Helping a traumatized cat trust his environment again

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Helping a traumatized cat trust his environment again

Updated Dec 21, 2021

Dear Cathy,

After seven months missing, our indoor cat was found by a neighbor. The poor cat suffered through below zero temperatures. We are assuming he lived in a garage or barn. Our neighbors were not aware our cat was missing. They found him eating out of one of their cat dishes in the middle of the night. They trapped the cat and brought him to us. The cat immediately ran down a hallway and hid under our bed. This is very normal for him to do.

It has been three weeks. He continues to live under the bed coming out in the middle of the night to use the litter box and to eat. The past few days we’ve dragged him out (from under the bed), and he has let us pet him for about five minutes. Then he goes crazy and runs under the bed.

My question to you is, can he be saved? I miss the old friendly cat, but understand he’s been through a lot.

– Marti, Coventry, Connecticut

Dear Marti,

Your poor cat! It’s not easy for a comfortable housecat to suddenly be outside in the frigid cold. Thank goodness your neighbors found him.

Your cat has suffered a trauma and needs time to feel safe again in his home. Talk to your veterinarian about giving your cat some medication, like Prozac, to reduce your cat’s fears. Don’t grab him to medicate him. Instead, crush the medication and sprinkle it on some wet cat food.
Next, put a few hidey hole cubbies around the house to give your cat some additional places to hide. This may encourage him to come out from under the bed and try a new hiding place, eventually making his way to you.

Finally, sit in the room where your cat is hiding and talk softly to him. Toss treats onto the floor or get a ribbon toy to entice him out from under the bed. Once he is out from under the bed, don’t make any sudden movements to grab him or pick him up. He is startling very easy right now, and we don’t want to reinforce his fears.

It could take weeks or months for him to recover, but please don’t give up on him. He can recover. Your cat just needs your love and patience – and a little medication – to trust his environment again.

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 cathy@petpundit.com. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal

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Cathy Rosenthal, CHES, CFE
Animal Welfare Communications Specialist

Cathy brings more than 25 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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