Slightly feral cat not adjusting well to new home

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Slightly feral cat not adjusting well to new home

Updated Dec 21, 2021

Dear Cathy,

We recently adopted a 2-1/2-year-old orange tabby cat from our local TNR rescue. He was rescued as a feral kitten and neutered at three months of age. Since then he has been at the rescue. Before we brought him home, I spent time with him over a three-week period. Although not overly friendly, I could pick him up, pet him, and play with him using cat toys. 

After we brought him home, his disposition changed. He hisses and swats at us if we get too close. We have him set up in the den except for his water and food, which are in the kitchen. He stays in the den all day and only comes out at night. His appetite is fine, and he uses the litter box. He is very curious and is mesmerized by the TV. He has never been in a home before and seems afraid of us and runs into the den when he sees us. 

During the first week, we could pet him occasionally. Then I accidentally touched his collar and things have gotten worse. Do you have any advice as to how long it will take to get him to trust us? We want to make this work and give him a good home.

– Diane, Green Valley Arizona

Dear Diane,

If he wasn’t handled and petted a lot at the rescue, he may be overwhelmed by the attention in his new home. Don’t touch him or pick him up right now unless he walks right onto your lap and pushes his body into your hand. It’s always best to let a cat like this come to you.

Let’s help him relax though. Buy some feline pheromones plugins at your local pet store or online and plug them in the outlets in your den and around your home. Pheromones can have a calming effect on cats. Pheromones are also available in wipes, sprays, and collars, but I don’t want you to touch him right now.

Next, find a great YouTube video featuring outdoor birds and let it run on the TV to entertain him. To engage him, get a wire dancer toy or some other toy that encourages his hunting behaviors – similar to how you played with him at the rescue. Most animals won’t play until they feel comfortable in their surroundings. Playing will help engage him and take his mind off his new surroundings for just long enough to begin to relax. The more you play, the more he relaxes. 

It may take some time for this little guy to adjust. I can’t say how much time; it could be a few weeks or a few months. But he will eventually adjust to his new home if you are patient. You sound like an amazing pet parent already, so I think he is in good hands.

Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, children’s author, syndicated pet columnist, and pet expert with more than 30 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal

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Cathy Rosenthal (aka The Pet Pundit), CHES, CFE
Animal Welfare Communications Specialist

Cathy brings more than 35 years' experience in the animal welfare field. She is a sought-after speaker, Certified Humane Education Specialist, a syndicated pet advice columnist, an author, a publisher, and of course - a loving pet parent.

Read more about Cathy here or check out her Non-Profit's page to see more ways she can help you and your organization.

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