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Scared little boy

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 
My ten month old, Mitch, is terrified of strangers. It takes him FOREVER to warm up to someone new, and it's only if he sees them every day. The only people he isn't petrified of are myself and my mother.

I know that part of the reason he's so afraid of people is because he was sprayed in the face with mace at a very young age by some police officers (apparently he ran up under some woman's car and she thought he was a wild animal or something and called the police; this is what I was told by the agency I adopted him from). This traumatic experience certainly explains his behaviour, but there are a few things I simply can't get my head around.

For starters, my ex and I adopted him together, and when I brought him with me to visit Mitch and play with him, he spent most of the time curled up in my ex's lap, purring and sleeping. Fast forward a few months, and out of nowhere Mitch starts running from Jeff, hissing at him and freaking out (growling and/or low pitched meow-growls) when he touched him or tried to pick him up or hold him. I never understood why Mitch behaved this way, especially since Jeff never yelled at him or did anything to scare him or hurt him. He and I have since separated, so it's not really an issue anymore, but I'm still wondering what sparked the sudden change in behaviour.

Also, like I've stated, Mitch is absolutely terrified of strangers, especially men. He usually is ok around my female friends (he still hides in the bathroom, behind the fishtank, or under the sofa when unfamiliar people are visiting), but when my male friends visit, he is a big ball of nerves. Most of the time he hides in the bathroom, and when men go to use it, he will cower behind the toilet and hiss until they're done. He hisses when they try to touch him (he's never bitten or scratched anyone).

I don't really know how to make him more socialized and have him be less scared. He is a very sweet boy and loves me and my mom (we can approach him and pick him up and pet him and have no problems at all), but I don't know what I can do to ease his nerves and have him be more comfortable around strangers. I've tried repeated exposure with my current boyfriend and it's sort of working, as Mitch doesn't stay hidden in the bathroom and will come out and walk around very cautiously, but the slightest unexpected sound spooks him and if one of us happens to stand up and walk around, he runs off.

Any suggestions?
post #2 of 5
I'm no expert on anything, but my cat Cynthia is a very timid. After taking her to the vet and having to give her medicine (after only having her for a month), she was terrified of me. She was hiding under the bed and I couldn't get near her, couldn't even finish giving her the med. After 3 days of that, I got one of those feliway (comfort zone) plug ins. Shortly after I pluged it in by the bed she was hiding under, she came out and hasn't been back under there since. I got 2 more and put them around, and she's getting more and more friendly and less frightened. She still runs sometimes, but not so far, and she still cringes if I make a sudden move toward her, but she comes up to us now and solicits body rubs.

I don't know if it's just coincidence, but as scared as she was, I didn't think she was ever going to come out from under the bed.
post #3 of 5
My best advice is to just work with it. I would, for one, close the bathroom door (if you can), and if you have a problem with people closing it after use, put a sign up on the inside of the door asking them to close it. This would prevent him from hiding behind the toilet, as well as prevent uncomfortability of your guests.

As far as a new hiding place...since this will be taking away his usual place...

Do you have a closet that you could leave open, and set up a place where Mitch could hide? You would have to go with what he's comfortable with, obviously, and maybe even put his litterbox in with his bedding, but he would definitely be more comfortable. You could use either a cardboard box with blankets in it, or a cat bed (which, granted, I haven't had many cats enjoy one, but you never know), or maybe even a pile of towels. He'll gravitate to what he likes. If you don't have room in your closet, maybe try having your bedroom as a whole be his space? You could keep the door mostly closed, so he's got his own private space, and include his litterbox, food and water, etc. right there with him.

Bottom line...I would set up a private space for him that's not so often used, so he feels more confident. That way, when there are guests, he can escape the whole time without a problem, and not feel that his privacy is being invaded, like he seems to feel when people come into the bathroom.

Hope that helps!! If not, drop another line to let me know why, and I'll be able to come up with something.
post #4 of 5
My cat is the same way. He's slow to warm up to strangers, especially men. But I've learned the more he's exposed to people, the more likely he is to be friendlier. An older lady at my apartment comes by occasionally. At first, he'd hide under the couch, but after she visited a few times, he'd go out, sniff her hand, and by now will rub against her leg and even want to play a little.

I work at a group home for developmentally disabled adults. The first few times I took him to work, all he'd do was hide in the bedroom and miaow. Now that he's used to being there, he loves going with me!! After all, he has six ladies that looooove to love on him and play with him!

I guess I said all that to say maybe your cat's just not used to these people right now. Maybe when he's more used to seeing them he'll calm down.
post #5 of 5
I saw this same situation on that show Barking Mad on Animal Planet. There was this cat who was adopted and just as afraid as you say your kitty is. The cat wouldn't even come to the lady who adopted her, just hide under teh bed. The solution was a very slow process but thats what ya gotta do with animals. Most likely your kitty will never be one of those social types. Just friendly with those he knows.

First of all, tell your visitors not to approach the kitty. Just pretend he is not even there. That way, he can observe or even listen to the voices and sounds. He won't feel as though anyone is after him. I agree with the earlier post about giving him a hiding spot that is away from everything. If you have say just one male friend over, if your guy friend is up to it, have him go into the bed room or whatever space teh kitty is hiding and just have your friend sit on the bed. Maybe hold a treat in his hand. It takes a while (and this is what was done on the show) but eventually teh kitty will come to investigate. Never look your kitty in the eye and don't attempt to pet the kitty. This way, he will feel confident and it will be his own attempt and adventure. And once he gets the treat that will ensure a good reinforcement for coming to investigate.

I know it sounds like a lot and it can take hours for a cat to wait out something they fear but if you want your kitty to not be so afraid, you should give it a try.

But in the meantime, don't let anyone approach the kitty. That makes them so much more afraid adn it will take even longer for them to come out.

Hope this helps! Goodluck
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