Moving my feral cat

M AND Grey

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5 weeks ago I rescued a feral/sewer cat. He has been vet checked. He is currently in our second bedroom and will not come out from under the bed except to eat and use his litter box. I can pull him out and he allows me to massage and pet him. Problem is I need to get him out of the bedroom before Christmas. How do I transition him to the downstairs living area without traumatizing him again? I am the only one that has had contact with him. Our household includes my husband and our 8 year old English Cocker spaniel.
 

moxiewild

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So your kitty is a stray and not a feral since you can handle him.

That’s encouraging because it means you’ll have a much easier time acclimating him!

Do you have previous experience with pet cats?

I would refrain from forcing him out from under the bed, and instead gently coax him out with things like food and toys. You’re a predator to him, and a predator forcefully pulling you out of your safe space can be extremely upsetting and unsettling.

What all have you been trying as far as working with him to make him more comfortable with you and his new home so far?

The best thing to do right now would be to find a way to block his access under the bed in order to passively force him to interact with you more. You still want to give him a little house or hidey hole (even if just a plastic tote or cardboard box with a hold cut in it) to retreat to and feel safe, but that will still make him far more accessible to you than he is hiding under the bed. It makes it reeeally difficult to get them to come around when they do that.

It seems you’re wanting to fully integrate him into your house?

If that’s correct, there’s a decent chance you’re asking too much, too fast from this little guy.

Are you wanting him out of the spare room because family is coming in over the holidays?

If so, could you keep him in your bedroom for the duration of their stay instead?

Thank you for giving this kitty a home and family!
 
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M AND Grey

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Thank you for your reply. So far I have introduced toys, catnip, and treats. He now follows the wand with the feathers on it but won't reach for it. He does not seem interested in catnip or grass, or reaching for small balls. He will only eat food that is in his dish. He will not eat treats if left on the carpet. I have not tried to offer treats from my hand. He loves to be petted and I give him a massage everyday. To get him though I do have to reach for him. I can put him on the bed ,or on my lap and he will lay there till I move away. He also turns on his back for belly rubs and loves to have his paws rubbed. I also have the felaway defuser.

As for the holidays, family is coming, and I will need the bedroom. Our bedroom is not a consideration, as our dog sleeps with us in that room. I have created a space downstairs under the steps where he could stay and hopefully feel safe. It is not as secluded, quiet, or large as the bedroom but could possibly work. ....But when and how do I move grey without traumatizing him again? My daughter will arrive on December 18 and leave in the 28th.

Thank you for the suggestion of blocking off under the bed. I have created other (safe) hiding places in the room but he has not used them.
 

moxiewild

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It sounds like you’re doing a lot of good things! It also sounds like he could potentially come around in time, but you should have a back up plan ready if he does not.

Keep in mind, you’re asking in less than a month’s time:

- Be comfortable enough to not hide under the bed

-Be introduced to and become familiar and comfortable with the rest of the house (this can be hard and take a while for shy kitties)

- Be successfully introduced to the pup

- Adjust to no longer having access to “his”” room or safe spot under the bed

- Be introduced to and comfortable with a new occupant (your daughter, and it sounds like maybe your husband too?)

Before I go into what might help you achieve those goals with him, let’s try and find an acceptable backup plan.

Is there a reason he can’t just stay in the room with you daughter?

It will of course be stressful for him to have her in there, but he may ultimately be more comfortable if allowed his under the bed familiar safe space compared to the alternatives when the time comes. You can continue to work on fully integrating him into house and family once she leaves.

Is there no way you can close off access to your bedroom from the dog just for the time your daughter is staying?

I know that will be a bit hard on him/her, but it may be a reasonable compromise between doggy’s comfort, kitty’s comfort, and your goal of moving Grey out of your daughter’s room. Remember, it will only be temporary! Just 10 days!

Can you tell me more about the area under the stairs you’ve created?

As far as making progress with him, definitely block under the bed! It’s okay to grab him to do this if that’s what’s necessary to get it done. You might need to secure him in a crate or carrier while you do this so he can’t run back under.

THe easiest way to block under the bed access is just to take the bed off the frame and place the mattress directly on the the floor. But you could also duct tape cardboard to the frame or otherwise get creative.

Your kitty sounds pretty social so there’s a good chance that you might see a lot of progress in him once you block off the bed! (But you still have introducing him to the house, other people, and your dog to get through).

Keep trying to play with him, especially with wand toys and maybe even a laser pointer. It might take a while for him to play, but keep at it!

Some toys I highly recommend for nervous kitties -

- GoCat wand toys (Da Bird, Da Bee, Da Mouse, etc)
- The Cat Dancer
- The Cat Charmer
- Teaser wands (slightly different kind of wand. GoCat has a couple, but most any brand will do)

All available on Amazon and Chewy (and sometimes pet stores).

Does he follow the toys with his eyes at all?

Try hand feeding him if you feel safe enough to do so. If not, you can also try using an extra long spoon. It might take a few times before he accepts it, and of course, he may not accept it at all.

Some especially enticing treats may also help - tuna, sardines, Purebites chicken treats, temptation treats, chicken baby food, etc.

If hand feeding just isn’t an option, then just place the bowl in front of him. That works perfectly fine too.

Make sure you aren’t free feeding him. You want him to associate you with good things, like food. Scheduled meal times will help with that. Try to stay in there as he eats, and pet him as he eats if he allows it (if not, speak sweetly to him and work up to it).

Has he been neutered?

What is this kitty’s backstory? Do you know?
 
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M AND Grey

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Thank you for your response.

Grey’s backstory is:

Grey is approximately 5 years old where He wondered the streets of a small town in Iowa. I actually saw him 3 years ago when he hung around my sister-in-law’s apartment. She set up a box outside her door for him and has left food for him outside. Last year , when it was bitterly cold she let him in her apt, always letting him back out when it warmed up. She has a cat and could not have another. I have seen grey every year when I visited. I really liked him but never approached him. I offered to take him when I visited this fall and Grey was spending time in my sister-in-laws house. She was concerned because she already had a cat. He basically lived under my sisters-in-law ‘s car and in the sewer when outside. Before I brought him back to Colorado, I visited the local vet and had grey examined, shots given and neutered. We discussed his going from being an outside cat to being an inside cat, but did not discuss adjustment issues.

My husband built a barrier around the the bed today. I made a bed for grey out of a basket I have and some used some fleece fabric for a “pillow”. I put him in there and held the basket and petted him while my husband built the barrier. When done I put the basket down and grey remained in there. Later when I went back In the room he was still in the basket. Later He was now on the bed. Again I petted him and attempted to play with him. He did take a temptation treat from me and followed the wand with the feather on it. We are making progress. My husband also petted him on the bed.

I like the idea of a laser and have looked online and ordered a couple of the toys you suggested. I will have to transition him before my daughter comes. She is bringing her cat with her and they will stay in the 2nd bedroom. We do have a loft ( 3rd floor) which I have decided to cat proof . ( I was reluctant to do it as there is a lot in there and quite open.) I will put Grey up there for the 10 days my daughter is here, then return him to the spare bedroom and in time introduce him to the dog and rest of the house.

question. When do you suggest I transition grey to the loft? please suggest anything else I can do to make things easier for grey. Thank you again for your help.
 

moxiewild

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That’s so great that you were willing to give him a permanent home! Thank you for being willing to take in an older and more shy kitty, not many people would.

Did he ever act like a “normal”, social pet cat with your sister? Did he hunker down and hide those times she let him inside?

He sounds like he’s already doing so much better! I don’t know why, but it takes shy/nervous kitties SO much longer to acclimate when they’re allowed to hunker down under a bed or in a closet or other difficult to access places like that. I’ve had some do a total 180 once I “force” them out. Only then do they seem to truly realize that it’s not so dangerous being out and about.

It’s a good sign that he’s following the toy with his eyes. That’s usually a precursor to finally playing. Sometimes street cats are fearful of toys at first because they very well may have never seen one, so they’re unsure whether it’s a threat or what you want them to do with it.

They just need time and repeated exposure to process that it isn’t dangerous, and then they will begin to start figuring out how to play - and once they get to playing, it virtually always gives them a boost in confidence which helps their socialization even further!

I understand now why it’s so important to transition him out of that room! When the time comes, you may want to invest in a couple Feliway (not Comfort Zone brand) diffusers and use the the multicat formula. One for your daughters room and her cat, and one for wherever Grey will be, as it’s possible they’ll be stressed by the others presence, as well as both essentially being in a new environment.

Are you able to close off the loft area? If so, that should work and is a much more reasonable goal since you won’t have to rush Cat and dog introductions, which is far too unpredictable to place a timeline on.

As far as acclimating him up there, you can do so as soon as the loft area is ready! Just make sure to block off any area that would be similar to the bed - we also have a lofty type upstairs room. Luckily, we were able to stack pet gates to close it off. We took in some foster kittens, and moved an exferal mother and her kitten who had already been socialized for about 4-5 months already up to the upstairs room. We missed a point of access that allowed them to get behind the couch, as well as under a coffee table, and guess what they did?

We couldn’t immediately get around to closing those areas off and have had issues finding a working solution from the couch, and it’s kind of crazy how much Momma has reverted with her socialization just by being able to close herself off from us! So try to identify any areas like that, or close up any new ones that Grey will inevitably find! That’s going to be one of the major things.

You can also try to provide some vertical space up there for him - a cat tree, cat shelves, or a window seat. If there’s a window, definitely try to allow him the ability to look out of it, whether you use human furniture or cat furniture to do so.

Playing music at a low volume will help - classical music, solo harp, or something like David Teie’s Music for Cats. All of these genres have some form of scientific backing for their ability to calm kitties (especially solo harp).

Other highly recommended calming aids:

- Feliway diffuser (again, NOT Comfort Zone brand). Definitely the Multi-Cat version when your daughter is there. I’m not positive on which formula would be most effective before she arrives because you have a dog and I’m just not sure if the Multicat will work with cat-dog relationships or not. I would email the company to see what they suggest. The Feliway has above and beyond more scientific backing than any other OTC calming aid.

-Vetriscience Composure treats. These seem to have more anecdotal evidence and recommendations than any other form of comfort treats I’ve heard of, and Vetriscience is a reputable brand. The downside to these, will of course be the possibility that Grey doesn’t like them, although street cats and former street cats seem to be less picky food-wise than kitties who’ve been indoors all their lives.

-Bach’s Rescue Remedy. This can go in food, in water, on the cat, or even on bedding. A lot of people seem to have luck with it, and it works for dogs as well.

-Jackson Galaxy’s Spirit Essences. Like Bach’s, this is a flower essence. I personally don’t have a lot of faith in flower essences, but only because as of now, they haven’t been studied well with cats. A lot of people do seem to think they help, however, and Jackson Galaxy himself is a highly regarded and trusted Cat Behaviorist who cares an awful lot about the well-being and happiness of cats.

Any calming aid can potentially help.

The other part of the equation will mostly be enrichment, especially once you get Grey playing. So frequent playtime and cuddles, and cat furniture and music like I mentioned earlier will all fall into this.

Some other enrichment options:

- Jackson Galaxy’s green kicker toy - most of our cats are pretty “meh” about kickers, but this one was a really unexpected hit.

- Scratchers! Horizontal, Vertical, and incline. Some cats prefer one way, others prefer multiple ways. They need to be heavy and sturdy, and vertical ones need to be preferably tall enough for kitty to stretch his full body length. Materials include sisal, cardboard, and carpet.

My favorite simple sisal scratcher is by Smart Cat. It’s about $15 and can be used horizontally, vertically, or incline. Vertical option requires mounting it to the wall, however. If you don’t want to mount it, just search or an extra tall scratcher (Smart Cat also sells one of these that I love, but there are more attractive options, as well as other options that are slightly cheaper and not quite as tall that work well too).

My favorite cardboard scratchers are by Pet Fusion, but there are now a ton of decent knock offs available.

- Cat tunnels are also great for interactive play, but also solo play. We hear our fosters tearing through tunnels pretty frequently throughout the day when in their rooms by themselves.

- Relatively safe solo toys to leave out for him to play with without supervision:

Plastic toys like jingle balls and springs (if you go to Chewy and look up “cat toy springs” and click on one of the spring pages, it will have a bunch of similar toys under the “recommended” section like the springs - the plastic ring on things like milk jugs is another good option, and I have a cat who goes crazy for zip ties)

Rubber based and tougher material dental toys

Compressed catnip toys and catnip in general

Treat ball toys and treat mazes

Ball track toys like the classic round Bergan turbo scratcher, ball track towers, and Jackson Galaxy’s version of a ball track (space something or other). Cats also seem to be big fans of the circuit tracks by CatIt, Magic Cat Track, and Bergan Turbo Track. They’re pretty good toys, but they’re not great solo toys because they often come apart.

- Other toys are more appropriate when you’re home or can directly supervise. Things like squeaky mice and other stuffed toys, as well as things like silvervine chew sticks.

Any of these things can help with enrichment and help to build positive associations with his new space.

Also try to keep his environment relatively quiet. This is a bit more of a challenge with a loft style room. Hopefully your dog isn’t a big barker or super excitable dog, but if s/he is, then just limit noise as much as possible in other ways! Soft, inside voices, no blasting the TV, etc.

I would try to transition him into the other room as soon as you have it ready. That way he will have time to acclimate to the room first and separately vs. everything all at once.
 
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M AND Grey

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Wow, lots of information! Thank you.

I will order the felaway immediately. I have the comfort zone because I was told that they were the same by my local pet shop and could not find the felaway except online.. I have the felaway diffuser but am currently using the comfort zone liquid in Grey’s room. I currently have a flat scratcher, and Grey slept on that at night when he first arrived. I have also purchased an inexpensive house for him from chewy.com. It is enclosed and has a little sleeping spot on top. Since the bed is now enclosed, “the house”, has become his safe area. He does have a couple of other places he tucks into. He loves to be in the basket , but does not go in voluntarily. He slept on the bed with me most of last night.

Today was not the best day for him. (My fault.) He did so well yesterday that I took him up to the loft this morning. He did well and was quite curious until the dog arrived. ( I forgot the dog may come up to the loft). Grey and I were there alone for about 10 minutes before the dog arrived. Our dog is very calm, small to medium sized and scared of his own shadow, but Grey ran behind a chair. I was able to get him and take him back to his room. I then decided that the loft would work and went up to start cat proofing. In the mean time Grey found an entrance to get under the bed. ( clever, smart little kitty). I then had to move the mattress and box spring so I could get him out. I put him in the bathroom while I repositioned the mattress and hopefully filled all the holes. By now he is in trauma mode. When I went back to get him, he had crawled in an opening under our vanity! I had to use a broom and called the neighbor girl in to help me get him out. Poor Grey!!!! When I finally got him back in the bedroom, he tried desperately to get under the bed . No luck. I finally got him and put him in the basket and continued to pet him until he settled down. I did not return until dinner time and he was back in his house. I took him out and cuddled with him on the bed then went to get him some wet food as a treat. I gave it to him and petted him while he ate it and then left again. I plan to put him on the bed when I go to bed. I am not sure he will stay there. Will have to see. I am not going to attempt to move him for a few days. I will just pet him and talk with him until I feel he feels secure again.

I wondered about a cat tunnel and the springs? I Will try the milk jug lids . I have some balls which he does not seem to care for but I will put them in the loft. There is a table in the loft that he can climb on, lay there and look outside. I plan to put a pillow there for him to lay on, if he wants. He will see the top of many trees and part of the roof. I also cleared off a shelf in a bookcase for him to climb on. I will use a baby gate to close off the steps/ entrance area. There is not a door to that room. I plan to go up daily for play time and could sleep in the chair or on the floor up there if need be.

Grey’ behavior and interaction while in Iowa with my sister-in-law was minimal. I only observed his inside behavior for 1 week before we traveled to Colorado. He liked being in the house. Grey and Mr. Cat (my sister-in-law’s cat), ate side by sides and did get along. They did not really interact or play. Grey spent a lot of his house time under chairs, the couch or under my sister-in-law ‘s bed . He never jumped up on anyone’s lap but would let us pick him up and pet him. He did not play at all, but would sometimes lay and sleep on the carpet in front of the chair or couch. I do not think he will ever be a “ come to me” cat,. My hope is that he will feel comfortable enough to lay freely on the rug downstairs and maybe play a little. And of course be content with us holding and petting him.

At some point, I would like your opinion on how you think he will behave in the summer when the doors are open . We have screen doors , but are somewhat lax about remembering to close them. My husband is very remiss in this . My main fear has always been that Grey will get out and not survive in the mountainous area we live in. It is not an issue yet as we already have snow and cool to cold temperatures and we do not have any doors open.

I so hope Grey comes to feel comfortable with us, as I have liked this particular cat for quite some time.
 
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