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Fraidy Cats in New Home

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 
Hi; I've been reading these forums and articles for a little while, trying to understand the behavior of my new cats. I still have a few questions, however.

I recently rescued two cats from an overwhelmed home. The cats are siblings (brother and sister) and were originally rescued from a box in an alley where they were abandoned as kittens. Initially they grew up with the company of another older cat and according to the previous owner they were happy and sociable. Then, a chihuahua entered the picture and absolutely terrorized the cats - this is why they had to be re-homed.

They are both approx. 2-3 years old, fixed, and current with their shots. The previous owner had taken them to the vet before I adopted them, so they both have clean bills of health.

When I first brought them home I kept them isolated in a room with the box in one corner and food in the other. I expected in the first week they would be skittish as they got used to their new home. After a day or two I allowed access to my room (so they could get used to my scent) and moved the box into the bathroom. They promptly took up residence under my bed.

They hid under the bed during the day and emerged at night, and I was glad they were finally exploring the rest of the home on their own. All was going well until I smelled an "accident" and discovered one had pooed on the rug in my bedroom. I barred them from my bedroom after that.

One has taken up to hiding in the bathroom under the sink, and the other hides behind a bookcase in the front room. When I am home for a while they will emerge and sit with me on the couch, and I make sure to spend plenty of time petting them, talking to them, and playing with them. When I stand up, though, it's back to hiding. Sometimes they walk around crouched low to the ground.

I can tell they are upset; they have had a few more "accidents" on rugs and *my couch* despite the fact that they both use the box (the box is cleaned daily). I don't force them out of hiding and am trying to do my best not to stress them, but I don't know how to make things better for them. I've had them almost three weeks now, which I figured would be enough time for adjustment, but given their stressful previous home situation, perhaps they need more time? I figured they would be happy to live in a dog-free, low traffic home.

I'm pretty patient and am not going to get rid of the cats - I'll be picking up some "Dumb Cat" spray from the pet store to discourage them from using the rugs/couch as an impromptu box. I try to keep a consistent schedule with them - dry food in the morning, wet in evening, and plenty of water. Anything else I can do to help them become more comfortable and less "Fraidy"?

post #2 of 4
Welcome to TCS and thank you for rescuing these cats from a stressful situation.

You are doing a good job so far. Just some very basic tips/ideas:

1) I'm not sure what "Dumb Cat" is, but I can virtually guarantee you that your cats will continue to have "accidents" unless you thoroughly soak/clean the areas where they eliminated inappropriately with an enzymatic cleaner, such as Nature's Miracle or Nok-Out, which can be found at pet stores. Non-enzymatic cleaners will not work. The areas will smell clean to you, but cats have a much keener sense of smell than humans. They will still be able to detect a "bathroom" scent in those spots, which basically tells them that it's OK for them to continue to go there.

2) You probably should have at least one more litter box. The general rule of thumb is that you should have one more litter box than the number of cats in the house. Some cats don't like to share boxes, some need the boxes to be extraordinarily clean, and some do not like to urinate and defecate in the same box. Also make sure that the boxes are large enough so that the cat can turn around in it. You need to make everything about the boxes as appealing as possible to the cats, and give them as little reason as possible to not use them. Along those lines, you might need to experiment with various brands/types of litter until you find one that both of them like. There is also a product called "Cat Attract" which contains scents that should inspire cats to use the litter box. It seems to have a high success rate and is something else to consider.

3) Invest in one or two Feliway plug-in diffusers. Feliway is a synthetic pheromone which mimics the pheromones found in a cat's scent glands, such as those on their cheeks. When cats rub objects with the sides of their faces, they are marking those objects with a "happy" scent. It's very comforting to them. Feliway was initially developed as a way to stop inappropriate elimination, but it is used by many people as a calming agent. It is completely harmless to cats (worst case scenario, they don't respond to it) and is indetectable by humans.

4) Continue to have a routine (cats love routine), and continue to be patient. Cats operate on their own timetables. I've read countless posts at this site alone by members whose new family members needed months and months before feeling even remotely comfortable in their new home. This is obviously frustrating because we humans know how safe the cats are and how good a life we want to provide to them. But they don't necessarily know that yet!

5) Continue to interact with them. Read out loud, watch TV, iron, use the laptop, etc. in their presence. Let them keep getting used to your mannerisms, your scent and your voice. If possible, crouch down or sit down so that you're closer to being on their level. You are much less threatening to them this way. Use an interactive wand-type toy like Da Bird to play with them. Do not look them directly in the eyes; this is seen as a challenge in the animal world. Pick a spot just above their heads. You can also slowly blink your eyes at them; in the cat world, this is a friendly display. Don't be surprised if they blink back after awhile!

I've just skimmed the surface with these suggestions; otehr members will likely be along with further advice. If you use the search function above you will find numerous articles and posts that will give you additional ideas. Good luck and keep us posted --- maybe give us some pictures too!
post #3 of 4
Congratulations on your new kitties.

3 weeks is not a very long time for skittish cats. I had one fellow that stayed behind my headboard for a full month and then took another week or two to even come into the same room with us. After that he was a big sucky baby and loved to be carried around like a human baby.

Just keep talking to them, spending time with them when they come to you and not forcing them out. They'll figure out in their own time that you are not an enemy. Patience and love will win out in the end. I know it's hard sometime when all you want is to love them and care for them, but patience will pay off.
post #4 of 4
Thread Starter 
Thank you both for the great suggestions and encouragement. I am going to the pet store after work to pick up some supplies and I will look for the Feliway.

"Dumb Cat" got a lot of good reviews online so I am going to try it. It's described as Controls your cat's urination on carpeting and floors where he confuses his urine's natural marking scent for his litter box. Works by removing the invisible sticky mucous and pheromones that remain after urination or spraying. I will pick up some Nature's Miracle just in case.

My "house" is actually a 2-bedroom apartment and my master bathroom is very small, so getting another box isn't feasible. The current box is kept in the "guest" bathroom which is not used often, so the cats can do their business in peace. There is more "material" in the box than accidents outside the box, so I'm pretty sure the accidents are fear/stress related and not an issue with the box itself.

In the future when the cats are more comfortable I hope to have pictures to share - they are very beautiful (one black, one dark grey tabby)!
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