How to help a scared cat adjust
It’s been radio silence over here for a couple of reasons. Well, my mom was here for two weeks and I’ve been busy sitting with our latest adopted furry child Anthony (HERE for my last post about him) who has required lots of time and patience. There was no time to really get any projects done. I thought it was about time to update you on how he’s been doing before I get into the Christmas decorating posts. And maybe this post will help some of you out there to learn how to help a scared cat adjust just like Anthony.
If you remember from my last post, we adopted Anthony on September 13th because I had seen his face a year and a half ago on Petfinder and just couldn’t forget his sad eyes. After Lucy passed away I thought it was time to bring him into our family. I knew that he wasn’t going to be an easy integration but that didn’t stop me.
He had lived at the shelter for 4 years out of his 5 years of life and was completely overwhelmed when placed into our family household with two other cats. He didn’t know anything else besides the windowless room he had lived in with a large number of other cats. And as you can see from the photos, that room also stressed him out and he looked awfully sad.
The majority of cats and even fairly confident cats would be stressed out being surrounded by so many other cats and strangers coming in to adopt.
In today’s post, I want to write down what I have done and learned new about helping a shy cat adjust to a new home. And wording it like this is a little misleading because Anthony isn’t just shy, he is terrified and anxious. It is still an ongoing process but we have made some incredible progress and I thought it might help someone else out there.
The photo above and below are from the shelter.
How to help a scared cat adjust
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Anxious and scared cats prefer small spaces
To help him feel safe we placed the carrier that he hid in our spare bathroom and covered the carrier with a blanket with a small opening on the front. This helps cats feel more secure. I also purchased a cat tree (this one HERE), plugged in Feliway (HERE), and a white noise machine (HERE). The noises of our busy family left him terrified and I wanted him to get used to our home and people gradually.
After giving him his own space in our guest bathroom I heard and noticed that he started to come out at night when we were asleep to sit on the cat tree and use the litter box but he remained fearful and in hiding when anyone entered the room.
Spend time in the room
I spent time each day with him while working on the computer or watching Netflix in the evenings. I’d also softly spoke to him while he was hiding without making eye contact. This daily routine usually works for a lot of other scared cats to make them trust you. Not so much in Anthony’s case. He remained fearful while occasionally trying to scratch and bite me when I placed food in front of him. I know that there isn’t a specific amount of time that it takes to coax a cat out of hiding and some need a lot longer than others. But after he lived with us for about 5 weeks with no signs of improvement and severe diarrhea due to assumed stress, I decided to take him to the veterinarian to treat diarrhea and have him looked at to make sure there wasn’t another reason for his constant fear and hiding.
Medication in tough cases
This is where maybe some opinions divide but let me explain, I’ve done quite some reading up about it. Our vet who is also my husband’s cousin and I felt absolutely terrible about how terrified Anthony was at the vet visit. I videotape it in my Instagram stories (scroll down to see how you can follow me on my stories) for everyone to see. She mentioned that she gives her own cat Gabapentin for vet visits. This drug is a human drug that is also being used in veterinary treatments to reduce fear and anxiety in cats. It is gentle sedation that slows down your cat and just makes it care less about what is going on around it. It is perfectly fine to give a cat a prescribed dosage for a longer period of time. After our vet consulted with a cat behaviorist she also prescribed Paxil for Anthony which takes up to 6 to 8 weeks to take effect. Until Paxil will show its effects I was told to give Anthony, half a capsule of Gabapentin in the morning and half in the evening and of course for any future vet visit. For a vet visit, they recommended giving him a full capsule.
Let me tell you that giving him this drug on the first day already made a huge difference because for the first time ever, he came out of the box for me. Meowed and let me pet him. It was the biggest surge of hope I had gotten since bringing him home. And we were immensely relieved to see that it helped him.
He has been on a mixture of Paxil and Gabapentin for 4 weeks now and he has made so much progress. He even occasionally comes downstairs when we are watching TV or plays with our little Willy who has been the best little brother Anthony could ask for. Maya is a different story though and still as mean as can be. She is also getting some Gabapentin to help with her own fears.
Most nights now Anthony roams the house with the others and has been exploring cautiously.
Our goal is to establish a daily routine that they can all accept and then stop the Gabapentin altogether and only use it for Anthony before heading to the vet. He will need bloodwork soon so we can get his teeth fixed. There might be some issues in his mouth causing pain yet too. He will most likely be on the Paxil for a longer period of maybe 1-2 years but I will consult about that with the vet and behaviorist again.
A couple of my Instagram followers have told me that Gabapentin has also made a huge difference in their cat’s life when adjusting to new situations. I really don’t know what I would have done without it.
I recently also read a post by Jackson Galaxy about why he changed his opinion on giving your cat medications like this. It really can be a great thing.
Now giving him these meds has been an entirely different difficult story because he keeps changing his mind about what he likes and doesn’t like.
Feed favorite treats and meals
Cats are very, very food motivated and you can gain their trust and love after you find out what their favorite treats and foods are. The shelter had already told me that he is rather obsessed with food which is a plus when trying to medicate any cat. Anthony is pretty good at figuring out if a medication was placed inside what he is eating and it’s definitely been an ongoing process. I had bought pill pockets which worked for a short amount of time. I tried Leberwurst which worked for about a day! He stole my salami off of my sandwich while sitting in the room with him and although I know it is terrible for him, I let him eat his pill wrapped in salami for a while. Gabapentin is a powder that I can mix right inside of his wet food but the Paxil is not.
I now figured out that he loves minced wet food and I mix both the Gabapentin and Paxil inside it, mixed with some water and probiotics (HERE). Whenever he eats chunky wet food he leaves the chunks as leftovers.
If this concoction ends up not working again then I will try pill-masker (HERE) yet.
Making time for playing can distract a fearful cat and thanks to the medication Anthony has started to slowly play with other toys for short periods of time. I love bonding with him during playtime.
Anthony also appeared to enjoy watching birds and squirrels in youTube videos on my iPad. Check them out HERE, HERE, and HERE.
The right pheromones
This is another thing I learned. I had always just used the standard Feliway plug-in which was good while he was housed in the bathroom alone. When we started to leave the door open though, for periods of time and he was able to interact more with the other cats, I was told by the vet to use the Feliway MultiCat plug-in which now we have numerous ones plugged in throughout the house.
Things I ended up buying due to Veterinary and behaviorist’s advice:
- regular Feliway (HERE) and Feliway MultiCat (HERE)
- Gabapentin (prescription drug)
- Paxil (prescription drug)
- white noise machine (HERE)
- treats (meat tubes which my cats go crazy over and temptations)
- fresh catnip
- new laser toy (great because it doesn’t make any noise that could startle your scared cat)
- a cat tree with hiding spot (I bought this affordable one HERE and we love it)
- probiotics against diarrhea (HERE) since he didn’t want to take the liquid metronidazole
- pill pockets (HERE)
Some more tips:
- When you do look at your cat slowly blink, this is also known as “kitty kisses” and does help to soothe your cat.
- Never ever punish the cat who is being the aggressor like Maya while introducing a new cat to the household because it only makes things worse. Place the aggressor in a different room while the new cat explores.
- Fearful and anxious cats should not be free-fed. Feed the cat in it’s hiding spot and offer canned food several times a day while remaining in the room to build trust. You might even have to try to spoon-feed it. I use meat baby food and my favorite is Beech-Nut. After some time you might be able to lure the kitty out of hiding with some food/treats.
- If the cat is not eating or drinking at all for 2-3 days take it to the vet since this can be very dangerous for the cat and its kidneys.
- A steady and daily routine helps cats get used to new surroundings!
- I’ve heard good things about “the Ultimate Peacemaker” solution for helping cats get along (HERE)
- Instead of a sound machine, you can also play a steady purring sound on your phone or iPad through youTube. (HERE)
Isn’t it crazy how much his facial expression has changed already? He barely looks like the same cat. These photos weren’t easy to get since he is scared of the camera but I was able to get them with a long zoom lens.
He still has a lot to learn and become comfortable with but he has made an amazing stride in progress and the ladies from the shelter who comment on my Facebook posts are thrilled to see how he is doing and that he is looking so great.
More of my cat care posts:
Want to hang out outside of the blog to see what my cats and I are up to? Here’s what you can do…
- Head over to my Instagram profile HERE.
- Double-tap the first photo in my feed. (Liking and commenting on people’s photos tells Instagram that you want to see their posts. Or you can also turn on post and story notifications by clicking the three dots in the top right corner of my profile and then clicking on the desired bottom option )
- I do Instagram stories almost every day!
Instagram stories can actually be found 2 different ways in the app:
- If you’re on your home feed look at the little house icon at the bottom of the screen, a row of profile photos with a pinkish-orange ring around them will appear at the top. Tap one of those to see that person’s story.
- Or go to a specific profile using the search icon which is magnifying glass at the bottom and the profile photo will have the same pinkish-orange ring around it if there is a story to watch.
I’d love for you all to know what I’m talking about when I say that I already shared it in my Instagram stories. It’s so fun to watch the progress on video.
I love this little guy so much and seeing him evolve and trust me more means the world to me.
On another note, I will keep updating or republishing this post whenever I learn something new that is worth sharing.
Tschüß and have a HAPPY THANKSGIVING, my cat-loving friends.
I love reading this and seeing the progress Anthony has made! I knew he landed in the right home!! You are a very special person!!! Thank you for your love and devotion to a homeless cat!
Thanks Susan, now if Maya would only stop being so mean. Just this morning she got really angry again which is crazy because she was at the shelter too with so many cats. She sits next to me all night long while I sleep to watch that Anthony doesn’t attempt to come near me. Crazy cat!
my friend just lost her grandmother and inherited her grandmother’s cat so i sent this to her- thank you!
Oh no! That is so sad! Well I hope it helps her.
I just love this post. You have done such a wonderful job, Julia. Anthony’s transformation is clear to see on his sweet face. He does look like a different kitty! Thank you for sharing your journey. Anthony is a lucky guy.
Thanks Kristin, I hope that he’ll be unrecognizable in a year 😉
Love this post! I will share this post with many who are so frustrated and do not know what to do about their cat. Thank you for sharing your journey!
Oh thank you, I appreciate all the shares.
Anthony is such a lucky kitty to have found you. I have a houseful of cats and dogs and can confirm that medications are a lifesaver when all regular remedies have been exhausted. My grandcat had to stay with me for almost a year and was terrified of my dogs. Prozac helped him to cope until he could return home. He was miserable without it. My rescue yorkie has taken Prozac for over a year and it has made a huge difference. She can now interact with people and other dogs without issue. I also use gabapentin when we go to the vet. My vet couldn’t believe it was the same dog. Keep up the good work, I’m sure your patience and love will pay off for little Anthony!
My Harry was on Prozac too because he used to pee everywhere and it helped him and me 😉
I can’t believe I had never heard of Gabapentin before and wish I had it as an emergency helper earlier in my pet ownerships.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
What a beautiful kitty! You’ve done such a wonderful job helping Anthony settle in…..Happy Thanksgiving!!!
Thanks Jen, he still has a long road ahead of him but it’s a lot of progress. Happy Thanksgiving to you too!
Thanks Jen, he still has a long road ahead of him but it’s a lot of progress. And he needs to gain confidence to stand up to Maya. She is so mean. Happy Thanksgiving to you too!
So happy to read about Anthony’s progress. He does look like a different kitty. A new kind of before and after, Julia. I also applaud your patience and love and willingness to go the many extra miles to make his life better. Thank you, and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.
Isn’t this before and after so much better than a home makeover 😉 ? Happy Thanksgiving to you too
Anthony looks wonderful! That little face! Keep up the good work. Our Luna takes Gabapentin before every vet visit and she is so much calmer. We hated how stressed out she used to get. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!
I really wish I had known about Gabapentin earlier. It would have made my cats’ life so much easier during vet visits and other stressful situations. Happy Thanksgiving to you too.
Julia, how wonderful. Anthony has come so far. There aren’t many people that would have the patience for this sweet boy. He was very lucky the day you brought him home. Your ability to figure out what is bothering him is so perfect I’m convinced it is the love you feel for him that Anthony is able to latch on to. Such an inspiring story. I’ve never experienced this with any of my cats but it has opened my eyes to future rescues/adoptions. So glad that you took on this challenge. What an example you are to your children.
Thanks Kathleen, I really hope Maya will come around yet too and not be so mean. A lot of her behavior is jealousy. She is watching me nonstop.
I hope my kids will learn from this for sure.
It’s wonderful and it makes me happy to see that Anthony made such progress, Julia. He is so lucky that you brought him home. Not many people would have your patience. Thank you for putting together all those tips! I’ll keep them in mind just in case and have pinned your post to my cat board.
Thanks so much for pinning Julia! I really hope the tips will help someone.
He is so beautiful! and what amazing work you have done. This is true love right there.
And thanks for sharing all the tips to take care of an adopted cat.
Thanks Alessandra, I hope that he will be accepted by my cats soon and living a normal life in our household. He is still very very scared but definitely better than before.
What great news that Anthony is starting to adjust. Pinned to my Pet Board.
Thanks so much for pinning, I appreciate any shares and hope it will help others too.
So glad for him and you! You’re his angel no natter what
Hello, I was just reading your recent blog post which did not have a comment section which is why I’m commenting here.. You know more about cats that I do and have probably already tried these. For 7 yrs. I have been fostering felines. From newborn (umbilical cord still attached), bottle-babies, to several kittens needing, eye creams, drops, amoxicillin, metro. etc. every 1-2 hrs., to hoarded cats with no skin on them and adults weighing less than a pound. This is becoming a short story long:-) I don’t know if Anthony is on pills, capsules or drops. If pills or capsules I use a small pestle and mortar to completely crush the pill before adding to their food. Capsules I open and if they are large divide then into 2 meals. Whatever their absolute food is (yogurt, a little cream, ground cooked chicken etc. I just mix it in really well, and so far I have been very lucky. Using their regular wet food also works with some of them. My own sweet little girl came from a hoarding situation with no fur or skin on her entire upper body. (My foster failure) but I have always been lucky with her as she is good as gold when bandaging or popping a pill. Good luck – he’s a very lucky kitty.
Thank you so much for your comment and fostering so many kitties in need.
I have the medication in pill form that I crush with a mortar and capsule powder form and for a while it has worked stuffing it into things and mixing the powder into food. I think I’ve bought every food there is, tried cheese, salami, ham, canned chicken, chicken babyfood, canned tuna, liverwurst paste, Thanksgiving turkey, steak, whipped cream, meat tubes, pill pockets, Tomlyn pill-masker and probiotics. Some of it worked for a while and once he bit into the pill or noticed the taste mixed in, it didn’t work anymore. He is pretty smart and has become super picky. I even went as far as licking all the stuff (yuck) myself to figure out what doesn’t taste bitter anymore with no luck.
With all the cats I ever had, I have found a way to pill them, he is the first one where it has become impossible :(which is not a good thing should he ever get sick.
And he’s lost a ton of weight now too after his oral surgery. He is such a challenge. I really don’t know anymore what to do.