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Extremely Skittish Cat

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
Hi everyone,

I just joined the forum today and am hoping I can get some help with one of my cats.

My sister found an abandoned kitten in her neighborhood, he was about 6 weeks old. She took him in and nurtured him and he was a sweet little guy. He subsequently developed a string of ear infections that required 3 trips to the vet and a constant twice daily application of medication for about six weeks running. At the time she had two other cats, and they all got along just fine. However, after the second episode of infection he became extremely fearful of everyone. He played just fine with the other cats though.

About 7 months ago she moved in with me and the poor little guy had to take an airline flight. When he arrived here to me, he was frightened but tolerated our initial inspection of his condition and subsequently darted under my bed which is where he continues to spend most of his time to this day.

I already had a cat, and one of his 'brothers' flew with him, so he does have a familiar friend to play with. He gets along with my cat just as well as can be, but any time he sees a person he crouches down low and creeps along the floor and then darts back under my bed.

He had one visit to the vet for yet another ear infection about 2 months after he arrived. So, for the past 5 months he's been left well enough alone as far as medications or vet visits. He just doesn't seem to be warming up to us at all, though he will creep out at night and sleep on my sister.

My main concern is that he seems to reside under a bed and will run away in terror if it appears you are going to move in any way or even look at him. He's small for his age, which I think now is about a year and a half.

I feel awful that he feels he needs to cower under a bed and won't come near anyone.

Has anyone else experienced this with a cat? I realize he was traumatized by vet visits and having to be caught for medication applications. I've tried everything I can think of to coax him out... treats, talking softly, toys, etc. Nothing seems to work. I expected perhaps that after he was left alone he would relax and rejoin the family, but that hasn't happened.

Can anyone suggest anything that I haven't thought of?

Any help is very much appreciated.
post #2 of 9
Perhaps your nonthreatening, non-interacting presence might help... just sit there, talk, and ignore him. Every once in a while, toss a treat under the bed... he may associate your presence with treats.

Don't force interaction, though. Just invite it--"Anytime you want to try, Kitty".
post #3 of 9
Callista is right on target. Try sitting on the floor and reading a book outloud in a soft voice. Do not call the cat to you, do not look under the couch for him. Just sit and read. If he comes out from under the couch, ignore him....don't even look at him, just keep on reading softly. Do this for a minimum of 15 minutes each day. Chances are good that eventually he will come out to sit with you.

It is amazing how well ignoring an skittish cat will work!
post #4 of 9
Thread Starter 
That's an excellent idea lotsocats, I hadn't thought of reading aloud. I'll try this and let you know what happens.

post #5 of 9
It would seem the others' advice is right. He will come out only when he is certain it is safe. I was thinking of maybe putting an article of clothing with your smell on it down where he hides. If he could associate the sent with being safe, maybe he would not feel so threatened about coming out. Good luck!
post #6 of 9
Your poor little baby! I've not experienced it to this degree, but I've recently gone through something very similar with my cat, Callie. It takes much patience, a calm environment, time, and more patience. You might also want to get a couple of Feliway plug ins to put throughout your house and especially one in the room where he's hiding. While I've not had to use them, you might also try some Bach's Rescue Remedy.

post #7 of 9
If those ideas don't work then try putting him, his brother and possibly your cat where you and your sister spend the most time and shut them off to only that room is possible. If he sees you interacting with the other cats and yuou sister, whom he all trusts, he will realize that none of them are being harmed by you and that there is no reason for fear.

Also tell your sister to let you be the one that feeds him from now on, if you don't free feed, try puttig the food down yourself, you and him-no other cat or person in the room, and sitting, say about 5-8 feet away from the food. Don't say anything and try not to move much.

After he finishes and goes back into hiding grab the bowl and let him roam the house again. Doing that and decreasing the distance between you and him during feeding time every few days till you can talk to him and he is right beside of you and you can pet him should help drastically. He will see you as the person with the food, the person to go to when hungrey and that you won't harm him.

Also you mught want to try a daily ritual of having you sister get him and something that you have recently worn, and with you outside of the room, have her take him and put him on top of the article of clothing and pet/kiss/love/reward him for it do this for several days. Once he has smelled all over some of the stuff you have wore, have her hold him and you walk up and just talk to him-this is going to take several sessions. Eventually try having her hold him while you pet him, this will NOT work if you or her are tense, the cat can sense this and will also be tense! Slowly reach out to pet him, give him a treat, talk to him, after you done and he's calm, walk away and have you sister let go of him.

Good luck and let us know how it goes and what works!!!
post #8 of 9
Thread Starter 
All the suggestions are great and very much appreciated. I think I wasn't clear though on his skittishness... he doesn't let anyone touch him but my sister, and then only at night. (Perhaps he sees her sleeping position as prone and isn't worried that she will try to grab him?) He flees from her just as much as the rest of us.

I did get him to play a bit this morning, but that was with me on one side of the child gate and him on the other and I was doing my best to not look at him at all. (He batted around a catnip mouse on a string for a bit) Obviously my 3 year old, who is quite chaotic in her movements, causes him to flee, though the other cats are just fine with her. Hades adores her and rubs up against her all the time. Chigger just sort of tolerates her pets with a "I'll do it because she's your kin" attitude.

I'm hoping that the new kitten who will spend most of his time in my room behind the child gate with food and a litter box all of his own, will help Psyche come out of his shell. Perhaps he'll feel more secure when he's got someone smaller to 'push' around?

In the meantime I'm taking all the suggestions and trying to work with him. When I pick up the new kitty I'll get some Feliway and see what that does.

I will definitely keep you all posted. Everyone is so very nice and helpful here!
post #9 of 9
my ruby is a skittish kitty, too. we play the "i'm not looking at you" game quite often. if i'm sitting on the floor and she happens to wander by, she freezes, doe-eyed, waiting to see if i'll move. i'll just keep reading/watching tv/etc, and she goes about her business. i think that once she figured out that i'm not going to bother her every time i see her, she became a *little* calmer.

after being feral for 3 months and then in a cage at the shelter for another 5 months, she was completely unused to people.

we've had her and her cagemate, roxy, for 4 months now. roxy is an ankle magnet...doesn't matter whose ankle it is; she's there, waiting for a head rub.

ruby has *just* gotten to the point where i can pet her - as long as it's on her terms and in her safe areas (the loveseat and "her" recliner). it's slow going.

but the pps have given you great information.
1. ignore him (not in a bad way...see him in the hall, say "hi, psyche" and keep walking...that kind of thing).
2. talk to the other kitties as much as possible.
3. make sure he sees you petting and touching and talking to the other kitties.
4. he will come to you, on his terms. he's probably just still settling in. some cats take a while before they're comfortable with the new terrain.
5. try to have one person feed him and clean his litterbox on a regular basis. i think once ruby saw me continually doing this, she got the hint and came out from behind furniture when i was around.
6. toys on a string are the BEST for skittish cats. it's still interaction, but not so close that the cats feel threatened.
7. be liberal with treats. find a good-for-him treat, and use it often. don't be above bribing a cat.
8. feliway worked really well for my two. esp since they were confined to one room.

one other thing....if psyche is hiding under the bed, he's not being socialized. dh & i had ruby and roxy confined to a bedroom for the first month we had them (due to eye issues). we ended up taking the bed off the rails and having the boxspring directly on the floor. gave the two new members of the family one less place to hide and more opportunity to see what was going on, whether they wanted to or not.

good luck to you!
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