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Help with behavior/skittishness/fear in my cat!

post #1 of 2
Thread Starter 
I've been at my wits end trying to figure out how to best socialize my cat. I've ready the guidelines on how to socialize a feral cat but I don't know if thats what I should do or how I would do it in a multiple cat household.
Here is the story so far:

We got Figaro at a shelter at 5 months old at the end of November (should be about a year old now). I found out a few weeks later that he was trapped with his feral mom and spent the first part of his life feral (not sure what age he was trapped). He was very skittish when we first got him but loved food and loved to play. He was fitting in very well and got along with our 5 year old female cat Biff and he would sleep between my feet every night. They would groom each other etc. However, poor Biff was not always in the mood to play. We ended up getting another kitten in January for multiple reasons but partly so he would have a playmate.

From that point on... he stopped socializing with us humans. He gets along great with both cats, plays with the younger, grooms with the older. But somehow he decided us humans were bad/evil/scary. For a while we could pet him if we found him napping on the couch or the bed, but try and touch him anywhere else and he'd just bolt. Eventually he didn't even nap on the couch or on the bed and spends as much time as possible curled into a ball under the bed. Now keep in mind that as a kitten, he would purr the instant you touched him, and I know cats can purr when scared but he would just relax into your hands and roll around etc drooling. To this day, when we do manage to get ahold of him, he just lays in my arms, purrs, drools, rolls all over my lap etc. He LOVES being pet but can't seem to associate the petting with the people.

Around this time, my mother-in-law had a similar problem with her cat and her vet gave her anti-depressants (actually birth control pills) to give her male cat (both our cat and hers are fixed) and it opened him up and after a few doses he was a different cat, no longer afraid! So we talked to our vet and asked if the same thing would work. He said we could certainly try.

So for a month and a half we would dose him according to the doc's prescription by grinding the pills to powder and mixing with syrup and squirting it into his mouth. I always made sure to pet him until he relaxed after these sessions and we would try to have a good petting session at least once between doses so the two would not be totally connected. Now at first, we noticed a difference, he wandered into the living room when we had guests! He let us pet him on the floor! But those good signs started to fade and now he's even worse than he was before the medication (we stopped giving it to him). Now, he is never approachable, is scared of the toys he used to love to hunt (we never used the toys to trick him into being caught and medicated) and doesn't even interact as much with the other cats. Last night, I said 'hi Figaro' as he came out for the first time that day, not looking at him, but saw out of the corner of my eye that he froze, noticed me then ran under the bed for another few hours.

I am willing to take him on his terms as you should with a feral, but with multiple cats, he doesn't need us for affection. He's comfortable in the space so locking him in a room to resocialize him seems cruel. I try to ask myself if I'm forcing the issue for my benefit or his but I do think there are a few clear signs that I want him more social for his own benefit. 1) He's a long hair and does need to be brushed... which he loves whenever we can get a chance, 2) We've had 2 wildfires in our area this past year and have been on the edges of evacuation areas... if we had to evacuate I don't know if we could catch him... a normal cat would already be scared and hard to grab, 3) He LOVES being pet... I really want him to get more of that, 4) I can't imagine what the stress is doing to him to be constantly alert/wary.

His tail used to be thick and bushy and now its thinner and limp looking, this could just be because its summer but I can't help but associate it with his anxiety. I don't know if I should ignore him and hope things get better or if its more important for him to be held/pet/socialized and if I ignore him, I'll just make it worse because he'll get used to not being touched. Food is no longer a lure for him. He used to gobble treats like crazy but now won't even eat them if I put them on the floor away from me.. almost like they are suspect because I touched them.

Please, help, advice whatever you can tell me! I'm willing to try anything but don't want to traumatize him further on the chance that it will work. I coudln't bear to get rid of him, he's a part of the family and he's my responsibility now and the other cats love him but its tearing my heart to see him so scared.
post #2 of 2
I have a large household of cats that were all born feral. Some of them you would never know they were born feral, and others are scared like your boy. And for all the years that I've heard people's stories on this site, I realize that it doesn't matter if a cat was born feral or in a loving home, every cat is different - some are naturally skittish and some are little love bugs. Get the "born feral" stigma out of your head.

I have a cat Eightball who was the most loving and playful kitten you ever met. He, his brother Tigger (deceased), and sister Molly (adopted out) all had a major turn in personality when they were about a year old. I've never been able to explain why, just that it happened with that entire litter. Someone shared a theory with me one time that just because you neuter, doesn't make them hormone free, and a cat hits full maturity about that age. What you described about Figaro basically happened to all 3 of them. And in the large household that I have, they did acquire their cat friends and left me alone for a long time.

But they found their way back to me, in their special spots and their own time. Tigger was my night time snuggle cat. I could always count on him hopping into bed with me at night for some loving before he slept by my feet. Eightball is my evening lap cat. He spends more time in my lap than all the rest of my cats combined.

How did I get them back? By ignoring them. By playing with their friends. By setting up regular feeding schedules (in places away from where they hid during the day). To this day Eightball will not play with a toy that I'm holding, but I did find out he loves to nibble on catnip when I drop some on the floor by my feet. He also loves canned food and I can get him running when I open up a can. You will find things that Figaro loves and use any of those to your advantage.

I completely understand your concern about having an emergency situation where you have to get to Figaro. I keep a room in my house where a cat cannot fully hide under anything, and if I have to catch him, I close the doors to all the rooms of the house but that one and herd him in there. I make that room a safe room so that he is never afraid to enter it (catnip, condos, etc in there).

You clearly have the right attitude about Figaro and I totally commend you for that! Love him for who he is, and he will find his way back to you.
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