Will my cat ever become less skittish?

by Mulroy
(New Jersey)

I am a new cat owner. I am 19 years old and adopted a 10 week old kitten who was once feral at the end of June. When I visited her at the shelter she wouldn't even come near the glass. I would walk up to it and she would run away.

When they opened the glass and I put my hand in, she ran away as far as she could, never letting me get too close. I didn't blame her, she was only 10 weeks and had already gotten all of her shots and was spayed.

I decided to adopt her because I know most people want to adopt a cute cuddly kitten they can play with and I knew she had potential, she was just traumatized from being feral.

So I took her home and for the first three to four days she wouldn't come out of hiding, eat/drink, or go to the bathroom (and yes she was litter box trained).

Now, I'm an anxious person so I was really worried but she finally came out of her shell and I never knew I would be so happy to have a cat finally poop!

Now, almost 7 months later, she is doing so much better! She cuddles with me and lets me hold her and plays and does everything basically "normal", however, she tends to get aggressive.

She still hides from people she doesn't know (which is pretty normal for a cat from what I hear) and also swats, scratches, and even bites. Is this type of aggression normal?

I'll just be calmly petting her and she will turn around and scratch and bite me. When she does this, I let out a high pitch, cat-sounding ow and immediately stop petting her.

She still only lets me pick her up when she is in my room and doesn't allow me to pick her up anywhere else in the house. She was started to venture but very tentatively.

She has warmed up to me and my mom the most and that is basically it, even though she allows my sisters to pet her occasionally (before she scratches and bites them!)

I don't know what to do at this point! Will she continue to gradually get better like she has
been? Am I doing something wrong? Can I be doing something more?

Additionally, I recently just took her away in the car on a three hour trip to my lake house. We were there for a few days and the first day she hid and didn't eat or go to the bathroom but by the end of the night she was eating some dry food and coming out to investigate. She also went to the bathroom the next day, obviously adjusting much faster.

However, to get her there it took me more than an hour just to get her into her carrier and I had to hold her while she was leashed to the inside of her carrier the whole way.

When she was in the carrier she wouldn't stop meowing and shaking and panting and I got nervous-once I took her out she was much better, climbing around on me, looking out the window and even went back into her carrier and slept the rest of the way, with the top open.

Against my better judgement, I left her there for an extra day with my mom because I had to go somewhere for the night. It took my mom over two hours to get her into the carrier because she hides under the bed and it is impossible to get her out.

She got her out a few times and tried to grab her (kind of squeezing her by accident) but she escaped and became petrified, shaking.

So, my mom finally had my uncle come over the house (my cat is terrified of men) and took a coat hanger and didn't hit her with it but waved it in her general direction and she was so terrified that she backed up until her butt was out from under the bed and my mom scooped her up.

She clung to my mom and even let her put her in the carrier she was so terrified. Did this traumatize her??

She will be riding in her carrier for three hours to get home. I have anxiety and when it comes to my kitten it gets pretty bad and I worry.

Am I worrying too much? Am I doing something wrong?

Will she ever become less skittish? Am I traumatizing her?? Please help!

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She can improve, but it takes patience
by: Kurt (Admin)

Thank you for adopting. You've taken on a big challenge and to be honest, I would normally say this type of cat is more for an experienced cat owner. Even with lots of experience, we have our troubles, too.

A lot of the issues you describe are talked about in-depth on this site and in some cases, entire sections of books have been devoted to these problems.

Hiding during the first days in a new environment is common. It can take up to 6 months for a cat to get used to a new place. If your cat is nurtured properly, she will gain confidence and likely improve.

Every cat is different, but in my experience most cats, if treated well, will gain confidence over time and become more sociable.

My cat, Priscilla was very reclusive and hated strangers, but over the years learned to be more outgoing.

As for car rides and the carrier, cats tend to hate car rides. Before taking her on a three hour car ride to a strange place, I would have suggested preparing her better.

For example, leave the carrier out all the time and get her in there eating some treats and napping. Go for short car rides and return home as preparation for the big day, and so on.

Please see the following for info on easing anxiety in general, and traveling with your cat:

Easing anxiety in cats with Feliway pheromone spray.

How to get a cat into a carrier.

Traveling with your cat.

Remember to confine your cat to a single room if you bring her to a new place. This gives her a more manageable territory to defend. After she's confident in that small area, you can give her access to the rest of the house.

Becoming aggressive with new people:

Cats normally don't like being confronted head on. If she hides when a new person is around, it's probably best to leave her where she is. People who like cats tend to be the worst, because they usually come right at the cat and get all up in their face.

If the person tries to initiate contact by sticking their hands in her face, well, I'd probably scratch and bite, too.

From the cat's point of view, coming at her head on, staring at her, and reaching out to her can be pretty scary. The best thing to do is stop being aggressive toward the cat and give her some space.

When I greet a less than confident cat, I typically turn my back to them and let them make the first move. You can also just ignore them. Cats will often approach people who don't like them, because those people don't come across as aggressive toward the cat.

Becoming aggressive when being pet:

Some cats can take a lot of handling, but some cats can't. If your cat can only take a certain amount of physical attention, you need to learn what the threshold is and stop petting before she becomes too excited. You can usually tell by the body language, but sometimes, it comes out of nowhere.

I know when Jazzy starts turning his head toward my hand, that he's just about had enough, even if there is no tail swishing, or raised fur, or other signs he is overly excited.

Note: Never use your hands to play with your cat or encourage scratching and biting. Any biting or scratching should be directed towards a toy. If you use your hands, you're conditioning your cat to scratch and bite you and others, and that never ends well.

You'll have to have patience with her. Do whatever you can to improve her confidence and where possible, let her be in control and make choices (cats are control freaks).

I would also suggest attempting to be less stressed yourself, if possible, as this may impact her. I've found that when I'm stressed, the cats are less easy to deal with.

Above all, take baby steps and remember that cats hate change, and love choice. I hope that helps.

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