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Getting a cat who was abused to trust us

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
We've had a cat for nearly a year now. He's a desexed male, part Bengal, quite shy but very playful. He's indoor only and hasn't had much to do with other cats other than meeting some at the vet. We got him as a kitten.

On Monday we got a second cat. She's a desexed female who is somewhere between 12 and 18 months. She's been through hell. She was found with two huge gaping wounds (most likely from a bite) on her side, anaemic and weighing just under 2kg despite being an adult. She's put on one kilogram in the three weeks since, her wounds are healing well and she's no longer anaemic. A pet rescue agency had her and our normal vet was looking after her.

She's...wow. She's tiny - we keep feeling like we're going to break her when we touch her. She's been kept mostly in a spare bedroom while our first cat (Tigi) has the run of the rest of our flat. They've met a few times, always under close supervision. They go from hissing and growling to just staring or sniffing at each other. Tigi is a real fraidy cat and Bella (the ex-stray) seems very scared of him and very aggressive.

We know it will take time for them to hopefully get along. Any tips would be great in that department but we're thinking that if we're careful with them things will work out OK. Still - tips are good! I've read almost anything I can think of about introducing cats but things aren't going perfectly (not a surprise when the cats haven't read what they're supposed to do! ).

Healthwise she's OK. We've had a lot of health problems with Tigi so we're used to looking after wounds and getting a cat back to full health. She's eating very well, drinking well and hopefully putting on more weight.

She doesn't trust anyone. Given what the poor girl has been through I'm not surprised. She'll let us pat her for a little and seems to adore the attention, then will suddenly get very scared and bite, hiss or growl. She seems to stay under the bed if one of us isn't in the room though and will only eat if one of us is there. She's very ill at ease if she's picked up or if she sits on someone's knee. If you touch her neck she gets very scared although she doesn't mind her side (where her wound is) being touched.

Any tips? We're very keen for her to be at home with us, especially given the rescue had a lot of trouble finding a home for her given her history. I'm guessing that with time she'll see we don't want to hurt her, that we're giving her food, shelter and safety and that this is her home. Anything we can do to speed that up would be great.
post #2 of 10
Awww how nice of you to take this girl in! I wish you the best of luck.
I'm afraid it's all about patience, there isn't much you can do to spped it up, just keep going at her pace.
post #3 of 10
The fact that she lets you pet her, and eats in your prescence is a very good sign.

Remember that cats feel threatened if you make direct eye contact. Look off to the side of her, or if you catch her looking in your eyes, slowly blink. That is a friendly gesture between cats.

Even very tame, brave kitties sometimes hide under the bed in a new place. Keeping her in the one room is great...once she gets accustomed to that room, she will always have it as her safe place. I foster, and once the foster kitties are let free in the house, they always still love the kitty room where they started.

Keep us posted on how it goes with her. Sounds like she landed in a nice home, and in time, she will learn trust.
post #4 of 10
How wonderful of you to take in such a scared little girl.

Time is your friend with her. She needs you to prove, over and over again, that you aren't going to hurt her. That's why she will be enjoying pets and then all of a sudden remember that you may hurt her and bite. You are working on her time frame, so only do what she will allow. By not pushing her you will show her that you aren't going to hurt her like she's been hurt before.
post #5 of 10
You've already gotten great advice. The most important thing to remember is simply to stick to her time table, not yours. The more you can be with her without interacting with her is all time used in building trust on her part.

Just being in a room with her, reading to her, working on your computer or laptop - basically just being around her without forcing any interaction helps build trust.

One of our rescues was abused. At first we simply ignored her. Over time, the more we ignored her, the more she came to want pets or play. First she learned that she was safe, and could count on food, clean water, and a clean litterbox. We would play with her and interact when she seemed curious - but otherwise we just totally left her alone. Let her watch the goings on, so to speak.

Looking at her forehead or over her head is great advice. You can also do the "slow blink" or looking at her with your eyes closed. With this you are communicating that you are not aggressive or threatening.

But the most important thing, simply, is time. And not seeking her out - let her come to you. The more she understands that she can live life on her terms, the quicker she'll come to trust.

post #6 of 10
I have very little to add, but I do have a story to tell. Scratch Fury Destroyer of Worlds adopted us about 6 months ago, and he was abused by his previous owners. Scratch hid under my chair for a good five days before he felt safe enough to come out into the bed room; he then walked around very close to the floor (it kind of looked like a little moving kitty rug, if you catch my drift). It's taken a very long time for him to start to trust us. I've found that interactive toys work well, and that he LOVES to be groomed. For the longest time he would hide to take his naps. Yesterday I was able to snap this shot:

He is finally starting to trust us. It's going to take a long time, but if you work on the kitties time table and not yours it should work out well for you.
post #7 of 10
Thread Starter 
Thank you so much for all of the advice. We hadn't thought of sitting in the room without interacting so we'll definitely be trying that.

Tigi seems to have decided today that he's not scared of her, so at least one cat is on board! He's stopped growling or hissing at her and just sits there chirping (one of his strange Bengal tendencies). He broke his back a few months ago (no idea how! He's an indoor cat and our best guess is that he jumped off a bed funny) and spent a long time at various vets. I'm wondering if her "vet" smell has worn off and made him less afraid of her.
post #8 of 10
The tendency would be for other kitties to be scared of his "vet" smell. Cats, as I'm sure you know, are territorial, so any new addition (unless you're extremely lucky with really special social kitties!) is usually rough for the first weeks or months. It takes our formerly abused kitty, Spooky, about six months to fully be OK with any newbie. It takes her about six weeks to stop hissing, growling, or hitting and running away - and that's after a slow introduction with newbie in a separate room for up to several weeks.

Basically each kitty has his/her own timetable, and they just have to work out the new hierarchy of life and redistribution of territory.

post #9 of 10
try the tellington touch. We use it for our cats and dog (well we used to have a dog), the stuff they teach you is usefull for most types of pets. It teaches you good ways to help your cat be comfortable with re-establishing touch as a safe and comfortable thing for you and your cat, like instead of trying to pet your now found friend just twist a little bit of fir between your fingers, it will help the cat get used to the sensation of touch again withought really putting your hands on her. Use small steps and never prevent her from walking away or moving in any way. As she becomes more comfortable with you she will begin to initiate contact with you and things will go from there. Remember a cat has a very vivid, almost living imagination and if she is reliving bad memories in her head she relives the feelings she experienced too. Moving into a better situation is sometimes harder cause its like comming back out of where your mind has escaped to.
post #10 of 10
Bless you for taking her in! I'm fostering 4 semi-ferals now; one is very leary of humans, and he isn't exactly crazy about us since we trapped him to take him in for neutering last week... (gee, I wonder why?? :-) Anyway, I recommend taking it easy with her, and letting the friendship develop at her own pace. I know it's frustrating, but it's the best thing. With my fosters, and any new cat I take in, I first quarantine them for health reasons, and for safety for the other cats. I try to spend time in that room with them, talking gently, just moving about my business; watching tv, reading, light cleaning (no vacuum cleaning!!!), etc., all the while just babbling to get them used to my voice and my presence. I find that keeping the tv on lower volume helps; I even "discuss" the programs with the cat! I also develop a pet phrase to greet them with, which I use each time I enter the room. The cat I mentioned above is now living downstairs; he's spending most of the time when we're at home, living in the attached garage, coming in to eat when he thinks we're not around; however, I found him sleeping with us last night! He's getting more social each day. I just chatter to him in a low voice when I stumble upon him. Mind you, it's taken since August to get to this point! The others in the litter are much more outgoing; I have no idea why he's so skitterish.

On the other hand, one of my cats was an abuse case (abused by couple; couple divorced; she left town, committed a crime, and also left her cat and dog outside to fend for themselves). From what the neighbors tell us, he was also abused by the husband while he lived there--and the poor cat had spent the past 6 years living outside. His tail appears to have been deliberately broken several times, too. Yet, when I went over to feed him the first time, I called his name, and he sat on my lap! Despite all of the maltreatment, he's so trusting and lovable--never had a problem with him. Remarkable. (BTW, we kept him; she spent time in jail, came back, never asked where the cat was; and I'll be darned if she'd getting him back, evenif she does ask!)

Best of luck with your little one.

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