Helping Abused Cat Feel Welcome

A feline behavior expert offers tips to help integrate a rescued cat into a new loving home.

By Pam Johnson-Bennett

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Q: I recently adopted a Siamese cat rescued from an abusive home. Ricki has been with us for about a week, and I have created a sanctuary room where he can feel safe. I want to establish a bond with him before I introduce him to my two resident cats, Buster and Cyduck. Are there changes I can make now in anticipation of Ricki's introduction but done in advance so Buster and Cyduck don't associate these changes with a new cat?

Also, where do I find that line between encouraging Ricki to take new, brave steps and not pushing him too fast? He doesn't do well with me when I'm standing; to interact I must be at
eye level or lower. He also doesn't like being held or being scruffed. Are there ways for me to desensitize him to being held?

Johnson-Bennett discusses how to make an abused cat comfortable in a new homeFeline behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of Think Like a Cat, says:
You have done an amazing job so far in preparing Ricki for the introduction. What a truly kind heart you have to give this precious cat a loving home.

It's not surprising that Ricki adapted well to the cats in the foster home because if he was abused by humans, it's natural that he would find a more trusting bond in other cats. With cats, at least Ricki could read and understand their body language. It's also not surprising that he is frightened if you are standing. I assume his abuser stood over him, scruffed him and hit him with objects. The poor cat has lots of emotional healing to do in order to trust humans again. It will take time and you are doing everything right.

Let Ricki continue to set the pace and you'll find the bond will slowly begin to build. In addition to his history of abuse, he has also gone from home to home and that adds to his confusion. It will be a slow process but if you take baby steps with him, you'll start to see him blossom. I also think that once you start the introduction to your other two cats, Ricki may do better since he appears to be a cat's cat.

It sounds as if you have prepared the main part of the home very well in anticipation of the introduction.

Pam Johnson-Bennett, CABC
IAABC-Certified Animal Behavior Consultant

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Reader Comments

Sarah    Hanover, NH

2/7/2013 1:36:22 PM

My cat was very shy and anxious at first, but is now the king of the house--- he was just 3 months old when we adopted him, already neutered. It took him a while to even come out of his carrier, and even longer until he was comfortable enough to explore the house. But we just let him go at his own pace; our house is generally pretty relaxed and quiet, though we still started small-- just one or two rooms at first, no visitors until he was comfortable with us, etc.
I think the best plan for any shy or anxious cat is to take everything slowly and remain as calm and reassuring as possible-- cats can pick up on your stress level, and if you are relaxed, it's easier for the cat to feel safe. Don't add new things until the cat is ready-- let him/her settle in first and get used to everything before you add more excitement/stress! And make sure the cat sees you as a source of good things (petting, food, water, toys...)--- forming/reforming positive connections is important.

Another helpful stress-reliever: ROUTINE. Keeping everything to a regular schedule is immensely reassuring.

Try to think like a cat-- how would you see and interpret strange objects, sounds, actions, etc.?

If nothing else, try a little love--- sometimes all a cat needs is to feel cared for. If the cat will tolerate being petted or even held, do so often, for as long as the cat will let you (but don't force them).

Lexie    New Berlin, WI

11/13/2011 7:57:09 PM

I adopted an abused cat six months ago. He has his good days and bad days and gets along great with my other cat. He just doesn't seem to always remember who I am. When I come home from work he shys away from and acts like I'm going to kick or hit him. How can I help him through his fears? He will never again be hurt and I wish he knew that.

g    g, GA

5/13/2009 2:30:59 PM


ML    Montoursville, PA

3/27/2009 12:41:33 PM

As long as there is a clear bill of health, rub a towel on the new cat to get its scent. Then leave it around where the incumbent cats can sniff it, this gets them used to the smell and idea of the other cat. I also do the same bringing the towel into the quarantine room with the new cat for them to sniff. I also put some treats on the floor near the door on both sides. It encourages each to paw under the door and get accustomed to each other with the door still in place and the treats for incentive. Sometimes by the time I finally open the door and have the first supervised encounter they are already used to each other. Not always but there is no shock which can cause the hissing and fighting.

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