Recently Adopted Semi-Ferals Struggling to Adjust

cookieandbrownie

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Hello! I've been a cat owner most of my life - my sweet baby Ozzy was born when I was 8 and she is just now celebrating her 17th birthday. I moved out and naturally, I've adopted my own two rescue babies. They are semi/former ferals. They've been around humans since a young age (~4 months at least, they are about 2 years old now) and were swept in along with their colony (of 13!) and brought inside to an auto shop's office in November of 2019. They were able to come in and out originally, and since November have been strictly indoor. They made great strides, socializing and adjusting to being indoors. They greeted their owners at the door, ate out of their hand and loved to be pet. They are very bonded sisters and are inseparable.

We picked them up about 4 days ago, and we fully understand and acknowledge that this is a huge adjustment and they need more time than normal to adjust to the new environment. They have never been in an apartment or house before and have never been without their colony. We have designated the bedroom to be their room, they have a box from the auto shop, and all the essentials. I spend a majority of the work day on the bed working with some quiet music on. Sometimes I lay around on the floor near their hiding spot and do work (without bothering them) so they get used to my presence. I try to designate around 10-20 minutes during the day to speaking to them and petting them and again about 20 minutes in the evening before bed. We allow them to hide under the bed and dresser because they always hide in a place very easily accessible (by the edge of the bed, in corners) and I can always reach and pet them. They tolerate the attention and do not threaten to bite, scratch or hiss. They only move once we are out of sight. They've eaten a little bit and drank some water, and have used the litterbox every other day.

The only real issue we've had with them is the night time. Since the first night, they meow incessantly all night and wake us up. They meow whether they are together, separated, hiding, or most recently in the window looking out. They finally ventured out of their small corner and found the other half of the room, and started to spend some time on the windowsill and the cat tree, which is great! Except Cookie will sit in the window and meow like her life is dependent on it. She will not stop. Brownie has taken to standing at the door and meowing. When we wake up and look for them after half an hour of concern they tend to be quiet but start up again shortly after we get into bed. This has only gotten worse each night. It starts with some soft meows and turns into loud, concerning meows. After last night Brownie seems to be more aggressive, she lashed out and bit my boyfriend when he woke up and said good morning to them and hissed. She has never done this before. It seems like each day they have made a little bit of progress, exploring a little bit further, staying in more relaxed positions, not always keeping an eye on us if were around. We seemed to have taken a leap back.

The person I adopted them from says I should be spending as much time with them as I possibly can, petting them and giving them attention whenever possible. That this will comfort them and allow them to adjust quicker. They said as they meow at night we should seek them out and pet them to sooth them and comfort them. I'm just not sure that's the correct thing to do. Should we be leaving them alone to gain confidence and relax, or is forcing bonding the better thing to do? When they meow at night - is there anything we can do to calm them or ease them? Any particular reason they are doing this? I want to foster a welcoming environment for them and allow them to become confident, no matter how long it takes them. What else should I do? Am I even doing the correct things?

Cat Tax: Cookie is the calico & Brownie is the tabby
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calicosrspecial

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Hi,

Thanks for saving the cats and giving them a great home!!!

They are ADORABLE!!!

Try to give them as many "things" to help them as possible. A cat tree or a few (especially ones they can look out a window as long as it is safe and doesn't tip over into the window). Scratching posts so they can get their scent on them and feel more "ownership" of the territory. Comfy bedding to be comfortable and to "own".

Use food and treats to build a bond, positive association and trust. I like to use warm chicken thigh meat to really build a bond but I know it s a bit of a hassle to make etc. Stinky treats are good as well.

Cats take on our emotions so be as calm, confident and loving as possible with them. Give them eye kisses (slowly close your eyes, keep them closed and slowly open them).

Try to play with them if possible. After play feed treats or a meal. See if you can find some toys they can play with themselves. A lot of cats like a ball they can push around etc. Just make sure the ball can't be grabbed by their nails and thrown around breaking things or windows.

So the meowing at night. Many people approach this differently. I personally reassure them. So since I am going to be up anyway I go over and reassure them. Pull out a toy, give treats, if safe I give love (but only if a person is not at risk of being hurt in anyway). Ferals tend to be up at night hunting, killing, eating so playing and feeding gives some replication of that. And then adjusting them to a more daytime schedule is best (which they do).

Also, during the day try to keep them on a schedule. So feed at the same time, play at the same time, clean litter boxes at the same time etc. If possible. Cats like routines.

You are doing GREAT!! They will adjust. I take in older ferals so what you are experiencing is normal. But cats respond to being loved. And your cats are way ahead on socialization so that will be helpful. Once the cats feel more ownership of the territory they will get more confidence.

Also, make sure you read their body language and don't force attention if they are "amped up". Cats don;t want to bite so just de-escalate the situation. And don;t stare at them, don't reach from above them, don't stand over them, etc. Just be really calm and confident and don't force attention if they are unsettled.

We'll help you through the process but I expect all will go well.

Thanks again for saving them!!
 

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Hi. The one thing that I would like to reinforce regarding what C calicosrspecial said is about not forcing attention on them. Spending time with them in the same room, softly reading a book out loud while sitting on the floor, is a good way to let them more comfortable with you rather than you coming into that room and trying to pet them if they are not ready. Slowly reaching your hand out without touching them to see if they will sniff it lets them be in charge of the interactions. You can even try doing that with treats in your hand. If they come to take the treats, fine - if they don't do so just yet, that is fine too. If you try to play and they respond, that is good as well. But, if they are hiding, and just looking at you, let them be and just spend time with them.
 
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cookieandbrownie

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Hi,

Thanks for saving the cats and giving them a great home!!!

They are ADORABLE!!!

Try to give them as many "things" to help them as possible. A cat tree or a few (especially ones they can look out a window as long as it is safe and doesn't tip over into the window). Scratching posts so they can get their scent on them and feel more "ownership" of the territory. Comfy bedding to be comfortable and to "own".

Use food and treats to build a bond, positive association and trust. I like to use warm chicken thigh meat to really build a bond but I know it s a bit of a hassle to make etc. Stinky treats are good as well.

Try to play with them if possible. After play feed treats or a meal. See if you can find some toys they can play with themselves. A lot of cats like a ball they can push around etc. Just make sure the ball can't be grabbed by their nails and thrown around breaking things or windows.

So the meowing at night. Many people approach this differently. I personally reassure them. So since I am going to be up anyway I go over and reassure them. Pull out a toy, give treats, if safe I give love (but only if a person is not at risk of being hurt in anyway). Ferals tend to be up at night hunting, killing, eating so playing and feeding gives some replication of that. And then adjusting them to a more daytime schedule is best (which they do).

Also, during the day try to keep them on a schedule. So feed at the same time, play at the same time, clean litter boxes at the same time etc. If possible. Cats like routines.
So they still wont take food from us, or play, or use any of the scratching posts or beds we have out. They currently have a 6' cat condo, a cave like bed, lots of different variety of toys, a cardboard scratching post and a tunnel for them. They allow us to pet them but they are not responsive to anything else. Is this normal? I currently keep their dry food out for them all the time because they haven't started to eat regularly so I'm afraid to take it away. Should I start to put it out only for a few hours at a time?

They really just stick together attached at the hip and either stay in their box, under the bed, or under the dresser. I can't initiate play time, they wont take treats from me nor will they eat them if they are left out. I dont know how to make them feel comfortable doing these things :(
 
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cookieandbrownie

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Hi. The one thing that I would like to reinforce regarding what C calicosrspecial said is about not forcing attention on them. Spending time with them in the same room, softly reading a book out loud while sitting on the floor, is a good way to let them more comfortable with you rather than you coming into that room and trying to pet them if they are not ready. Slowly reaching your hand out without touching them to see if they will sniff it lets them be in charge of the interactions. You can even try doing that with treats in your hand. If they come to take the treats, fine - if they don't do so just yet, that is fine too. If you try to play and they respond, that is good as well. But, if they are hiding, and just looking at you, let them be and just spend time with them.
Thank you! I'm glad I'm doing the right thing and not forcing attention. I didn't really like the sound of that advice and I wanted second opinions. They are really unresponsive to us still. Cookie will smell the treat or the toy and show the slightest interest but then remembers she's scared and wont take it. Brownie is like a statue. She wont show any emotion or even move if we are near, but she does allow pets. I feel bad that theyre paralyzed with so much fear :/
 

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It's only been 4 days, right? I wouldn't change up anything just yet, nor would I try to interact directly with them if they don't want to yet. Just be around them, low to the ground, and let them get used to you. Cookie sounds like she might take the lead, and hopefully Brownie will follow.
 
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cookieandbrownie

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Yes this is going to be their 5th night with us. We picked them up on Sunday, the 24th.
Apart from the petting sessions for about half an hour a day I try my best to ignore them. Sometimes I just peek in the box to locate them. I was thinking of trying to warm up some stinky wet food for them and see if they show any interest.
I understand they'll have some good days and some worse days, I just want to make sure I am not doing anything to harm our new relationship.
 

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Ignoring them is OK, as long as you are still spending time nearby them where they can see you, get comfortable with you, and realize you pose no threat to them. Stinky food is still a good idea. Just leave some out for them at times during the day, but still keep their dry food out for them at all times right now.
 

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So they still wont take food from us, or play, or use any of the scratching posts or beds we have out. They currently have a 6' cat condo, a cave like bed, lots of different variety of toys, a cardboard scratching post and a tunnel for them. They allow us to pet them but they are not responsive to anything else. Is this normal? I currently keep their dry food out for them all the time because they haven't started to eat regularly so I'm afraid to take it away. Should I start to put it out only for a few hours at a time?

They really just stick together attached at the hip and either stay in their box, under the bed, or under the dresser. I can't initiate play time, they wont take treats from me nor will they eat them if they are left out. I dont know how to make them feel comfortable doing these things :(
"So they still wont take food from us, or play, or use any of the scratching posts or beds we have out." - That is fine. Cats can take some time to adjust. Just put their food down and let them eat. They will figure out that you are giving good food and make that positive association. And they will eventually wander around, explore and discover the items. Having them as an option is the important part.

"They allow us to pet them but they are not responsive to anything else. Is this normal?" - It is AWESOME they allow petting. I call that "Love". Love gives them confidence. So as long as they are initiating the "Love" that is great to pet them. Just don't force the Love on them. It is a bit nuanced but if they are responding to love and you are not at risk of being hurt I would personally use that to buld that trust and confidence. And maybe have a treat there and see if they might want to enjoy that. Maybe put it down on the floor then jsut look away from them.

Yes, it is normal to not respond to anything else. BUT it is rare for a cat to allow being pet. Everything they are doing is absolutely normal. Don't worry. The fact they allow to be pet means they are further along than the vast majority of 3yr old ferals.

"I currently keep their dry food out for them all the time because they haven't started to eat regularly so I'm afraid to take it away. Should I start to put it out only for a few hours at a time?" - Personally, I would leave the food out to ease any food insecurity and make sure they are eating.

"They really just stick together attached at the hip and either stay in their box, under the bed, or under the dresser. I can't initiate play time, they wont take treats from me nor will they eat them if they are left out. I dont know how to make them feel comfortable doing these things" - Totally normal. That is fine they wont play right now or take treats. Being calm and confident around them, making sure they have food, water and a clean litter box, letting them initiate contact and going at their pace, and just being "normal" around them will help them understand you are a positive and all is well. It is fine to talk lovingly to them, say their names, etc. Then we can work on the other things. It just takes a little time but cats do respond to being loved. I am not at all worried. Everything is as expected.

BTW, do you have any other animals in the house?

"I feel bad that theyre paralyzed with so much fear" - I know but don't feel badly. Cats take on our emotions and they can sense negativity. Just act like all is well. You are doing great and giving them a lot of love. They will get over the fear.

I forgot to ask before - What exactly happened before this? "After last night Brownie seems to be more aggressive, she lashed out and bit my boyfriend when he woke up and said good morning to them and hissed.". What exactly did you bf do before the lashing out? Where were they? Etc.

You are doing great. It is going to be fine. It just takes some time as they need to figure out all is good now. Food is the best way to build trust and confidence in a new cat. SO just keep trying using food. They will come around.
 
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cookieandbrownie

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BTW, do you have any other animals in the house?

I forgot to ask before - What exactly happened before this? "After last night Brownie seems to be more aggressive, she lashed out and bit my boyfriend when he woke up and said good morning to them and hissed.". What exactly did you bf do before the lashing out? Where were they? Etc.

You are doing great. It is going to be fine. It just takes some time as they need to figure out all is good now. Food is the best way to build trust and confidence in a new cat. SO just keep trying using food. They will come around.
No other animals in the house, just these two cuties. I just moved from my moms house and left my sweet 17 year old kitty with my family :(

Last night before bed I was petting her in the box and she was actually calming down and relaxing. She started off being a little hesitant to the petting but after a few moments she stopped reacting to every movement and noise and just allowed the pets and closed her eyes. As I was finishing up she suddenly looked above the box and it seemed like she had seen a ghost! She was suddenly back to being anxious so I left her alone and told them goodnight. Then they did the meowing at night, and this morning all my boyfriend did was kneel down to the box, and went to pet her. She immediately reacted and bit him and hissed.

My theory is maybe I overstimulated her? She doesn't like pets as much as Cookie, but she was really enjoying them. I must have pet for too long. It must have not helped that we were up at night with them because of the incessant blood curdling meows Cookie was producing. We didn't pet them then nor did we try, but I think we interrupted their free time when they feel safe to explore.

Thank you very much for reassuring me they are doing well. I figure they are doing ok, but I have never done this and its easy to doubt yourself or feel like youre failing. I do see some progress daily as they venture further, spend time in different places. Sometimes they even separate.

I appreciate all the advice!!
 
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cookieandbrownie

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I have one more question, their rescue mom told us to NEVER feed them wet/can food. That it will cause UTI's in feral females. Is this true? I have never heard anyone advocate against wet food for cats and I would rather switch them from dry to wet if possible.
 

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I have one more question, their rescue mom told us to NEVER feed them wet/can food. That it will cause UTI's in feral females. Is this true? I have never heard anyone advocate against wet food for cats and I would rather switch them from dry to wet if possible.
Never in my life have I heard of this - and, frankly, I think it sounds very, very strange. Cats are notoriously lousy water drinkers (not all, but many), so the more moisture in their diet the better.

Maybe it has something to do with the feral aspect - which your cats will soon NOT be. If you have the opportunity to ask her why she believes this to be true, please do so - and, let us know what she tells you!
 
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cookieandbrownie

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Never in my life have I heard of this - and, frankly, I think it sounds very, very strange. Cats are notoriously lousy water drinkers (not all, but many), so the more moisture in their diet the better.

Maybe it has something to do with the feral aspect - which your cats will soon NOT be. If you have the opportunity to ask her why she believes this to be true, please do so - and, let us know what she tells you!
Ok thank you! It sounded SO bizarre to me but I just smiled and nodded, knowing I fully intend to transition to wet food. I just took some canned food, warmed it up for a few seconds and placed it in their box. As soon as I put it in the box Cookie's nose was going NUTS. I really hope she eats it!!
 

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No other animals in the house, just these two cuties. I just moved from my moms house and left my sweet 17 year old kitty with my family :(

Last night before bed I was petting her in the box and she was actually calming down and relaxing. She started off being a little hesitant to the petting but after a few moments she stopped reacting to every movement and noise and just allowed the pets and closed her eyes. As I was finishing up she suddenly looked above the box and it seemed like she had seen a ghost! She was suddenly back to being anxious so I left her alone and told them goodnight. Then they did the meowing at night, and this morning all my boyfriend did was kneel down to the box, and went to pet her. She immediately reacted and bit him and hissed.

My theory is maybe I overstimulated her? She doesn't like pets as much as Cookie, but she was really enjoying them. I must have pet for too long. It must have not helped that we were up at night with them because of the incessant blood curdling meows Cookie was producing. We didn't pet them then nor did we try, but I think we interrupted their free time when they feel safe to explore.

Thank you very much for reassuring me they are doing well. I figure they are doing ok, but I have never done this and its easy to doubt yourself or feel like youre failing. I do see some progress daily as they venture further, spend time in different places. Sometimes they even separate.

I appreciate all the advice!!
:/ I know it is hard to leave a kitty but I am sure she is in good hands with your mom. And I am sure she is happy to know you are saving two other kitties so they can have a great life like she has.

"Last night before bed I was petting her in the box and she was actually calming down and relaxing. She started off being a little hesitant to the petting but after a few moments she stopped reacting to every movement and noise and just allowed the pets and closed her eyes. As I was finishing up she suddenly looked above the box and it seemed like she had seen a ghost! She was suddenly back to being anxious so I left her alone and told them goodnight." - I like to let the cat initiate contact. Have it on their terms. So if she was hesitant to accept love then I would hold off and just talk lovingly, give eye kisses, etc. It is great to know it does relax her and she enjoys it. Do you know if you have any animals or feral cats outside of where you live?

"my boyfriend did was kneel down to the box, and went to pet her. She immediately reacted and bit him and hissed." - Between us on the site, that was his mistake. It is important to watch their body language and not initiate contact when they are frightened, uncomfortable, etc.

"My theory is maybe I overstimulated her?" - When and what happened to make you think like that? Was that last night before you thought she "saw a ghost"? Or are you talking about your bf? If your bf it was probably how he approached her. How we appraoch a cat is VERY important. Never stand over them, reach from above their head, stare at them, etc.

"She doesn't like pets as much as Cookie, but she was really enjoying them. I must have pet for too long. It must have not helped that we were up at night with them because of the incessant blood curdling meows Cookie was producing. We didn't pet them then nor did we try, but I think we interrupted their free time when they feel safe to explore."- Yeah, interrupting their exploring can cause them some caution. It is a fine balance how to respond. Just watch how they respond and if it upsets them don;t do that and if they respond well continue. It is a bit of trial and error.

"Thank you very much for reassuring me they are doing well. I figure they are doing ok, but I have never done this and its easy to doubt yourself or feel like youre failing. I do see some progress daily as they venture further, spend time in different places. Sometimes they even separate." - You are welcome. Oh I know, it is easy to blame ourselves not realizing that that is the way it really is and it is not the human's fault. You are doing great. We all were where you are, not a lot of experience. But once you learn and get the experience then it all makes sense.

All my cats are ferals and I have a feral colony. They always get wet food. Some like it more than others but they all get it. I too would like to know what she means by that. I believe there was a brand that some thought maybe caused issues but I can't remember.

I am with Feebyowner, cats don;t always drink so getting moisture through wet food is great (unless a vet would suggest otherwise for medical reasons).

"I just took some canned food, warmed it up for a few seconds and placed it in their box. As soon as I put it in the box Cookie's nose was going NUTS. I really hope she eats it!!" - Great. If she doesn't this time I would guess she will at some point. Some cats prefer certain proteins and cats can be finicky (yes, even ferals!!) so they will not always eat what is given. But you'll figure out what they like. Cats LOVE to eat.

Please let us know how it goes and if you have any questions or need clarification. Keep up the great work!!
 
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cookieandbrownie

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y’all it is 3:53am and Cookie has not stopped meowing. I’ve been up with them since 1 am. She’s with her sister, they have food, water, shelter etc. We’ve tried playing with them, we’ve tried giving them wet food, we’ve tried treats and pets. Yet just now she let out a howl that makes me so concerned. What in earth can i do? We already have a feliway diffuser running. My boyfriend and I need sleep 😩
 

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Does she seem like she is discomfort? Does she/they use the litter box normal (amount and number of times)? When she walks does she look normal? Are there any signs of discomfort?

Where exactly are they hanging out when they are doing this?

Any signs they are going outside of the litter box?

How is your residence set up? Where are the cats? Do they have access to the whole residence or just a room? Are they in the same room as you?

I am guessing she is still adjusting to life inside and less freedom. It should end pretty soon. It can last about a week to 2 weeks. This does happen with cats from the outside. You are doing everything right, trying food, love. Talk lovingly to them to try to reassure, to de-escalate. You may want to try some classical soothing music or some calming sounds like wind, ocean, etc. If all that doesn't work then just try to ignore them. Have no contact with them. And you may want to put ear plugs in to get that needed sleep. She is going to find out that this is life going forward AND it is actually a great life as there is food, water, and safety.

Also, remember cats take on our emotions so the more stressed we get (because we can't sleep) they can sense and get more stressed and then "act up" more. So trying to stay calm and confident and relaxed as possible. I know it is hard but try not to get annoyed and express frustration etc.

I know it is hard but it will end soon. Some cats just take a little more time to adjust. And cats tend to hunt at night so they tend to be more active so they have to adjust to a different schedule.
 
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Does she seem like she is discomfort? Does she/they use the litter box normal (amount and number of times)? When she walks does she look normal? Are there any signs of discomfort?
I would say apart from the normal anxiety of a new environment they do not look like they are in discomfort. They eat, use the litter box, and drink lots of water roughly every other night. Litter box use looks about appropriate for two cats. I have not really seen them walk, honestly. They still move around when we aren't looking. I saw her run under the bed last night but it was a very short distance.

Where exactly are they hanging out when they are doing this?
They are either in their box, under the bed, under the dresser. It happens whether they are either together, or separate. The other night they were synchronizing meows while at the window and on the cat tree. Anywhere, really.

Any signs they are going outside of the litter box?
Thankfully not.

How is your residence set up? Where are the cats? Do they have access to the whole residence or just a room? Are they in the same room as you?
We are in a one bedroom. They are in our bedroom and we have not let them out as they are still not ready to explore. I try to spend the day in the room with them while I work so they get used to me, but I leave them alone for two to three hours at dusk until it is time for bed.

You may want to try some classical soothing music or some calming sounds like wind, ocean, etc. If all that doesn't work then just try to ignore them. Have no contact with them. And you may want to put ear plugs in to get that needed sleep.
Ear plugs are nearly useless, as they tend to meow very loudly and it doesn't even dampen the sound! Classical music or calming sounds have not worked, they only stay quiet if we play a podcast or something. Then, literally the second it is over they meow. After trying all the toys, food, pets we took turns laying on the floor near them to try to sleep. It quieted them down until I stood up. Once I exited the room they meowed. I'm not sure if being near them is scaring them more, and we should just let them scream it out? Is trying to soothe them just stressing them out more? Should we try to sleep in the living room and leave them on their own? I am fine with losing sleep because this is temporary and they are so dang cute. I'm more worried about them :(

These are the little rascals all intertwined an hour before choir practice started. They are gonna kill it at their next show, they practice all night.
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After trying all the toys, food, pets we took turns laying on the floor near them to try to sleep. It quieted them down until I stood up. Once I exited the room they meowed. I'm not sure if being near them is scaring them more, and we should just let them scream it out?
I could be wrong, but I can't imagine that they are quiet when you are in there because they are so scared that they are 'frozen'. If it is at all possible, can you find a way to spend the entire night in that room with them? Is the room big enough to permit you to sleep on the floor, but enable them to get out of the box to get food/use the litterbox without necessarily having to pass directly by you? I was hoping that if you did this, after a few nights they might 'sneak' over toward you to check you out while you are on the floor and not moving (ideally, sleeping).

You say you leave them alone for a while at dusk - do they meow then too, or just overnight? If they don't, what is the difference in their environment between the two times? Perhaps, you have some sort of lighting on after dusk that is turned off overnight?

Also, what is it about the podcast that you think might quiet them down? Something about it that you could replicate in other manners?
 
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cookieandbrownie

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I could be wrong, but I can't imagine that they are quiet when you are in there because they are so scared that they are 'frozen'. If it is at all possible, can you find a way to spend the entire night in that room with them? Is the room big enough to permit you to sleep on the floor, but enable them to get out of the box to get food/use the litterbox without necessarily having to pass directly by you? I was hoping that if you did this, after a few nights they might 'sneak' over toward you to check you out while you are on the floor and not moving (ideally, sleeping).

You say you leave them alone for a while at dusk - do they meow then too, or just overnight? If they don't, what is the difference in their environment between the two times? Perhaps, you have some sort of lighting on after dusk that is turned off overnight?

Also, what is it about the podcast that you think might quiet them down? Something about it that you could replicate in other manners?
We sleep in the same room, just on the bed. We moved to the floor because we noticed they stop meowing when they know we are near them. I exited the room to get some water. I could sleep on the floor while allowing them access to their things, it would restrict how much space they have to explore but I think it might be worth trying.

We are home all day (still locked down here in NYC) so they are very quiet during the day and only meow once we go to sleep.
At dusk I usually leave when it is still bright in the room but return when its dark. Some days I've left a desk lamp for them on but I dont notice any difference in behavior.

They used to listen to the radio at the office they were housed in. First two nights I tried relaxing music for cats (instrumental) and it didn't help. When I played one of my podcasts that helps me fall asleep (its a person talking for about 30 minutes) they do not make any noise. They seem to quiet down only when someone is speaking. Once the person stops talking and the instrumental music continues they will immediately resume meows.
 
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