LETTERS TO LUCINDA #16: Cat Behavior Solutions

Hello again, from Lucinda the literate cat. It’s time I wrote another “Letters to Lucinda.” As my CCL (Cantankerous Cat Lady) has just written a fine post for this website about aggressive cats, I decided to stick with the same theme. In the mailbox, I found two letters which deal with this subject, so shall share them with you.

The first is from a Miss Stacy Livingston. Her letter reads as follows:

Stacy: Lucinda, please advise me. I recently adopted a cat from the animal shelter in our city. This lovely cat has spent some time in the shelter and has seemed glad to get out of there. However, he is very fearful and spends most of his time in his new home hiding in some secret place

When I coax him out to feed him, I also spend time petting him and talking to him. He shrinks away from my handGrey cat, hissing and once he scratched me and hissed, so I left him alone.

I think perhaps something in his past has made him afraid of people, and I do not know how to remove that fear. What suggestions do you have?

Lucinda’s answer: First of all, I commend you for giving a shelter cat a home. The cat must undoubtedly feel relieved to be in a quiet, peaceful place. The shelter serves a good purpose, but hardly provides the environment a cat craves. The high noise level and all the activity makes it anything but peaceful.

You have probably guessed correctly, as it sounds like your new cat has unresolved issues from his past. He may have been badly mistreated and new feels reluctant to trust again.

A wise choice for you could include a trip to the vet with your kitty. Ask him to check the cat over carefully to determine if he has any illness or physical problems. If the cat checks out okay, then your job entails figuring out how to help him.

First of all, never punish him for his fearful behavior. That will only make the problem worse. He needs lots of love, a commodity that must have been missing in his past days.

Here are some things you should do: First of all, if you find a certain situation makes him more fearful, avoid that situation. Of course, the trip to the vet might fit that category, but, still, best to check to make sure his problem has no physical basis.

By your actions, make sure you do not provoke any aggressive behavior. If you can identify the stresses that cause a bad reaction, you can avoid these at all costs.

You can also tell by observation if your cat becomes upset. Watch for such signs as a flicking tail, ears flattened on a hunched head, growling or hissing. If you see any of these signs, back off and come back later.

When the cat is calm, reward him with a treat or a bit of play.Treat offered to black cat

Perhaps you can try something like a Feliway spray to help kitty feel more relaxed. If you do choose to use such a medication, continue to try some of the following techniques for managing all types of feline aggression. Remember that early intervention works best, so start right away to move the cat away from his aggressive behavior.

Always speak in soft, soothing tones. Never shout at him. When you can pet him, do so gently, so he doesn’t become afraid you might attack and hurt him. Don’t touch the sensitive areas on his body, such as his belly. Petting sessions at first should last for short periods of time. If the cat does not become aggressive, reward him with a treat. You can lengthen the petting sessions as the cat becomes more accepting of this attention.

Above all, be willing to take the time you’ll need to help your cat overcome his fears. After all, it took a long time for these fears to develop, and they won’t go away overnight. Be calm, patient, and loving, and eventually your cat will return that love to you.

Now let’s read our second letter, from a cat named Dimitri, who has had some rough times in his past. Here is his story:

Dimitri: I hope you can help me, Lucinda. I have a good thing going and am afraid I will ruin it. Because of my past experience, some bad reactions occur automatically.

In my first home, the two-leggeds mistreated me badly. They would kick me, or hit me when they grew angry. I never knew what I’d done to provoke such behavior.

Grey cat in cageThen, finally, they took me to the animal shelter. At first, I found it a relief to be in there. I got fed, had a decent bed, and received no more abuse. However, we cat residents had no privacy and no place to get away from the continual noise. I grew to dislike it.

Then, a young two-legged came in and got me and took me to her home. I was both relieved and anxious, because I didn’t know if this new situation would become an improvement or if I’d returned to another place where I would receive abuse.

I’m afraid my fear got the best of me a couple of times. The two-legged just wanted to pick me up and pet me. Sadly, she has not learned to pet a kitty gently. My skin, being very sensitive, reacted to her abrasive caress, as I became afraid she might change that caress to a slap. Old beliefs do not disappear easily. That time I bit her.

Another time, when she reached into my hidey-place and tried to grab me, I scratched her. Afterward, I realized these behaviors didn’t solve any problems, but it’s not possible to take such actions back. How can I learn to control my fear?

Lucinda’s answer: I am so sorry you find your fear leads you to places where you don’t want to be. Once your trust has been betrayed, it is hard to trust again. However, you must give this new two-legged a chance to show she has your best interests at heart.

Has she abused you at all? Treated you unkindly? If not, then you must find a way to overcome your fear. You might have found the perfect forever home — don’t ruin this opportunity by your behavior.

Perhaps the best thing you can do if you feel your fear amping up and you have the urge to strike out, is to run away, quickly, before you do something you regret. Have hidden spots staked out that you can use if you feel the need to hide. Your two-legged needs to know about your fear, and then she must find a way to reassure you that she means you no harm.

She needs to learn that, though you may want to change, you have a lot of past history to overcome. Both of you need to take things slowly and build an understanding a little at a time.

Does your two-legged give you treats? Are these given perhaps as rewards for good behavior? If you think that your good behavior has generated a treat, isn’t that a good reason to try to do your best at all times? If you lessen yourorange cat playing with toy on string hostility, perhaps in exchange you will receive something that makes you happy. Consider it.

If your two-legged wants to play, humor her. By playing with her and a suitable cat toy or two, you might find yourself enjoying the experience. This enjoyment in itself will help lessen your fear. If you see that she, too, enjoys these play sessions, you are teaching her something that makes you happy. It’s a win-win situation.

I do hope your fear goes away in time. Be patient, both with your two-legged and with yourself, as it takes time to unlearn an experience that you remember all too vividly. Let your new companion provide good times and loving moments so that these can replace the bad memories. If you have faith, In time they will fade away and only love will remain.



6 thoughts on “LETTERS TO LUCINDA #16: Cat Behavior Solutions”

  1. You seem very knowledgeable of cats and give some great advice here! I love that you offer advice and provide your responses on your page so we can all learn from it. It is hard to have a shelter animal not knowing their past but with love and a good home they can be amazing pets and you can be their hero too!

    • It’s very true that people don’t even think about what their pet is going through when it is abandoned. Usually, the experience will end in death for the cat. I hate how stressed cats can get in a shelter, but at least they have a meal and a warm place to sleep. Why are people so cruel?

  2. I have a rescue cat and I do try to be understanding when she does something odd. It’s hard to know what kind of environment that she previously had, and I definitely don’t want to remind her of past trauma that could scare her and cause any kind of withdrawal from interaction with her humans. Thanks for the kind thoughts and suggestions to help kitties and people coexist.

    • Sometimes it is hard to figure out, but bless you for trying. She will most likely respond well, since you obviously have her best interests at heart.

  3. Taking an animal from the rescue center, is such a kind thing to do, but one never knows what the cat, or dog, might have experienced in the shelter, or before they arrived at the rescue home. It is best to have patience and treat them gently and lovingly, so that they can realize that you mean them no harm and will be good to them. Thanks for sharing your advise. 

    • Yes, you are right. To be a good cat person, you must try to think like a cat, as soon as possible. Soft, gentle, sweetness — yes, that’s the best way to create the kind of bond you will love to be part of…Patience, too, especially when you find your cat is more stubborn than two mules…and all those qualities you need for caring for your cat, you also need for you. 


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