On the example of Texas I will tell you how to cope with fear in a new cat. Based on the methods of coping, I distinguish two sorts of cats. The first group of cats just need time to relax, get to know the apartment and they will come to you themselves. The easy part here is that the cats need to take the first step and let us know that it is ok now to get in their personal space and start getting to know them. This behavior is common for cats who experienced a lot of stress during changing owners, who are stressed by strangers and who are young and inexperienced. The second group of cats is a bit more difficult to deal with because they have had a bad experience with people, were somehow traumatized or quite the opposite – they never dealt with people. All these cases are complicated because – just like with people – it is easier to teach somebody behaviors from the beginning rather than change the current ones as we also need to stop the current behaviors from occurring.
Texas came into the house with two cats already in it and as we know cats are very territorial and will not give up their space and yet he displayed a perfect behavior. He was never aggressive and not once did he hiss or snort at my cats. At the beginning he hid in the closet for few days and did not come out. I heard him using the litter box at night and I could tell he was eating because food was disappearing but the only thing I saw of him were his shining eyes at the back of the closet. After a week when I started losing hope to ever see Texas out of the closet, when I was sitting quietly looking through Facebook I saw him standing in the corridor staring right back at me. Taking into consideration his later behavior I think he simply got bored with sitting in the closet while two other cats were chasing around and having tons of fun right in front of him. Deep inside he is too much of a fun lover to just sit in hiding and pretend to be offended. He left his hideout to play after a flying toy caught his interest so I concluded that he can be persuaded to leave the closet to play but not to eat.
Remember there are two ways to get the cat out of the hideout: with food or toys… or both!
Our initial interaction was based only on a play with a laser (laser let us stay far apart) because Texas, like a real aristocrat, had a big personal space and every time I tried to come closer he ran to hide in the closet. Texas observed me playing with Miciula and Dixi and saw that nothing wrong was happening to them so he let me come a little closer… not much … just few meters at the beginning but with time his fear was disappearing. While playing with laser I made sure to direct the light closer and closer to my feet to have him come closer to further diminish the distance between us. Later we switched to playing with a stick with a bunch of straps hanging from its end. With this game I noticed that he recoiled every time he was touched no matter what touched him: the toy, my finger or another cat. Clearly Texas was afraid of being touched. Later, to show him that it is ok to be touched, during play I started nudging him with the toy stick he was chasing so he could associate the fun he had while playing with the touch and start getting used to being touched.
In the next phase I was following Texas with the toy stick until he got bored with running away from me, got in the corner and let me touch him with the stick – a sort of extension of my hand – and later stroke him with my hand. At the beginning I had to chase Texas for an hour but gradually he was getting used to it until he finally let me touch him without running away at all and I could put the stick away too. He is still an individualist and let people stroke him when he feels like it but he is not a wild cat any more. Now he jumps into bed in the morning and demands being stroked. The stick method as a hand extension is an excellent idea for anyone who has a wild cat who needs to be tamed.
I just wrote a lot on this subject and it might sound confusing so let’s get to the point with no sentiments and stories. If you have a wild cat and giving him space and letting him come to you is not working you have to ask yourself what is going to work. You have to find a bargaining chip to negotiate with – it could be food or toys but there is as many ideas as there are cats so watch yours carefully. If and when you find that one thing use it. If it is a toy use it for as long as necessary to lure your cat out of the hideout.
There are few things to remember:
– you have to be patient as it might take hours
– at the beginning keep the distance by choosing a toy that keeps you away from the cat and yet lets the toy approach the animal, for example a laser
– remember not to make sudden movements and definitely do not throw yourselves at the cat as soon as he comes out because you might farther scare him pushing him two steps backwards in your getting-to-know process… give your cat time
– it is also important not to treat the cat like an egg later on – he will live with us for a few years, we share the space, listen to music, vacuum so cat should be exposed to these common sounds pretty much from the beginning (the beginning is a flexible term and you have to be a careful judge here)
– remember that cats, just like dogs, learn best from making associations so if you find an activity your cat really likes try to insert a teaching moment in that activity
– leaving your cats to themselves is not always a great idea. If they do not leave their hideout for hours and seem completely frozen do not let them pee themselves out of fear and die of hunger. Get them out, try to feed them, put them in the litter box – it is a beginning of our interaction with the cat and might create positive association with food
– do not chase the cat all around the apartment. If you follow him do so in a quiet manner not to additionally stress the animal
The most important thing is to be empathetic, in your actions towards animals as well as people. Each piece of advise needs to be tailored to your particular situation and conditions. Observe and act. Good luck!!
Here is the movie that shows the final stages of taming Texas with a stick – he did hiss at me but let me stroke him and later he even liked it.
How to tame your cat