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PTSD in feral-ish kitten?

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
We got a 4 mo old kitten, Laxmi, from Siamese Rescue, 3 weeks ago. She is a beautiful seal tortie point, healthy as a horse (eats and poops like one!), and is terrific with our other 3 cats -- she modifies her behavior to suit each personality -- wildly playful and aggressive with the youngest one, and more cautious with the stuffed shirt, cuddles with the elderly, rehabbing gent...

She is quite gentle with us both claw and tooth-wise, and when we hold her and stroke her she purrs and rubs her cheek on us. She rubs my ankles for food, sleeps on my legs at night, and if, in the night, I pick her up and put her over my heart, she will lie there and take pats for an hour. Very sweet little girl.

She can lie on our bed on her back in that terrific, undignified position that cats assume in the summertime. As long as I verbally reassure her that I will not bother her, she stays in that position with us in the room.

Her problem is this: if we are standing up and reach a hand for her, she darts away, looking absolutely panicked. Consequently she is not getting as much human attention as some of the others, despite appreciating it a lot when she does. She does not solicit attention from the humans ever, either -- just accepts it when we do pick her up. We try not to reach for her too often, but as my screen name suggests we DO have 3 kids, 6 and under. They are good and gentle (or I would NEVER have gotten more cats, yet!), but naturally they are semi-rowdy.

This panicking seems to have preceded our household, anyhow. She was being kept in a cage by her fosterer's bed. She had been found, alone, in a person's basement. I am wondering if someone not cat-familiar spent a lot of time chasing her down to round her up, and that is why she is so apprehensive of hands moving toward her, however slowly.

I was trying to figure out the best way to help her get past the panic so she will get more attention and feel safer with us. I was thinking, what if I reach for her to trigger it, then once I have her lie down with her (she does not like to be held by a sitting or standing person) -- thus associating the "grab" she anticipates with a soothing feeling, afterward?

Anyone got any ideas how to help the poor sweetheart? She is a lovely pet and we took her understanding that she might end up being a "cat's cat," but she does love attention and I think could become a people cat, under the right circumstances.
post #2 of 9
Side track for a moment: This is a small world. I was across the aisle from Siamese Rescue group last weekend at the MOKAN Cat Show (OP convention center). I was in the No More Homeless Pets booth.

If they found this kitten alone in someone's basement, who knows what her origins really were. The behavior you are describing can come with a kitten that didn't have early human socialization and is therefore a little wary of us big scary creatures.

I have a household of cats that came from the same origins. With most of them, it took them a little bit of time for them to learn that we are safe to live with. Here's some things that I've done to bring mine around:

Try to stay at their level at all times. Cats are threatened by things taller than them and it often scars them to have a person tower over them.

Sit on the floor, bed, sofa, etc and let them come to you. There will come a day when they will be glad that you reach out to them, but it sounds like she isn't ready for that yet.

A wand toy is a great way to do interactive play with her. The wand is an extension of your arm and gets her used to playful movement that involves your arm/hand.

Give her a canned food treat daily at the same time each day, or if you feed all wet, make sure the feeding is at the same time. Cats love routine and will fall into the rythym of your house quickly. This will help them adjust more quickly.

Never make any sudden movements in front of them. I understand that this could be challenging with young children in your house, but she will adjust more quickly if at this age she doesn't feel threatened. I would be cautious about leaving her alone with your children right now. There will be a time that this won't be an issue for her, but not right now.

Most of all, be patient with her, and know that she will come around in her own time. Just the fact that she loves to be loved on is a big bonus for you. Many kittens that come from her background won't even allow you to do that.

And btw...I'm also a KC burbs person.
post #3 of 9
Thread Starter 
Hi Momofmany! I am up north, but grew up in JoCo ... you have MANY great suggestions that I had not thought of -- thanks! Staying at her level is a good one -- had not considered it quite that way.

I would not leave my kids alone with the cats anyhow ... too many opportunities for them to do something they'd regret, later.

Yes, this one is coming around I think ... I am optimistic. Trying to think of everything and your ideas help! She does love playing with the wand toys, already ... We must be patient about letting her come to us, I guess ...

Funny thing though -- she is getting there. This evening she walked past DH's legs, three times. He ignored her, and the third time, she HUFFED at him! HOW dare he ignore a goddess in our house???

DANG -- we missed the MoKan??? We used to go to it, every year! Well, not with three kids -- no WAY would want them terrorizing show cats! I really do like the Siamese Rescue folks.

It's encouraging you have a household of former ferals! (and wonderful!).
post #4 of 9
The biggest bond/connection I have always noticed in shy or feral kittens/cats is finding something to play with them they enjoy. There are lots of interactive cat toys, a variety of things on cat teasers (looks like a fishing rod), mice, feathers, fur balls......... This helps build a bond and creates the need for trust. Also feeding them and sitting closely while they eat but not touching them, allowing them to come to you, smell you, walk by you, rub on you, but not reach out for them. Cats instinctively need to feel safe and in control of there surroundings. This is much easier with other cats then with people. Makes a lot of sense when you think about it! She is still very young and at this age adapting and learning is much easier. It is important for her to allow you to handle her without fear or panic for many reasons, and this is the time to allow her to understand that.
post #5 of 9
Originally Posted by 4meezers3kids View Post
This evening she walked past DH's legs, three times. He ignored her, and the third time, she HUFFED at him! HOW dare he ignore a goddess in our house???

It's encouraging you have a household of former ferals! (and wonderful!).
Ignoring her is also a wonderful way of getting to come around. I know it sounds counter intuitive, but they gain a sense of comfort knowing that they can do things on their terms. Cats are funny that way. And yes, her reaction to your DH is typical. She'll be putty in your hands before you know it.

I now live in JoCo but all of my cats came from Cass Co. I had a small farm out there for many years.

Keep posting your progress or lack thereof. There are a lot of folks on the site that work with former feral kitties and the collective brain power on this site is awesome!!
post #6 of 9
With my feral rescue, Ferris, I found that keeping my fingers curled inward when I reach toward him was much less threatening then extending my hand with my fingers straight out.

If a cat straightens out its "fingers," its claws are extended, and that is a threat. But if a cat paws at you with claws in, its "fingers" are curled inward: NOT a threat.

You might want to try that, combined with moving slowly, and not making eye contact with her.

She sounds adorable.
post #7 of 9
Thread Starter 
Thanks, all! She definitely enjoys "recumbant wand play!" Now ... if only DH can stay awake while wanding ...

Had not thought of the extended fingers, either!

Hard-to-get is gonna be hard to enforce, around here ... but I agree it is worth a try!
post #8 of 9
Will she sniff at the fingers of an extended hand, or does she dart away before she gets a chance?

It does sound like somebody's been manhandling her. She's learned that reaching hands are bad... Be gentle (Obviously.) and she should eventually learn that your reaching hands are different.
post #9 of 9
Thread Starter 
Oh, no NO sniffing!

And ... if you reach toward her from even five feet, she is OFF! ZOOOOOOM! Underthebed (or chair, or couch, or table ... ).

She'll get there ... it is just this single gesture that frightens her!
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