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What to do?

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 
I've adopted two seven year old brothers... neutered orange short haired tabbies. Their previous owner is an elderly widow, suffering from Alhzeimers. She had to be admitted to a home between Christmas & New Year's. She never disciplined them and they had the run of the house... countertops, etc...
I saw them once before Christmas, when I agreed to take them. One is quite friendly and loves his petting and will purr loudly. The other is shy and does not respond to petting at all. It appears that neither are lap cats. Both will allow me to pick them up for a few seconds. I don't force it... and put them down immediately.
When I first brought them to my home two weeks ago, I placed them in the basement along with their litter box, toys, scratching post and food & water, (all from their previous home) to allow them to get acclimatized to the new smells and emvironment. The basement is warm & dry, with dozens of hiding places. Their previous home was small, dark & dingy... the basement is as close as I could get to their former abode. I figured I'd leave them alone for the first few days, but each time I went to the basement, I would locate them and talk to them, while keeping a discrete distance away... they showed no fear of me; just the new rooms.
Eventually I started taking away their hiding spots, a few each day until I left them just two... these two are cardboard boxes with openings just large enough for them to enter/exit. Their towels from their carrier cages are inside.
After the third day I could pet the friendlier cat, but he would scurry away & hide as soon as I got up... I sat on the floor with it. Two days ago I brought the boxes (with cats inside) upstairs into a quiet corner of a room. The shy one stays in the box while the friendlier one goes downstairs and stays where his box used to be... that location is still semi hidden.
After the fourth night in their new home, both cats came upstairs and explored the whole house, while we were in bed.... and continue to do so every night, but both will hide during the day... the friendlier one in the basement and the shy one (which I haven't seen in a week) upstairs in his box... I will not force him out... I figure it's a big step just to get him to stay upstairs.
Ever since moving in with me both cats are eating well and using their litter box. While trying to be patient with them, I worry that this may become a new "life style" with them. This would make me nothing more than a zoo keeper and the cats could not be considered pets. I'm planning on giving them a few more weeks to become sociable, then who knows...
Any advice?????
post #2 of 5

Cats operate on a different timetable than we do, if left mostly to their own devices. It is fine if you don't want to force them to be more social, but it doesn't seem that that is really okay by you. So, you will need to assist them more, if you want them to acclimate more and more quickly to being more pet-like. Keep in mind that while any cat can be trained, these cats are on the older side and will have a long time of habits to unlearn, so patience is likely to play a huge part in this.

Be very consistent in your routine. Decide, now, where you finally want them to sleep, and eat, and where the litterboxes will be. Also consider reading a couple more of the books on cats and cat behaviours or re-reading them if you've read them before -- I do that whenever I face a new cat issue, because I am still always finding something new (and I've worked with cats now for ten years intensively, and longer as a pet-owner before that).

I think you may be offering them too much territory for them to be comfortable settling down and feeling safe. Cats by nature seem to like cozy small spaces that they can see all of at once. In socializing a feral cat, we've often found that they LIKE to have their own crate and get anxious at first if they're invited to explore an entire ROOM. Your shyer cat seems a lot like such a cat, so consider approaching him that way.

I think you do have to gently force more interaction on a cat. You don't hurt him and you don't scare him but you insist that he let you be near him for longer and longer periods (say, while he eats). If you need to do this by crating a cat, I think that's perfectly okay, as a training tool. Your objective is to have the cat happy to get out of the crate and go lie down or go and play in some corner of the larger room; then eventually, to feel it's okay to sleep in one room for an hour, then move to the next and play with a toy, and so on.

A lot of what you have done sounds like a good approach, I think that mostly, you will need to be more patient and a little bit firm about interaction. These two cats did spend a long time, living their old way and you've only fed them for a couple of weeks! <G>

post #3 of 5
I agree with Linda. You must limit their territory, have a set routine and force some interactions. Your best friend will be patience. From the sound of things these cats have never been socialized. They don't understand how great and rewarding a relationship can be with their humans. What I did with my feral Kali was confine him to a small room with his litterbox, bed (a crate or kennel something that they can hide in), food and water. Everyday I would come in clean the litter and feed and water him, all the while talking softly but never looking directly at him. He had a serious ear problem so we were forced to clean his ears every day. He was terrified. We would complete his treatment without eye contact, talk softly, then brush him a little before returning him to his hidey bed. I would recommend you bring them out one at a time and engage in a grooming session. Make sure to cut their nails if possible. The more fearful one might try to scratch or bite if he feels threatened. Don't let that dissuade you.
post #4 of 5
Thread Starter 
How long will it possibly take for these cats to accept their new environment and feel comfortable with it? As I said earlier, they do not appear to be afraid of people. These cats do not bed together and once when I inadvertently placed them together in a hiding place, they growled and hissed at each other. They do not appear to require each other even though they grew up together... they seem to avoid each other, except at night I guess.
When I took them over, I expected some resistance from the cats, but I've never had cats (five ferals one time 20 years ago) take this long to accept their new surroundings. Their basement room is approximately 20'X20' and the friendlier one seems OK with the space today. Their new home is larger and much brighter (more large windows) than their old home. But they do wander everywhere at night... even caught one jumping at the a handle to open the door to a bathroom. When I talked to him, only a few feet away, he just stood there and looked at me and showed no fright. He then walked away out of sight, but came back a few minutes later to attempt it again. So it appears they accept the surroundings at night but the bright daylight bothers them.
The friendly one will come out to be petted when coaxed and will roll over to have his tummy rubbed & scratched... so there's no fear of me as long as I'm at his level.
post #5 of 5
Cats are creatures of habit. If you are unhappy with how they have chosen to interact within your home, it is up to you to teach them to behave differently. You want these cats to learn to interact with you freely without reservation and to become true family members. The only way to do this with cats that are used to doing their own thing is to take total control of their environment. They need to learn that you are in control of their environment. Cats being clever and independent will learn to take more interest in you once they learn you have things they want. By letting them roam at will on their terms you have thrown away a powerful tool. You should confine them to an area closer to where the family lives and only allow them to roam when they can be monitored. That way you can observe their behavior and reactions and correct any mischievous behavior. Unless you are usually up all night like me, they should be confined during the night. What can they do but rest? Then, during the day you will be letting them out while you are present. That is also a kind of interaction. Remember, your job is to teach them how to be your family member and to also sometimes do things at your level.

As for the growling and hissing, that is to be expected. If they never interacted much before this is normal behavior. If they were closer and playful in their old home, this could be aggression indicating stress. I have six cats and any change in the household can leave cats who normally get along and play hissing at each other. They aren't able to express their emotions so they act them out. Sometimes it shows as redirected aggression towards each other and sometimes it shows as inappropriate behavior (my kitties know the rules and are usually good).

Based on what you described the cats don't seem fearful or shy about wandering at night. They are just doing their own thing and have no desire for more interaction or need to change their schedule. Put them up at night. When is time for them to roam you pick them up and carry them to a desired location. Play with them every day but only when you decide, not if they ask. Groom them every day. Talk to them often. You must teach them that you are of value to them and that this new home has boundaries and limitations they did not have before. Be consistent and patient. They have spent their entire lives used to doing things their way. They don't know any better, but they can and will learn.
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