Help with older terrified kitty

Haynesaj1

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About 3 weeks ago I adopted 2 kittens from a shelter. One was about 3 months old and he’s been settling in just fine. The other one was probably closer to 5 months old and the shelter warned me he had been with them for almost 2 months and was still extremely fearful and didn’t want to be touched. They were hopeful that in time he’d eventually get used to people but so far no one was willing to give him a chance.

I brought them home and set them up in the basement. They get along great with each other and the younger one (Squish) now comes up and hangs out with the family quite a bit. The older one (Harry) is still super skittish and stays far away from us if we go down there. Twice I’ve gotten him interested in a wand toy but he barely bats at it before retreating again. When I bring their wet food down at night he comes out and approaches but keeps his distance until I leave.

No surprises here, I knew it would take some patience. The problem is, a couple of days ago I noticed Harry was squinting one eye as he peered out from his hiding places. Sometimes it was completely closed. I tried to catch him last night just so I could take a look and he fought like a wild animal and bit my finger pretty bad.

So now I’m wondering what if his eye doesn’t get better? How do I get him to the vet and have I totally wrecked any chance of him trusting me when I tried to catch him?

I’ve been reading and decided maybe it was a mistake to let him be in the basement so I ordered a large cattery cage that I can put in my home office so at least he has to be near me for a significant portion of the day. If he’s not destined to be a lap cat, that’s fine. I just don’t know if it’s a lost cause. There seems to be a lot of conflicting opinions and I’m not even sure how to classify this one.
 

fionasmom

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How To Help An Abused Cat Recover – TheCatSite Articles
Stress in Cats – The Ultimate Guide – TheCatSite Articles
How To Get A Cat To Come Out Of Hiding? – TheCatSite Articles
10 Must-know Tips For Happy Living With A Shy Cat – TheCatSite Articles

First of all, I don't think that you have done anything to hurt the cat and you did not say that he was abused, but you never know where you might find some helpful information. Having had these kittens for only three weeks is not long at all, even a friendly one. Having him near you is a good idea and integrating him into the rest of the house might give him a different outlook over time. My pet cats have almost always been ex ferals and some were completely happy to get off the street and into a house but others took a long time to come around, and often in stages of acceptance. As you said, if he is not a lap cat, that is fine with you and that is a great outlook. However, he will probably become comfortable in the house and more interactive with you.

As for the eye, this is not a situation where putting a Havahart trap in the basement will work. How did they get him in a carrier at the shelter? Can you or have you ever been able to pick him up? I recommend that you get welder's gloves, rose pruning gloves, or animal handling gloves which are available on Amazon (but I think that they run a little large to be flexible) if you pick him up. It might not be a bad idea to wear a light jacket as well.

I don't think that you ruined your chances with him; he knows that you did not hurt him although he may be very fearful that something was about to happen. There are a few months missing from his past where he might have been traumatized unless the shelter gave you an explanation of where he was between the time that they got him and his previous time of about 3 months.
 

molly92

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Thank you for putting in the time and effort for this kitty! I don't think this is a lost cause at all. Five months is old for a kitten, but it's still pretty young overall. I socialized a kitten once that was a similar age.

I agree, a smaller, more contained space is better for him right now. It's also overwhelming to the kitten to have too much space at first. My preference is to put the cats in a bathroom (small and easy to clean), and provide a carrier as a safe place to hide. Or at least, block off all of the hard to reach hiding areas and provide something(s) you can get to, like a box with a towel over it. That makes catching them easier if necessary, and it's also good for working with the really fearful cases. A box, carrier, or cage provides comfort and security, but still makes sure they're close enough that they can watch you and learn about you. It's really all about the cat learning that you are safe. If they're just hiding way under the bed all the time, they don't really get much of a chance to learn that.

I love this guide for socializing cats. You already have the cage so you can set it up like they suggest if you want to! It's super detailed, but it's a great for really fearful cases that need a little more of a push to learn to engage with people than just letting time take its course. You can take each step as slow as the cat needs to, and day to day it might feel like it's taking forever, but remember that this is going to happen on the cat's own timeline and just be patient! The guide does focus on using food, which is helpful. I do think that play is sometimes even more effective for a lot of kittens, so I'd also encourage spending time waving toys around in front of him each day, perhaps while the other kitten is in another room so he doesn't feel competitive pressure. He might not play with it at first, but I bet he'll watch it! It's still good entertainment and a way to associate you with fun things.

I think keeping the cage in your office might work pretty well. He'd have time to himself at night, but he'd get to watch you during the day going about your life. And you could just get up and work with him a little bit at a time. I do think it really helps to show the cat that you're not always focused on them, because that's what a predator would do. Don't make a lot of eye contact, don't be too quiet or it will feel like you're trying to sneak up on them. Talking, making a bit of noise, etc, is good for them to hear to get used to the sounds of the home.

As for the eye...if you can't treat it yet, you can't. If he was just fearful and tried to hide when handled, I would say get the treatment done first and then work on building trust. But, if he really is just un-handleable even with gloves, you might have to wait to do anything about the eye other than giving him nutritious kitten food so his body can fight infection better. Probiotics also wouldn't hurt if he likes them! I don't think it sounds too serious and he might even get better on his own. But if not, just take him to the vet when you can safely handle him. His eye can wait until then. We have to remember with feral veterinary care that sometimes we can't fix health problems as well or as quickly as we'd like.
 
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Haynesaj1

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Thank you So much! So helpful, I mean, I do feel like in the end this home will be better than a shelter! I can be patient and it helps that the other kitten is very receptive to attention. Even now after the capture “Attempts” he stays in his favorite spot. I just want him to happy so however long it takes I’m good!
 
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Haynesaj1

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How To Help An Abused Cat Recover – TheCatSite Articles
Stress in Cats – The Ultimate Guide – TheCatSite Articles
How To Get A Cat To Come Out Of Hiding? – TheCatSite Articles
10 Must-know Tips For Happy Living With A Shy Cat – TheCatSite Articles

First of all, I don't think that you have done anything to hurt the cat and you did not say that he was abused, but you never know where you might find some helpful information. Having had these kittens for only three weeks is not long at all, even a friendly one. Having him near you is a good idea and integrating him into the rest of the house might give him a different outlook over time. My pet cats have almost always been ex ferals and some were completely happy to get off the street and into a house but others took a long time to come around, and often in stages of acceptance. As you said, if he is not a lap cat, that is fine with you and that is a great outlook. However, he will probably become comfortable in the house and more interactive with you.

As for the eye, this is not a situation where putting a Havahart trap in the basement will work. How did they get him in a carrier at the shelter? Can you or have you ever been able to pick him up? I recommend that you get welder's gloves, rose pruning gloves, or animal handling gloves which are available on Amazon (but I think that they run a little large to be flexible) if you pick him up. It might not be a bad idea to wear a light jacket as well.

I don't think that you ruined your chances with him; he knows that you did not hurt him although he may be very fearful that something was about to happen. There are a few months missing from his past where he might have been traumatized unless the shelter gave you an explanation of where he was between the time that they got him and his previous time of about 3 months.
Honestly I’m not sure exactly how they got him in the carrier at the shelter. I was doing the paperwork at the time. I knew it was an issue.... they warned me.
 
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Haynesaj1

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Honestly I’m not sure exactly how they got him in the carrier at the shelter. I was doing the paperwork at the time. I knew it was an issue.... they warned me.
So I get it. I am patient. Just very very new! I’ve got a kitten who is also a newbie and a baby who needs some extra something but I feel like it would be too easy to screw this up!! If a blinky eye is a game changer then let me know how long I should go.
 
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Haynesaj1

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Thank you for putting in the time and effort for this kitty! I don't think this is a lost cause at all. Five months is old for a kitten, but it's still pretty young overall. I socialized a kitten once that was a similar age.

I agree, a smaller, more contained space is better for him right now. It's also overwhelming to the kitten to have too much space at first. My preference is to put the cats in a bathroom (small and easy to clean), and provide a carrier as a safe place to hide. Or at least, block off all of the hard to reach hiding areas and provide something(s) you can get to, like a box with a towel over it. That makes catching them easier if necessary, and it's also good for working with the really fearful cases. A box, carrier, or cage provides comfort and security, but still makes sure they're close enough that they can watch you and learn about you. It's really all about the cat learning that you are safe. If they're just hiding way under the bed all the time, they don't really get much of a chance to learn that.

I love this guide for socializing cats. You already have the cage so you can set it up like they suggest if you want to! It's super detailed, but it's a great for really fearful cases that need a little more of a push to learn to engage with people than just letting time take its course. You can take each step as slow as the cat needs to, and day to day it might feel like it's taking forever, but remember that this is going to happen on the cat's own timeline and just be patient! The guide does focus on using food, which is helpful. I do think that play is sometimes even more effective for a lot of kittens, so I'd also encourage spending time waving toys around in front of him each day, perhaps while the other kitten is in another room so he doesn't feel competitive pressure. He might not play with it at first, but I bet he'll watch it! It's still good entertainment and a way to associate you with fun things.

I think keeping the cage in your office might work pretty well. He'd have time to himself at night, but he'd get to watch you during the day going about your life. And you could just get up and work with him a little bit at a time. I do think it really helps to show the cat that you're not always focused on them, because that's what a predator would do. Don't make a lot of eye contact, don't be too quiet or it will feel like you're trying to sneak up on them. Talking, making a bit of noise, etc, is good for them to hear to get used to the sounds of the home.

As for the eye...if you can't treat it yet, you can't. If he was just fearful and tried to hide when handled, I would say get the treatment done first and then work on building trust. But, if he really is just un-handleable even with gloves, you might have to wait to do anything about the eye other than giving him nutritious kitten food so his body can fight infection better. Probiotics also wouldn't hurt if he likes them! I don't think it sounds too serious and he might even get better on his own. But if not, just take him to the vet when you can safely handle him. His eye can wait until then. We have to remember with feral veterinary care that sometimes we can't fix health problems as well or as quickly as we'd like.

Whew! With some teamwork and determination my husband and I managed to herd Harry into a carrier and then into the cage in my office today. There is another small carrier in the cage for him to hide out in so I expect he won't come out of that while I'm in the room any time soon. I figured I would give it a couple of days and then try to start working through some of the steps in the guide to socializing cats you shared. His eye has seemed fine lately so I'm not too worried about that anymore.

I'm curious about how you think this will impact his relationship with the other kitten. They seemed to be pals and usually napped together and chased each other around in the basement at night when the house got quiet. I worry that Lloyd is going to be lonely and bored at night with his friend locked up. Any thoughts?
 

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Can his friend be brought in with him for short periods of time? Can they visit in the cage? Lloyd might miss his friend but the fact that they bonded is a very good sign and I don't think that will be broken. Harry needs to be socialized and some concessions have to be made for that. If Lloyd lives primarily in the basement be sure to give him a lot of attention and if they can interact at all it would be a good thing as it might help Harry to realize that everything is okay at your house.
 
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Haynesaj1

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Lloyd has been spending a lot more time upstairs these days. He is like the complete opposite of Harry, very outgoing and fearless. My kids adore him and he gets lots of attention. Last night he went in the office and found Harry in the cage and it was actually a little heart breaking because he scampered around like "hey what are you doing in there friend?? come play with me!" And then Harry would start meowing when Lloyd left the room (to go sprint all over the house like a maniac haha). Is there any reason to limit their time together? Once Harry starts to get more comfortable eventually I'll need to close my office door to keep him from going back down to the basement to hide but in the meantime Lloyd can come in and visit whenever he wants.
 

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I had two males who were like that years ago...Milo and Eliot. If one were put in a carrier to go to the vet the other one would frantically try to open the carrier to get his friend out. If you can limit Harry's movement around the house....and I might be misreading but I thought that was what you were trying to do....and still let him have Lloyd with him there should not be any problem with it. It might help to socialize him faster as Harry interacts with you.
 
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Haynesaj1

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Okay, great. Yes, you're exactly right. Harry's in the cage and Lloyd can come and go from the room as he pleases. When Harry's ready to come out of the cage I'll keep the door closed to keep him in the room and their visits will have to be more controlled then. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. So far Harry has come out of hiding a total of once while I was in the room but I'm excited about that since it's only been a couple of days.
 
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Haynesaj1

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Both last night and this morning Harry came all the way out of the carrier and ate most of his food. Today I was even in the room talking on a conference call. His cage is right next to my printer and when I printed something just now he poked his head out to see what that was all about. He goes right back in the carrier but I can't really blame him I guess. What is there to do otherwise, really? I think if he were out he'd be sleeping most of the day anyway. Hopefully soon he'll stay out long enough for me to snag a picture of him.
 

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You are definitely making progress with Harry. He is coming out of the carrier and even curious about the noise which is really a big step forward. it would be great to see a pic of him.
 
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Haynesaj1

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Thank you!! I really appreciate the encouragement ☺ Here’s a picture of him I took back at the shelter on adoption day. More to come soon I hope!

461D24B0-38DD-4D87-87AD-7B7259EEFC3F.jpeg
 

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He could not be cuter! I am really not seeing anything like fear or terror in his eyes, but only caution. He is evaluating the situation.
 
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Haynesaj1

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Question for you that I thought of after looking at this picture. I’ve noticed that when Harry comes out he does have both eyes narrowed/ squinted usually. Not open wide like in this picture. Granted he is in the darkness of the carrier a lot so maybe he just never adjusts to the light and doesn’t stay out long enough to. Could there be something else going on? I’ve heard him sneeze a couple of times and when I took Lloyd to the vet for his boosters they thought he might have had a touch of an URI. At this point I could get Harry to the vet fairly easily since he’s just chilling in the carrier all the time. What would they do for him?
 
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Haynesaj1

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Maybe he’s fine. They don’t seem to squinty here. I was pretty close to him this morning. Maybe sitting four feet from him on the floor. Right back into his spot after he finished.

CE3E1BCE-3350-4631-B728-BACEB32A9296.jpeg
 
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Haynesaj1

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Oh my gosh, so encouraged! We had a little play session. Pretty timid but definitely interested in the toy I waved around. Afterwards I gave him a little chicken baby food. :hearthrob::hearthrob::hearthrob:

93C33060-A3FB-4CC7-9E3B-A2E1698A5443.jpeg
 

molly92

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Awww what a beautiful boy!

I don't think you need to worry much about narrowed eyes. Cats actually narrow their eyes when they're happy...so he could just be happy! If he does have a little virus, it's very common and stress is usually what brings on symptoms. Unless it's seriously affecting him (not eating, being lethargic, or there's a lot of discharge), you don't need to take him to the vet. There isn't much they can do for him. It usually goes dormant as stress gets less. Sometimes they flare up occasionally because they don't ever go away completely, but they're essentially just a minor inconvenience. If he even has anything at all!

I'm so glad he's making progress! So exciting! He's so fluffy---I hope he becomes a cuddler.
 
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