you can try gently stroking her head with a long object, like the end of the wand toy. Always end each session with a treat. When she gets used to that, you can graduate to trying to pet her head with two fingers, then scratching under the chin, then petting her back with your hand, etc. All the while rewarding her with lots of treats! You can try just a few minutes at a time so no one gets overwhelmed.

You can also spend some time playing with her every day, as some cats will bond even better his way than with food. Even if she just watches you move a toy around on the floor, she's still getting some entertainment out of it and learning that you're fun!

If you think that she's hiding under furniture too much to really get to know you, you can block off access to underneath the furniture as best you can and provide other hiding places, like boxes or a carrier, so she can feel sheltered but still be able to see you from where she is.

Thank you for taking in an older cat! She'll get there. She's lived with humans before, otherwise she wouldn't be this bold already. She just may have spent some time on her own in between. Good luck!
 

FeebysOwner

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Hi L lottama ! She is very pretty! I agree with molly92 molly92 , on pretty much everything. The only thing I would ask you to consider is NOT blocking off access to any of the current safe spots that she has selected. You can create others as suggested, but leave her places be for now. She has chosen them for a reason, and if she isn't harming herself in any fashion, let her have them. As she become more accustomed, she may very well seek out one (or more) of the hiding spaces you might create for her.

And, just in case there is anything in this TCS article that might useful to you as a new cat owner - First-time Cat Owner’s Guide – TheCatSite Articles

Oh, and this article too! What To Expect As Your Cat Ages – TheCatSite Articles
 
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Tobermory

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Oh, Alba! Look how cute you are! She has a wonderful expression on her face. Alert, interested...hopeful. :)

I know she’s a more mature girl, but everything you write and her pictures seem to show a kitty ready for love. I can share my own experience with a semi-feral shelter cat, and how I approached the issue of petting a cat who was scared of the human touch.

I adopted Mocha three years ago as a three-year-old. No one could touch her at the shelter, and after I got her home, she hid every time I came into her “safe” room (I have two other cats). No touching!

I did a lot of reading about how to introduce a scared cat to a new environment, and one of the recommendations was to sit on the floor and put your hand out with the back of your hand to the kitty. The back of your fist would work, too, as molly92 molly92 recommends with all of her other great suggestions. It took a lot of time and patience (and an aching arm from holding my hand six inches in the air for long periods of time), but gradually she came closer and closer. She’d smell my hand, then dart away again. Finally, she rubbed tentatively on my hand. I kept my hand still because whenever I reached for her, she would dart away. We just repeated the back of the hand outstretched over and over and over until finally she let me gently run the back of my hand lightly down her side.

It took five months before she would come up to be petted, although she occasionally would revert if I reached out toward her too quickly. It also made her very nervous if I reached my hand out above her; I had to come in low by her side. My husband was too impatient to wait for her to come to his hand. He reached out every time, and every time she backed off. I swear it’s easier to train the cat than the spouse!

Mocha has been with us three years now, and it’s only this year that she has suddenly decided that there’s nowhere on earth she’d rather be than on my lap. And she follows both of us around, wanting to be petted. She actually wants attention more than Lily and Iris who are 16 and came to me as spoiled rotten kittens.

Oh! I almost forgot! As Mocha became more comfortable with me but before I could easily pet her, I would sit on the floor with my hand outstretched, holding a brush. She would cautiously approach and then rub the side of her face along the brush. She LOVED the brush, and I think it helped her relax around me.

I think Alba is on track to become a full-fledged member of your family!

Mocha still loves the brush!
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lottama

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Wow! Thank you all so much for the encouraging words! It means a lot. molly92 molly92 thank you for all the great suggestions! We will definitely try them. And it felt good to hear that the ”fist-boop” probably wasn’t accidental ;) FeebysOwner FeebysOwner I will read the articles - thanks so much! So far we don’t think we need to block off any places since we don’t feel like she is hiding too much, and we are very happy about that. Tobermory Tobermory - Mocha is adorable! And reading about her made me happy, thanks for sharing. Now I feel even more hopeful that Alba eventually will come around as well!
 
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lottama

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Hello again! I just wanted to give an update on Albas progress. No touching yet...but she takes treats from our hands now! One time she even licked salmon cat paste from my fingers! She does take treats from our hands most of the times now, but sometimes she just sniffs and walks away...I guess it is normal for her to feel braver some days. If we offer treats during or after play time she is more likely to take it from our hands.

Every morning she says "Hello" by reaching out to sniff at my hand and usually touches it with her little nose <3

Staff from the shelter will help us to trim her claws on tuesday, and that's good of course but I'm also a bit worried that it will result in Alba being scared and maybe regress a bit. But we'll see, her claws really need to be trimmed so it's inevitable.
 

Tobermory

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She may hide for awhile after the claw trimming, but they usually recover pretty quickly.

I’m trying to remember how long it was before I could consistently (carefully, slowly) pet Mocha. Three months maybe. At six months she jumped onto my lap, stared at me like “What have I done?”, jumped off and ran away. :lol:

All cats are different, of course, but patience, kindness, gentle words and actions, consistency, and a calm environment usually pay off. It sounds like Alba continues to make progress! Thank you so much for the update. It’s wonderful to hear how frightened kitties are learning to trust and love.
 

Tobermory

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Thank so much you for sharing your experience! I'm very happy I found this place and I feel hopeful that Alba eventually will let us pet her. One step at a time and she'll get there:)
She really is a pretty girl. I love those tufts at the tips of her ears!
 
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lottama

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Hello again! I’m back with more updates and a question, hope that’s ok:) It’s now been 4 months since we adopted Alba and she has made a lot of progress since I last wrote. One of the biggest steps is that she spends time on the couch with us! She even takes the initiative and jumps up on the couch when we’re there (the first time she did I almost started crying cause it felt like such a huge step!), she is very curious and always reaches out to sniff our hands to say ”hello”, she seems relaxed and confident- when she walks around her tail is high in the air. She loooves to play and is chattering really cute when she’s chasing her favorite toy. BUT still no touching and no petting…

A couple of weeks ago I started to have daily sessions with her when I pet her with a wooden back scratcher. The sessions are very short (5 minutes max) and involve Alba’s jackpot treats. When she’s eating a treat I can pet her with the back scratcher and she doesn’t seem to mind (probably cause she’s too busy munching her favorite snack), but as soon as the treat is finished I can tell that she gets tense and she backs up a bit. No hissing, no swatting and no running away. But she looks confused and uncomfortable. Every time she reacts like this I stop the petting. She stays by my side and looks at me like ”do you have any more treats?” and if she gets another treat I can pet her again. Then she finishes the treat, realizes she is being touched and looks uncomfortable. I try to end every session on a positive note, giving her a treat and encouraging words - telling her how good she is.

But my question is: should we continue with these daily sessions? Or could it be counterproductive since the petting seem to make her a bit uncomfortable ?

I can add that I have been able to pet her with the back scratcher two times without treats being involved, and one of the times she closed her eyes a bit, like she enjoyed it (or maybe it was just my wishful thinking!)

Since she is 11-12 years old I know it takes longer for her to get used to new things. And I know 4 months really isn't that long, maybe I am a being impatient right now... I just really want her to enjoy being petted!
 

susanm9006

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I think as long as she doesn’t avoid you coming near her with the scratcher it is fine to continue. It may not have the results you hope for, at least for now, but I don’t think it will make her worse. It is just a slow road with some cats, especially older ones. When she sits next to you I would see if you can get away with barely resting your fingertips on her and see if you can would up to her tolerating more touch a tiny bit at a time. Also, see what she does if you lie on the floor with her. She may be more open to touch then.
 

Tobermory

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But my question is: should we continue with these daily sessions? Or could it be counterproductive since the petting seem to make her a bit uncomfortable ?
Based on your description, I’d continue the sessions. A couple of weeks isn’t a very long time, and it sounds as if she’s doing well and is a happy girl overall. She jumps up on the couch with you! :yess:

I know it’s frustrating, but patience! Even after three and a half years, Mocha is still developing more and more affectionate behaviors, some in the past few months. Yet she will still flinch if I make a move too quickly. She probably always will. But she rubs her face on mine now! That’s new.

Do you talk to Alba a lot? I talk to all of mine constantly, but I make a special effort with Mocha. (It did take her a year to learn her name! :) ) I think that’s an important part of the socialization process, too.
 

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Hi just ran across your post. Bless you for rescuing an older cat. Have you tried brushing her? Back in 2016 when she was still a stray outside the first way we could touch Gypsy was with a brush. She still loves to be brushed and it is a great way to bond. There are many different brushes and you don't need to just use the Pet ones. One of Gypsy favorites is a regular mans comb. Last week I bought on Amazon the brush pictured below for under $10. We love it so much that I ordered 2 more, a 2nd for us and one for a gift.
When she 1st let us pet her, back in the day, it was long strokes down her back one hand after the other keeping both hands on her as much as possible, she wanted to know where our hands were.
Hang in there and remember let her set the pace. You're doing great. Patience, patience and more patience.
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lottama

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Thanks a lot for your replies! I feel more confident to continue with the sessions now. It is also good the be reminded that it takes time and patience. It can be frustrating some days but Alba will get there eventually, and I love being on this journey with her!

I think as long as she doesn’t avoid you coming near her with the scratcher it is fine to continue. It may not have the results you hope for, at least for now, but I don’t think it will make her worse. It is just a slow road with some cats, especially older ones. When she sits next to you I would see if you can get away with barely resting your fingertips on her and see if you can would up to her tolerating more touch a tiny bit at a time. Also, see what she does if you lie on the floor with her. She may be more open to touch then.
I will try lying down the next time , that's a great tip! Yesterday when she sat next to me on the couch I slowly moved one of my hands closer and closer, no touching just resting it next to her on the couch..she looked very suspiciously at it but didn’t move. When the timing and feeling is right I will see if I can try that thing with resting my fingertips on her.

I know it’s frustrating, but patience! Even after three and a half years, Mocha is still developing more and more affectionate behaviors, some in the past few months. Yet she will still flinch if I make a move too quickly. She probably always will. But she rubs her face on mine now! That’s new.

Do you talk to Alba a lot? I talk to all of mine constantly, but I make a special effort with Mocha. (It did take her a year to learn her name! ) I think that’s an important part of the socialization process, too.
Wow! she rubs her face on yours! that is amazing and so cute! I am very glad to hear that. It is reassuring to hear about how Mocha has developed and still is developing.

And also great to know that talking is positive for the socialization process because I talk to Alba a lot, like all the time! :D

Hi just ran across your post. Bless you for rescuing an older cat. Have you tried brushing her? Back in 2016 when she was still a stray outside the first way we could touch Gypsy was with a brush. She still loves to be brushed and it is a great way to bond. There are many different brushes and you don't need to just use the Pet ones. One of Gypsy favorites is a regular mans comb. Last week I bought on Amazon the brush pictured below for under $10. We love it so much that I ordered 2 more, a 2nd for us and one for a gift.

When she 1st let us pet her, back in the day, it was long strokes down her back one hand after the other keeping both hands on her as much as possible, she wanted to know where our hands were.

Hang in there and remember let her set the pace. You're doing great. Patience, patience and more patience.
I have not tried brushing her. It is definitely worth a try, maybe a brush feels nicer for her than the wooden scratcher I'm using now. Thanks for the idea! Gypsy is adorable!


On Wednesday I am going to the vet with Alba for the first time since we adopted her, she is getting her yearly vaccination. I am quite nervous and hope she won't hate me afterwards!
 

Tobermory

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On Wednesday I am going to the vet with Alba for the first time since we adopted her, she is getting her yearly vaccination. I am quite nervous and hope she won't hate me afterwards!
One of mine, Iris, is better with me in the exam room. She buries her face against my arm while she’s being examined. Lily, her sister, is a total brat when I’m in the room with her. Hissing, growling. But the vet techs tell me she’s a sweetie if I’m not in there. Mocha, of course, is terrified no matter what. Everyone forgives me, though :)
 
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lottama

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The vet visit did not go very well.. Alba was, as expected, terrified. Hissing, spitting, growling and swatting. The vet tech said she couldn't handle Alba at all :( I informed them in advance that Alba would be super scared and stressed out, but she said that this was something "out of the ordinary".. So no vaccin shot today. They gave us some drugs and told us to book a new appointment and to give Alba the drugs before the visit. I don't even know how I'm going to get her into the carrier again! Poor thing. We'll have to figure it out. At least she has been eating and drinking since she got home. But she pooped on the carpet and that has never happened before! Right now she is sitting behind a curtain by my desk, looking at me like "I will never forgive you for what you did to me today"
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susanm9006

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The poor baby. She will forgive you but she might need a few days. When it is time for her next visit, try to slip the drugs into her food before you try to get her in the carrier.
 

Tobermory

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Poor Alba. And poor you. It really hurts to see them so scared, doesn’t it.

If what they gave you to calm her for her next appointment is something like gabapentin, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting her into her carrier. When I had to take Mocha in to get her teeth pulled, they had me give her gabapentin the night before to get it into her system and then again a couple of hours before the trip to the vet. I think I described her in another thread a couple of years ago as a purring wet noodle. I had no problem at all picking her up!

Normally, though, it’s not easy when she’s not high as a kite. She’s come a long way, but I am not permitted to pick her up. Here’s my usual strategy:
  1. Take carrier out a couple of days before needed. Leave carrier on floor with door open.
  2. Fifteen to 20 minutes prior to main event, lightly mist towel with Feliway spray (calming pheromone) and place in carrier. If no calming spray that’s okay. It’s just a bonus.
  3. When I’m ready to put her in the carrier, I approach her while speaking soothing, disarming words of love. I make sure she isn’t on anything that she can put her claws into and hold onto like a barnacle. I prefer a tile or wood floor. My partner-in-crime (PIC or husband) quietly picks up carrier and approaches me from behind so kitty can’t see what said partner has in his hand. PIC makes sure the carrier doesn’t make any “carrier noises.” (Mine rattles if not held perfectly still, and my cats know exactly what that means.) PIC holds carrier level about waist height with door open.
  4. I swiftly pick up (hopefully) unsuspecting kitty and in one smooth move, turn around and insert said kitty in carrier before she has a chance to react, grow additional legs all tipped with razors, and dismember me.
  5. I close and latch door, wipe sweat off brow, and hold hands with PIC to steady the shaking while kitty stares at me through the bars with tragic eyes of betrayal and makes piteous noises. :lol:
A bit tongue in cheek, but I really do use this method. :) If you don’t have a second person, a counter or table will work—anything that puts the carrier on the level and up off of the floor so there’s nothing for kitty to grab onto or push off from. Make sure the edge of the carrier is at the edge of whatever you’ve placed it on.
 
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lottama

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Yes that's the one, they gave us Gabapentin! haha it's hard to image Alba being a "wet purring noodle" but it definitely sounds like it will be less stressful for both of us if I give her the drugs. they also told me to give her one the night before and another one a couple of hours before the visit.

Thanks A LOT for the step-by-step guide. It is so useful to get this kind of guidance, being a first time cat owner I don't have that much experience! We actually talked to the shelter too (not to give Alba up - would never do that) to hear if they have tips on vets that are good with really scared cats, and they gave us a few tips. They also offered us to borrow one of their squeeze cages - I don't know if I will do that but I think I will get Alba a slightly bigger carrier, with a larger opening.

It seems like Alba has recovered fine from the vet visit, she is a little shittish but other than that back to normal. This makes it a lot easier to even think about taking her to the vet again :)
 
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