TAMING A NERVOUS CAT
Copyright Celia Haddon. Do not reproduce without permission www.celiahaddon.com
1. Let the cat settle in without disturbing it. Give it a place to hide out of sight under the bed, covered box, etc. Shut doors to places that would be inconvenient such as chimneys, drain areas etc. Install a Feliway diffuser. Make sure the litter tray is near enough. If the cat is under the bed, put the litter tray in the bedroom to begin with. You can change this later. It is quite normal for a terrified cat only to come out at night. Give the cat plenty of time before you try step 4.
2.a. Whenever possible ignore the cat. Avoid it as much as possible. Do not look at it. Just go about your normal day. Do not try to coax it out. Retreat rather than advance whenever possible. When you come face to face with it, if you retreat (rather than the cat) this will be reassuring for it. It rewards the cat for not running away. The above method won’t work for cats that are confined to one room or in a chalet see lower down for instructions.
3. Let the cat come to you. If it takes weeks, it takes weeks.
4. Make sure the cat has a reasonable level of food available (if necessary in the room where it is hiding to begin with). Only when it has started coming out into the house, feed it in the kitchen. Put down the food and retreat and ignore it altogether.
5. Simultaneously, keep some dry food, preferably tastier, in your pocket. If the cat is visible within range throw a biscuit or two and retreat immediately. Remember, your retreating rewards the cat for its not retreating.
6. Start doing this nearer and nearer. You may have to start when the cat is 6 feet away and it may take weeks before you can do this so that the cat is within a foot away from you. BE PATIENT. If you think the cat is ready for it, lie down flat on your tummy (instead of retreating) and throw the food from there. When you are lying down, you are less frightening for the cat. Your aim is for the cat to associate you with food. This will take time.
7. If you go a step too fast, then go back a few steps. Ie. If the cat is frightened by your attempts to feed it within two feet, go back to feeding it within 6 feet distance. Try to end each session on a good note and donï¿½t go on too long. Your aim is to hand feed it. This will certainly take weeks, might take months.
8. Look and learn what frightens each individual cat and try not to do it. Some cats are frightened certain noises like singing or the noise of a clicker. For instance, be careful where you touch. Many cats are frightened of being touched round the head area ï¿½ try to start at the side or the back.
9. Games. Do not try these until you have established a level of calm acceptance by the cat. Cats that are frightened by humans and are also playing hunting games can really bite/scratch hard out of a combination of fear and hunting enthusiasm.
10. Let the cat control your relationship (for the time being). Let it decide when, where and how close. This will give it confidence.
11. Some cats can be simultaneously very frightened and yet crave human attention. Donï¿½t assume that because it enjoyed stroking, it is no longer nervous. You may find that you can stroke it but some slight noise or movement spooks it. Never restrain it. ALWAYS let it move away when it needs to.
12. Think of ways round a problem. For instance, if you canï¿½t pick it up, put the cat carrier on the ground and put dried food in it for the cat to discover on its own. Then throw food into it when you are in the same room as the cat (See no 6 for patience!) and just sit there as it goes in to eat it. Slowly move nearer until the cat will go in and eat it when you are only one or 2 feet away. I would expect this to take at least 6 weeks, AFTER you have achieved no 6.
13 Make sure the litter tray is in a secluded place away from busy rooms and corridors. Keep to the same litter (or change it handful by handful over at least 14 days). Do not expect a nervous cat to toilet outside that is usually scarier for them than going inside.
IF THE CAT IS IN A CHALET OR CONFINED TO ONE ROOM, as is required if one fosters for Cats Protection and has ones own cats in the rest of the house. In this case, try a different procedure. Come into the room or chalet with the food. Put it down and retreat as far away as you can within the room. Wait for 10 minutes. If the cat wonï¿½t come out to eat, take the food away and come back in an hourï¿½s time. This is not to be used as a way to starve a cat into submission. Starving a cat is not just cruel: it is potentially very bad for its health. So you will have to put down a basic amount of food, the least preferred kind, for it to eat. Use the better preferred food with this tactic.