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A quick call for advice

February 13, 2011

So we adopted a kitten from a shelter.  She was just taken in a few days ago, has been spayed and vaccinated and so forth, and is awfully cute–my younger son is thrilled.  But she’s a bit skittish, and while she sits happily (if a bit warily) on your lap if you hold her, and even purrs, she is most interested in hiding under beds and desks and sofas right now, if left to her own devices.

I have never raised a kitten, actually, and I keep having to remind myself that she is not a puppy.  She hid so well yesterday that we couldn’t find her for hours–I had horrible visions of her falling down inside a wall somewhere, having gained access through a closet on the third floor, though we weren’t sure she’d actually made it all the way up there (we had to leave to take my older son to a school thing, and when we left the kitten was under the desk.  I couldn’t get her out without a huge production–it’s an ancient, heavy, low-clearance desk–so we left, and when we came back 45 minutes later no kitty.)

We looked and looked, and my younger son was very brave about it, I have to say.  We didn’t open any new doors to anything and we didn’t close any that were ajar, but even consoling-windows friend (who’d taken us to get the kitty in the first place, and even spotted her among the others in their crates) couldn’t find her.  So we left water out, and went to sleep ourselves.

At 1:30 in the morning I heard the cat crying and came bolting down to the first floor in a panic, where I found her huddled behind a chair, poor little thing.  She hissed at me but let me pick her up.  I put her in the little carrier I bought, with a towel and a tiny bowl of water, and brought her upstairs to my bedroom (my son had fallen asleep in my bed, as usual.)  This morning we made his room snug and tight (no closets to escape to, though hiding under the bunk bed is permitted) and I brought the crate down, opened the door, showed her a bit of wet food and some water, and we sat back.

She came out very nervously and ate a bit, sneezed twice, sniffed the water, then bolted under the bed when the phone rang.

My son’s in there reading, and I brought up the litter box.  I figure we just stay present and stay close, offer tiny bits of food now and again (I want her to get used to the idea that we feed her) and be patient–is this the best way to go about things?  She’s about 3 months old.  My younger son named her Cassiopeia–Cassie for short.  Those of you who have cats, and especially those of you who have adopted cats, what advice do you have for us on how to proceed?  My son is extremely gentle and patient, so that’s not a worry.  But I really don’t want to have her loose in this behemoth of a house again until she feels more comfortable–I don’t want her to get lost, and believe me, it’s possible.  Is limiting her to one room the best plan?  The catbox is in there–I am not sure what one does about letting the cat know that the catbox is there, it looks different than the ones she had in the shelter…Help!

31 Comments leave one →
  1. yammeringon permalink
    February 13, 2011 9:56 am

    yep, that’s about right. It’s also good to get a toy – a feather or something that you can draw her out from under the furniture with. One of our cats was extremely skittish when we got him (at 8 weeks or so) – we had a paw under the lazboy for about 6 months. Eventually, he came out and bonded. Don’t be afraid to be gently assertive about interacting – it’s fine to pick her up and pet her for a minute and then let her go back to where she was. I used to socialize feral cats in my bathroom when I managed a pet shelter. It’s tricky but once they come around, they’re sweet. She may never be the kind of cat that introduces herself to strangers when they walk in the door, but she’ll certainly socialize to your family within a couple of months. As for the litterbox: you can either pick her up and stick her in it to show it to her or not. If not, she’ll prowl around looking for a place to poop when you aren’t there, and litterboxes work because they appeal to the whole digging and covering instinct.

  2. February 13, 2011 9:57 am

    Moving the kitty to just one room was the best thing you could do for her. You’ll wanna keep her in the room until she warms up to all of you. In fact, try not to force interaction on her. We have a cat like that. She never really got over the skittishness, but she did get more comfortable with us.

    For the litter box, unfortunately you’ll need to catch her again. Once you do, put her in the box and scratch one of her paws in the sand. After that, she’ll know what to do.

    Good luck!

  3. February 13, 2011 10:04 am

    Hi As a proud person who is currently owned by 5 cats I can tell you that she will come around but it has to be in her time. You are right to limit her to one or two rooms for a while until she adjusts to being around you and all the new and different sounds and smells. The fact that she purred when you held her is a good sign. She just needs time and someplace to hide until she feels safe. I know its hard but tell you son to try to leave her alone and let her come to him when she’s ready. It won’t be long. Good luck! You won’t be sorry.

  4. February 13, 2011 10:11 am

    Agree with all the others. One room or two until she is used to you. I’d decide now whether there is anywhere you don’t want her and enforce that from the start. Plus if you want her to be confined to a limited area when you are out then I’d keep her there now. It won’t take long I’m sure to get her used to her new surroundings. Cats are pretty adaptable but invariably on their own terms and not yours! Our two cats died last year do part of me is very jealous of you, the rest of me is glad to be done with cat hair everywhere.

  5. February 13, 2011 10:11 am

    Ooh! I was so thrilled that I knew the answers, but it looks like your previous commenters have already told you everything! A good room to socialize kitties is the bathroom – everyone comes in once in awhile, and then goes away…but a bedroom is just as good. Does he mind having the litter box in the bedroom? Yeah, just pick her up (the litterbox) and plop her in. She should scratch around a little bit.

    Soft voices and slow hands with her should win the day. When she finally pokes her nose out and starts exploring, remember not to overwhelm her with snuggles and KITTY!! -ies – some gentle pats and maybe tossing a jingly toy (or a feather on a fishing pole (or the cat toy version) is great too) will help her be more comfortable. She may never be a squishy cat (um, the kind you can pick up and snuggle) but I’m pretty sure she’ll bond really quickly. Especially if your son feeds her at the same time everyday so she can expect it.

  6. February 13, 2011 10:13 am

    Oh! And I meant to say – she’s GORGEOUS!

  7. Bethany permalink
    February 13, 2011 10:14 am

    What you’re doing is exactly right, limiting her to one room and allowing her to adjust to her new surroundings so she has a place to feel safe. It’ll take time for her to get used to you and your family, but being patient and giving her time will be much better than trying to force the issue. Placing her in the litter box sometimes and gently scratching her paws around should encourage her to use it, as long as it doesn’t become a scary experience (like having someone chase her down and then put her in the litter box). Good luck! The fact that she purrs and lets you pick her up is great; she’s probably just a bit shy and overwhelmed.

  8. jdens permalink
    February 13, 2011 10:15 am

    Yes, restricting her to one room for now is good. And I’d allow access to the rest of the house gradually–you know, from the one room to the upstairs. Befriending cats can take patience, but I agree yammeringon about being gently assertive. I try to take it slow, and don’t make sudden or loud movements. I let them sniff my hand before I attempt to pet. I read somewhere that prolonged eye contact with cats is interpreted as aggressive behaviour. Blinking slowly (the way they do) is a friendly and non-threatening gesture (I like to add an exaggerated yawn to punctuate the message, ha). Having catnip toys or treats with you when you come in also helps. Congratulations on getting Cassie. I’m sure it’s a steep learning curve, but the rewards are so worth it.

  9. katie permalink
    February 13, 2011 10:19 am

    As a cat adopter (two very, very skittish cats) my best advice is to give her time. One of my cats was basically feral when I brought her home. It’s been about five years now and she’s slowly warmed up to the point that last week she got on our lap for the first time. Basic advice:
    1)Don’t move the litterbox or food from where you eventually want it to be. If you open the cat carrier in front of the litter box, she is smart enough to know where to go to use it and will do so, likely in the dead of night for the first little bit. She also will get hungry and find the food/water. She is not so scared that she’ll harm herself.
    2)The first few days, she’ll hide all day, and explore all night. It’s just a cat thing.
    3)It’s possible your worrying and picking her up and moving her about is worse than if you just let her alone for a bit. Imagine if you were scared and a new, huge human kept sticking it’s face in your hiding spots. She will need affection eventually and come and find you.
    3)She may, though, climb in a wall. That is a valid concern, so lock those closets up. I recently moved houses and about 2 weeks in, my cat climbed in a wall and we had to cut her out. They’re naturally curious and some of them (hopefully not yours) are kind of dim. But I love her anyway.

    Not sure any of that helps. Good luck! In probably 2 weeks you’ll have a lovely lap cat and forget this ever happened.

  10. Celeste permalink
    February 13, 2011 10:24 am

    Exactly the right thing to do. Room restriction in this situation is like swaddling a newborn.

    For the toy, I would leave something like one of those crinkle-bag toys. They like the interactivity of noise for pouncing, or a jingle ball for chasing. My cats have always eaten and yakked up feathers so they don’t work around here.

    Sometimes the initially shy cats are the ones that form the closest bonds with their people, so hang in there. Welcome, Cassie.

  11. irretrievablybroken permalink*
    February 13, 2011 10:43 am

    My son is sitting in there on his beanbag chair, reading and playing Nintendo DS, alternately. The kitty has come out several times (according to him)–she used the catbox (what a clever girl!) and drank water and jumped up on his bed and wandered around sniffing and exploring. She even came up and sniffed his toe companionably. Now she’s on his bed, lying quite peacefully, looking all around. He talks to her in a sweet voice but hasn’t been at all in her face. This is all reassuring, and I’m optimistic.

  12. Rebekah permalink
    February 13, 2011 10:46 am

    You are doing everything exactly right. Time and
    more time… And if she will let you pick her up, place her in the litterbox… She will jump right out, but she will take mental note.
    Hurray for shelter adoptions, you did a good thing!

  13. CWF permalink
    February 13, 2011 11:00 am

    IB’s son is the kindest, sweetest little boy I know. Once Cassie spends the day with him she, like everyone else, will fall instantly in love with him and not want to leave his side.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      February 13, 2011 9:02 pm

      Oh, consoling-windows friend, you big sap, you.

  14. February 13, 2011 11:07 am

    1. DEFINITELY keep her confined to one room for a while. She will get used to it and spread her scent around, then let her into another, etc.

    2. Put her in the cat box at some point and she will know where it is. Even if she doesn’t go when you put her in, just putting her in IT tells her where it is.

    I have two cats, one adopted at 7 weeks and one at 1.5 year and the basic principle is the same. When we moved with both cats into a new home, even then they were terrified and needed to be kept in one room for about two days. After a while they started coming out and exploring, but even as adult they needed to be allowed time to adjust and spread scent. Let her hide as she needs to, don’t force her out. Give her places to hide in each room she is at.

    I could go on, but I will stop here. Others are probably more expert than I.

  15. February 13, 2011 12:04 pm

    Patience Patience Patience! I haven’t read the comments above, but I presume they’re all full of very useful advice. Key points:
    1) Kittens are babies, and just as you had to get to know your own kids when they first came home, you’ll take some time to get to know each other in the next couple of weeks.
    2) It’s scary to go to a new place, isolating her to a single room is totally fine (and HUGE compared to the cage in the shelter she’s been in recently).
    3) She’s recently been spayed, so aside from the new people and places, she’s probably also still a little under the weather.
    4) The best way to introduce the new litterbox location is to simply place her in it. 9 times out of 10 she will hop back out and be on her way (or under the bed, or behind the bookshelf) but when she needs it she will have absolutely no problem finding it again. Same with food and water, place her in front of the bowls, shake the food or poke the water, and then let her wander away.
    5) Give her 2 weeks to figure out all the new stuff, sounds like you’ve got the perfect storm of a cat who will fit in well with your family. She has a lot of growing, sleeping and playing to do between now and then though.
    ps. I’m a vet, e-mail me if you have any other questions!

  16. irretrievablybroken permalink*
    February 13, 2011 12:27 pm

    Hooray, a vet! Thank you all for your sage advice. The kitty is presently luxuriating in bed with my younger son–she hopped up, climbed on his chest for a while, then into his arms, and is purring like mad. She has cased the whole room (climbing up and looking out the window, playing a bit, coming back to my son, rolling on her back to be petted) and seems quite happy. Hissed at my older son when he came in, then relaxed and allowed him to pet her too. She seems extremely self-possessed, and my younger son is positively glowing with happiness. He has wanted a pet since our ancient dog died a couple of years ago, and it has taken this long.

    She’s very cute.

  17. SarahB permalink
    February 13, 2011 1:23 pm

    Yes, you are doing the right thing.

    We brought home a stray (an adult the vet estimated had been on his own for at least a year), and he was jumpy for weeks/months when the phone rang, when we emptied the dishwasher, when the heat kicked on…it just took awhile to get used to everything. It also took awhile for him to get used to being on our laps, but he’s become a very snuggly cat.

    One item our vet recommended is a plug-in device (think like an air freshener) that emits pheromones that kitties like. We’ve used it now with both our cats, and it really does work wonders. It’s about $20-30 at your local Pet.Smart or what have you, but was well worth it in our case helping kitties relax and play.

    Congratulations on your new addition!

    • Maren permalink
      February 13, 2011 6:09 pm

      Yes, I second the suggestion of the plug-in device, with the brand name of Feliway. You can find the dispenser/refills cheaply on My own cats really enjoy it and relax more, less fighting amongst themselves, etc. Each dispenser works for one room, and they make Feliway spray, which is perfect for spraying on/in the carrier when you have to take the adorable one to the vet. Congrats on the beautiful new addition to the family!

  18. Julie permalink
    February 13, 2011 2:03 pm

    My advice is to take lots of pictures!!! My cat has always been gregarious since about an hour after we adopted her, so it is super fun & extremely sweet to see the pictures of her wary face in the beginning. Your cat looks like a love and I think it is wonderful that she already gets the litter box thing and already thinks your son might be hers!

  19. February 13, 2011 2:54 pm

    Pick one room for her and visit her often to get her used to people. For our current cat, we used my sitting room so eventually we opened our bedroom up to her and then the whole house. She was very skittish at first but with alot of patience and love (which it sounds like your son has) she has become a very social, active member of our family.

    Congrats on the new addition! I love her name too!

  20. February 13, 2011 5:46 pm

    random, possibly annoying observation:

    I have never met a cat or kitten that actually enjoys being petted on the stomach. I know it is part of the culture we hear about cats… the classic “belly rub”… but every cat I’ve ever known or had does not enjoy it. The will roll over and expose their stomachs, but for us it has always been just a stretch and a sign of trust… making themselves vulnerable to the person or other cat. When we reach to pet they always clench up.

    That said, regardless of whether the cat likes it or not it is a great big GOOD SIGN.

    • April 12, 2011 7:08 pm

      I’m super-late to this but I have to disagree. My cat isn’t a huge cuddler, but at least once a day, during a round of petting, she will expose her belly. When she was younger she would clench up if someone tried to pet her belly, but now she insists on it. She will literally roll around between me and my computer monitor when I’m trying to work and won’t stop shifting position or headbutting me until I start scratching her belly. She loves it. It surprised me too when I realized it, but cats are pretty individual about how they like to be touched.

  21. February 13, 2011 6:41 pm

    For more insight into catly ways… I really liked Nicholas Dodson’s books about animal behavior. Very anecdotal and also illuminating. Congratulatons on the new addition.

  22. February 13, 2011 8:16 pm

    Yes, keep her crated for about 2 wks while she settles in – oh I see Kat has already said all the pertinent things!

    Don’t worry, once she settles in it will be All Good, All the Way Round… (Congratulations on your new baby)

  23. February 14, 2011 12:22 am

    Congratulations on the new addition to your family! Kittens are awesome. You have lots of excellent advice above.

    One more idea: my brother-in-law lived with us for awhile and our very skittish cat was terrified of him. He rapidly solved the problem by always carrying around cat treats in his pocket. Whenever she would pop out of hiding, he would set down one single little treat in front of her. Within a week she was following him around like he was her drug dealer. To this day, six years later, she still remembers him fondly when he comes to visit.

  24. Mizasiwa permalink
    February 14, 2011 2:37 am

    Im not sure what your house looks like exactly but you should think about keeping the kitten in the kitchen or lounge/living room. still restricted to one room though. We adopted a cat at about 5 years old and he was very skittish and hid under our bed – same problem your having. he has been with us for about 2 years now and the original owners cant believe the change in him. he loves our kids and lets them carry him around the house. we did however close an original door and open another in our house and now the cat lives in this room – we think its becouse he cant figure out were the door is. cats are strange like that.
    good luck though.

  25. monica permalink
    February 14, 2011 11:44 am

    Ohhhhhh congratulations! We got two new kitties last summer – a teenage mom and one of her kittens – – I had never had a kitten before either. I kept them confined to a r the finished family room in the basement for a week or so, then started letting them have the run of the house. BUT since they were still pretty shy, we kept loosing them, as you did! So – I put collars on them that had a little bell. That helped a lot (may have driven the cats nuts, but they survived). After they got comfortable and began running around the house like crazy kitties all night long, the bells started to drive ME crazy, as well as keep me up at night, and I removed them – but they were really very helpful in the beginning.

  26. Amy permalink
    February 14, 2011 5:27 pm

    Everyone above has good advice, I just wanted to add one more thing. Apparently cats have a window during which it is much easier to socialize them, and once they get past a certain age (not sure what age that is, I want to say somewhere around 6-8 months?) it can be extremely difficult to get them to accept new things. My cat was socialized with people, but never with other cats or dogs, and as a result I now have an adult cat that will not tolerate other animals without deteriorating into a stressed-out hissing mess. I would recommend that once your new kitty is comfortable with your home and family, you try to find an opportunity to introduce her to other pets if possible, especially if you think you may ever want to have a 2+ pet household!

  27. February 14, 2011 9:32 pm

    i’m sorry, IRBR, this doesn’t have anything to do with cats. I just adopted another one myself — now up to six or so. You’re doing fine. Exactly right. Let cat find its way in calmness. My question for you — how do you begin to split up all the stuff? beds, books, kitchen, linens, etc. OMG — where to begin?

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      February 15, 2011 9:12 pm

      Oh honey. I’ll write a whole post on this, how about that? Can you wait till tomorrow? I’ll post in on Babble, probably, and link to it from here so you’ll find it. Courage, and don’t think about it all at once–it’s gradual. (Hell, it’s still going ON in my house.)

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