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Extremely Skittish Cat

Discussion in 'Cat Behavior' started by apparatchic, Sep 24, 2018.

  1. apparatchic

    apparatchic Thread Starter TCS Member Young Cat

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    Sep 24, 2018
    Hi all! I'm hoping for some advice/support/experiences from people who have adopted extremely shy/skittish cats. :) I'm a first-time cat mom and I really want my girl to be happy, but all my previous experience with cats (growing up with them, roommates' cats, cat-sitting for friends) has been with, um, normal cats. My cat is not a normal cat.

    I adopted Rosa about 7.5 weeks ago from a local rescue organization. She's a 1.5-year-old domestic medium/longhair and the floofiest of floofs, mostly grey but with a white chin, neck, tummy, and mittens. She was listed on the rescue site as "very shy but sweet", but when I read her vet records more thoroughly after I adopted her, they listed her as "semi-feral as a kitten", after which she was rescued, adopted, and given back to the rescue by the adopters for being too shy. When I met her, but she DID allow the rescue volunteers to groom her and pet her, and I knew because she was older and shy she wouldn't be easy to find a home for, so I took a leap of faith in myself and went for her.

    One thing I KNOW I did wrong but can't undo is that I didn't restrict her to one room when she got here. I just didn't know to do it. So she's had access to my entire (small) one bedroom apartment from the get-go. She also had some tummy issues with the first food I tried to transition her to from the rescue's food, so she was on a bland diet of poached chicken twice a day and has slowly transitioned to a new food that she's doing great on.

    It's been a tough 7.5 weeks but we've made a lot of progress, and I'm just wondering at this point if there's anything else I could be doing. When I got her, she spent three or four days hiding under my bathtub or kitchen counter, and it took her two full days to start eating; she also yowled incessantly for the first few nights, though I haven't heard her make a sound (that wasn't hissing) since then. After that, she claimed my bedroom window (behind the curtains) as her "safe space", which is where she hangs out and where she retreats when she's stressed. She started exploring my apartment more and more, and will now come out and sit on my TV stand or her cat tree or in the living room window at night when I'm reading or watching TV. (She LOVES the TV and is fascinated by it every time it's on.) We have sessions where I blink slowly at her and she'll blink back at me (or sometimes maybe she just falls asleep).

    She still hisses when I get too close. I got up the nerve to try and pet her yesterday and I actually did get pretty close before she bolted, but when I tried to actually touch her, DRAMA! She hissed and spat and bolted back to the window cave. I've been getting hissed at a lot more since then, although she does still blink back at me if I move slowly and let her see that I'm not going for her.

    The reason I tried this yesterday was just because she got a lot more skittish last week and stopped coming out at night/etc. This coincided with both getting a cat tree and the weather changing significantly here in Ottawa, both of which are changes I know can affect cats. I really worry about not being able to help her if she's sick or hurt, and she's VERY fluffy so I would like to brush her (there is a furminator that's been sitting in her window spot so she can get used to it that I would REALLY like to use). As well, her claws seem to get stuck on fabric (and one time in her own darn fur, which was very stressful for both of us) and I'd love to trim her nails.

    Things I've been doing/trying:

    -Feliway diffuser in the main living area (seems to help, although it's expensive so it's super annoying that the current one only lasted 20 days instead of 30!)
    -"Quiet Moments" calming spray with pheromones on her fave places
    -Cat tree with condo (the condo faces the window and has two exits, neither of which face me so she can have her own space) and she loves curling up on the top of the tower... so much that she pooped up there yesterday for whatever cat reason. Yes, I have enzyme cleaner now!
    -"Calm down" cat treats with melatonin and some other stuff in them (she won't eat these on their own but I crumble them into the dry food that she gets with her breakfast/dinner)
    -Talking to her in a quiet voice, letting her know when I'm in the room

    Things that have failed:

    -Playing. I've gotten her playing a FEW times with the string on a wand toy, but I think mostly she's still too scared. I will keep trying with this.
    -Treats/food. She is the least food motivated cat I've ever met. She is TOTALLY uninterested in wet food, which I've never seen in a cat before, and I've only seen her eat treats I've given her a handful of times; she'll wait until I'm gone before going for them.
    -Toys. She spent a while knocking several mice and a little catnip beaver around, but she hasn't been playing with them lately.
    -Catnip. She got into it ONCE and rolled around and seemed happy, but since then it seems to do absolutely nothing for her.

    Things I am considering:

    -Rescue Remedy. Except I think essential oils are bad for cats? It was recommended by a friend.
    -Changing her to strict meal times twice a day and taking the food away instead of having food in a bowl in the kitchen as well as her dinner/breakfast in her window
    -Literal anxiety drugs for my cat, if I can find/afford a mobile vet clinic that can successfully examine her and they think it would help

    I'm especially wondering about changing her meals. Is this cruel? Would she just hate me more? Or would she start to actually associate me with the delicious crunchies and hand-chopped poached chicken that she eats every day?

    Is there anything I'm missing?

    I'm sorry I've written a novel but if you have any suggestions for getting us to a place of tolerance and even snuggles, you'd be my hero. Please help a cat mom who was in NOOOO way prepared for this (I apologize to all cat gods listening, I did not think it would be this tough!) but loves her cat and wants to do better by her.
     
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  2. rubysmama

    rubysmama Forum Helper Staff Member Forum Helper

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    Hello and welcome to TCS. :wave2: Thank you for adopting this cat. :petcat: Even though it's going slowly, I think you are her guardian angel, and she was meant to come home with you. :hearthrob:

    She's sounds beautiful. When you can, please post a picture of her. :camera:
    How To Add A Picture To Your Forum Post

    I've never had a semi-feral/skittish kitty, so don't have any experience to share. TCS does have a few articles that might be helpful.

    How To Get A Cat To Come Out Of Hiding?
    10 Must-know Tips For Happy Living With A Shy Cat
    16 Top Cat Experts Share Tips For Dealing With Timid Cats

    And because she was semi-feral:
    Handling Feral Cats

    Good luck. :heartshape: Keep us posted on her progress. :compsurfing:
     
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  3. apparatchic

    apparatchic Thread Starter TCS Member Young Cat

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    Sep 24, 2018
    Thank you so much - I honestly teared up reading this! I really love this cat and want her to thrive and be the happiest floof she can be. :) Here's a picture of her from last night when she came out and sat with me for a while again. :)

    [​IMG]
     
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  4. rubysmama

    rubysmama Forum Helper Staff Member Forum Helper

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  5. Furballsmom

    Furballsmom TCS Member Top Cat

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    Hi!
    You are doing a phenomenal job, absolutely phenomenal.

    I think wait a bit on the things you're considering.

    I know there are things you want to do, but...

    Try this; try to become more patient with time. You've come such a long way already, but let some things happen at her pace. (I don't think it was a huge thing to let her roam right away. No harm, no foul.)

    Try music. It is known to relax cats. There is classical harp music, the app Relax my cat, kusc . org and MusicForCats . com
     
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  6. apparatchic

    apparatchic Thread Starter TCS Member Young Cat

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    Sep 24, 2018
    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I think honestly I needed to hear this; to relax and accept that it might be a lot more time before she's ready to trust me, and that's ok because she's warm and safe and fed. It's just hard to know that she might not be happy, but honestly I know in my heart that she wasn't happy at the rescue - living with 45 other cats including rambunctious kittens (and she never bonded with any other cats, including her siblings), having strangers in and out all day, and not having quiet space must have been really hard for her. The music is a great idea - I can leave it on for her during the day while I'm at work too. :)
     
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  7. apparatchic

    apparatchic Thread Starter TCS Member Young Cat

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    Sep 24, 2018
    Here's one of my fave pictures of her - we took a nap together last month (well, I was in bed and she was in her window, but same thing!) and I snuck some photos while she was sleeping. (She has a bathmat in the window now for comfort, while I research the best options for winter. I'm thinking of a heated cat mat so that she can still be there comfortably even when it's cold.)

    [​IMG]
     
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  8. Furballsmom

    Furballsmom TCS Member Top Cat

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    There is a picture of a content cat.
    Hang in there, you really are doing a terrific job!!
     
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  9. Furballsmom

    Furballsmom TCS Member Top Cat

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    I got to thinking about food for you... the fortiflora, the lickimat and the chamomile tea (these last two are towards the bottom of the list) in particular may be of use to you.

    These can be used on their own or combined with food. Also, if you heat the food a little - stir it so there aren't any hot spots from the microwave. Or you could heat some water, about a tablespoon, and add that to canned food. A small glass like a shot glass works to stir it all up.
    • Chicken, beef or ham flavored baby food such as Gerber Stage 2 - make sure there is no garlic or onions in the ingredients
    • Tuna and/or the juice, a low mercury/low/no sodium brand is called SafeCatch
    • Salmon, mackerel
    • Sardines (make sure there are no bones)
    • boiled cut up chicken or turkey with no seasonings
    • canned kitten food any brand - it's usually smelly. See if it's eaten on its own, then maybe mix it in or put on top
    • Try mixing in Kitten Milk Replacer - there are recipes on the internet or store bought
    • Fish, tuna or BBQ flavored canned wet food (I personally have never seen BBQ flavors, but...)
    • Lickable cat treats or pouch treat 'gravy' poured over the food
    • kitten glop (recipes in website link above)
    • Bonito flakes
    • fortiflora
    • fish oil
    • fresh or cooked green beans, or cooked asparagus mushed up, or not :)
    • goat milk, or no lactose cow milk
    • whole cooked eggs (the white must always be cooked) or raw egg yolk now and then
    • broth with no salt and no garlic or onion or seasonings of any kind
    • There are also commercial toppers, Applaws is a brand that can work well as a topper
    • Some good treats would be freeze dried Purebites, Orijen, Meowtinis, Meowables
    • There are also Lickimats that you could spread types of soft food onto, even plain unflavored yogurt, and even freeze it. Licking something can help a cat to feel better emotionally The LickiMat - Food Puzzles for Cats
    • shredded cheddar cheese
    • chamomile tea, made from the little bags only, a couple cooled teaspoons a couple times a day in water or food, can help calm a stressed cat
     
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  10. apparatchic

    apparatchic Thread Starter TCS Member Young Cat

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    These are fantastic suggestions! There's obviously a ton of stuff I haven't tried and some of it is super easy like a tiny bit of cheese and the tea. Thank you!!!
     
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  11. Wile

    Wile TCS Member Alpha Cat

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    Aug 22, 2018
    Canada
    Hi there! I do have a skittish cat who took a long time to adjust. I posted about her in a previous thread here: New Cat Mom With Fearful Cat Questions!

    I'm not sure if my experiences helping my cat adjust to life with moi will help you or not. Your cat sounds more extreme than mine (mine never hissed, only hid). I do feel though that the trick to helping a skittish cat adjust is to make them feel safe, and to make life with you as understandable and predictable as possible. A lot of the stuff you are already doing looks great.

    Here is my take on some of these things:

    -Rescue remedy: I'm skeptical of essential oils. I know some people feel strongly about calming scents, but I've never noticed any changes in my own cats in response to them. Plus burning oils gives me a headache. If I were going to go the scent route I would probably just get a scented plant like cat grass or cat nip for environmental enrichment.

    -Strict meal times: Routine is good for skittish cats, and if she gets excited for a meal that you personally feed her she will associate you with good things. I do a mix. I leave dry out at all times for free feeding, and give my cats wet food twice a day at predictable times.

    -Anxiety drugs: For me, jury's out on this one. I would normally consider anxiety drugs if she had some kind of complicating illness that would benefit from them or extreme behaviour that made her impossible to live with, like cystitis or she's attacking you. Right now she's so new to you that I would give her more time before making up your mind (like 6 months).

    Good luck with your cute cat! She's really pretty :)
     
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  12. apparatchic

    apparatchic Thread Starter TCS Member Young Cat

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    Sep 24, 2018
    Thank you so much - and that whole thread is great to read too! I'm not sure about the Rescue Remedy honestly, although it seems to go in their water rather than being burned? But it doesn't say exactly what, or in what form, any of the active ingredients are. So probably not on that.

    I think I was thinking about the anxiety drugs because I got a bit panicked and now I'm realizing that I can calm down - it takes the amount of time it takes and that's fine. If we're still in this situation at six months, yes, maybe I'll reconsider, but she's really doing fine for now.
     

  13. Furballsmom

    Furballsmom TCS Member Top Cat

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    :rock: .:sunshine:
     
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  14. Hellenww

    Hellenww TCS Member Alpha Cat

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    You've received some great advise and it sounds like you're already doing all the right things. She is gorgeous!

    The first toy our fraidy cat enjoyed was the Cat Dancer. It's just rolled cardboard attached to a wire. Just hold it the toy does all the work, and Rosa won't have to worry about a moving hand.
     
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  15. rubysmama

    rubysmama Forum Helper Staff Member Forum Helper

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    Just reread your first post, and had a question about her food. She is eating cat food now, right? Canned or dry?

    Set meal times are great, because cats quickly associate the sound of their food being prepared, and generally, will show up in the kitchen when they hear those sounds.
     
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  16. apparatchic

    apparatchic Thread Starter TCS Member Young Cat

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    Sep 24, 2018
    Oh yes, she is eating cat food now! I transitioned her to the new dry food (Wellness Core Chicken & Turkey) but I've been adding about 10g of chicken with breakfast and dinner because she seems to like it and I'd feel guilty to pull it really fast. Yes, I am a huuuuge sucker lol.

    So what I've been doing is feeding her twice a day (15-20g of dry food, 10g of chicken, morning or evening) and leaving about 10-15g of chicken in her bowl in case she gets hungry between meals.
     

  17. rubysmama

    rubysmama Forum Helper Staff Member Forum Helper

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    Sounds like she's a chicken cat. ;)
     

  18. apparatchic

    apparatchic Thread Starter TCS Member Young Cat

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    Sep 24, 2018
    I think she'd say she's a smoked turkey cat (that's the first thing she ate after two days of refusing all food when I brought her home) but I'm trying to be a slightly good cat mom even if I am a little overindulgent hahaha!
     

  19. 1 bruce 1

    1 bruce 1 TCS Member Top Cat

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    I would have a really, REALLY rough time putting this cat on anxiety drugs.
    They have a purpose, but for a shy cat that's very much still somewhat feral at heart that is taking things slow to suss out her new life, prozac doesn't seem like a really kind solution.
    I think what you're doing is the best, and continuing being patient will get you more results. She may never be a super cuddly cat, but with time she might surprise you. I've had a girl here for over a decade that only decided being cuddly was a "thing" about 3-4 years ago and now I can't pry her away with a crow bar!
    As mean as it sounds, I would stop trying to initiate stuff like touching, petting, playing, etc., for now, and let her come to you. When she does, ignore her and let her check you out. The blinking game is fantastic, cats read this well! If she shows bravery and you can't help yourself, just speak so softly that you're almost inaudible and don't give her a visual (eyes) or bodily (feet, face, shoulders, etc.) stare down.
    Our praise usually works for dogs but some cats find this a bit upsetting if they're still skittish. A verbal "Good Girl!" could very well spook her and set her back. Let her explore things on her own, see for herself that it's not so bad or scary, and then when she's used to you, you can start bonding!
    :hellocomputer:JMO!
     

  20. apparatchic

    apparatchic Thread Starter TCS Member Young Cat

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    Sep 24, 2018
    I think you're right. I was getting pretty freaked out at the thought of not being able to help her if she was sick or hurt - I genuinely wouldn't put a cat on medication just because she wasn't cuddly! But I'm realizing that I'm borrowing trouble before I need to, and I can cross that bridge if it comes to that. Right now she's doing fine.

    I do talk to her a lot, but generally not for praise or just randomly - more to get her used to my voice (I read to her a lot in the first few weeks I had her) and because it's funny to pretend to have conversations with my cat. Uhhh... I'm not crazy, I promise! lol. We're definitely doing the blinking and I 'check in' with her whenever I can - sitting at a safe distance away of course!

    Trying to touch her on Sunday was actually the first time I've done that since I got her, and I've learned my lesson that this will all happen on her timeline, not mine! The closest I've gotten is giving her treats - she 'allows' my hand to get quite close when she's in the window (I'm stretching my arm from the bed, so she feels secure that I can't get her easily), and I put treats on the edge of the bed not too far from her tonight and only got one hiss that I was too close. (With her, one hiss is the equivalent of a mild side-eye on the subway.) Which is a lot closer than I'd have gotten a month ago without her fleeing!

    (If your username is a Sweet Valley High reference, you are great!)
     
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