Giving an abused cat a chance at a happy life is a wonderfully compassionate thing to do. It’s undeniably easier to get a brand-new kitten and not have to worry about the damage that other people have inflicted upon her. Working with an abused cat requires endless love, patience, and time. On some days it can feel like you’ve taken two steps forward and ten steps back. However, the rewards of seeing a troubled cat begin to open up, trust, and lead a content life make every moment worth it.
Arm Yourself with Knowledge
When you are first in the process of adopting or otherwise obtaining an abused cat, find out as much information as you possibly can. Most rescues will do at least minimal testing of common triggers to see how the animal reacts. They should be able to tell you how the cat responds to other cats, dogs, and/or children. Depending on how much time they’ve had, they may also be able to tell you if the cat seems more comfortable around men or women. All of this information is crucial. If you are a woman with two kids at home, you’re going to face an even more uphill battle if you end up with a cat who is terrified of women and aggressive towards children. Helping a cat adapt to a new life is hard enough without those added roadblocks. Ask as many questions as you can about your prospective adoptee and her history. It’s helpful to know if the cat arrived two weeks ago or has been there for six months. Is she litter-box trained? Does she scratch up furniture when left unattended? Before you finalize an adoption, write down a list of all your questions and bring it with you to the shelter. Responsible shelters will have no problem answering as many of the questions as they can, as a well-matched adoption will decrease the likelihood of the cat being returned to the rescue.
Consider the Medical Requirements
Depending on the history of the cat, there may also be some medical conditions you have to handle. It’s important that you are aware of these before you sign off on an adoption, or else you may accidentally agree to more than you bargained for. Certain chronic conditions are expensive to treat or may require more time at home than you are able to commit. All of these cats still need homes, but not every home will be the right fit. Regardless of any noticeable or underlying problems, if you have any cats at home already, make sure to do your own quarantine. If the rescue is unaware of a respiratory infection or other illness, this could easily spread to your other pets. Request a copy of any vet records so that you can keep them on file and refer to them in the future.
The History of Abuse
If you can be informed as to the specifics of the abuse the cat has faced, that could help you with rehabilitating her. There are all kinds of emotional and physical abuse. We all can think of horrible headlines detailing the cruelty people sometimes inflict upon animals, including cats. Other forms of abuse include the withholding of basic necessities like food, water, and attention. Sometimes people think that cats are somehow able to be left alone for days without even a check-in, which is extremely hard on both the emotional and physical well-being of the animal. Cats who were not given enough human interaction will often be very guarded around people, as they were improperly socialized. A cat who was left alone for extended periods of time will be more prone to separation anxiety. A cat who was subjected to physical torment will likely be jumpy, skittish, and head-shy. If the cat has had to fight for every morsel of food in the past, she’ll be more territorial and aggressive around her food dish and feeding times. Unfortunately, rescues often don’t get much information about an abused cat’s history. In these cases, you just have to take it day-by-day and slowly learn about what unnerves her.
Keeping Triggers at Bay
Sometimes triggers can be very random and unpredictable. While you can make your best effort to keep any “scary” stimuli away from your new arrival, you never really know what will set her off. It could be something as simple as running your tap water, or as routine as using a broom and dustpan. For this reason, keeping your cat sequestered in a small space for at least the first few days is necessary. This is something you’ll already be doing if you happen to have other cats at home and need to do both a quarantine and a slow introduction. Even if your cat will be the only animal in the house, allowing her to become accustomed to small spaces at a time is a kindness. She has to get used to all different sights, smells, and sounds. Keeping her in one area with her food, water, and litter-box will help keep the overwhelming emotions to a minimum.
Prepping Your Home
In terms of preparing your home in general, there are several things you can do to set yourself and your new friend up for success. One house feature that all cats adore is the ability to perch somewhere high. It’s even better if that perch can be located next to a window to study the activity outdoors. You can insert wall perches, make use of a wide windowsill, or buy a tall piece of cat furniture. Having a place to leap to in times of insecurity can go a long way. Safe places are crucial, and this can be something as simple as a large cardboard box that your cat can mark as her own. Interesting toys will help keep her mind busy, and a scratching post will help keep her claws off your couch. This is in keeping with the theme of redirection – when you observe a behavior you don’t like, offer an alternative way for her to channel her energy.
What You Can Do
Your own behavior and attitude can make or break a new living arrangement. Focus on providing stability by sticking to a morning and evening routine as much as possible. Your cat will have experienced so much instability and erratic changes that she will be very relieved when she knows what to expect. Keep your voice low and soothing at all times, even if you’re feeling tense yourself. Cats are much more sensitive and perceptive of how we feel than we sometimes realize. If you’re anxious, your cat will be worriedly looking for the cause of that stress. If your cat runs away, don’t chase her. Hiding under a bed after getting spooked by something is totally normal and forcing her to confront what she is not ready for will only hurt your progress. Spend as much time as you can with your cat, even if the only way she seems comfortable with it is if you sit ten feet away with your eyes on the ground. She will let you know when she’s ready to increase the intensity of your interactions, and she will trust you if you let her make these decisions for herself. It probably goes without saying that sudden movements, loud voices, and any kind of punishments should be avoided at all times.
Take it Easy
As oversimplified as it might sound, consistency and compassion are the two ingredients you need to rehabilitate an abused cat. Ignore anyone who suggests a certain timeline for your progress. Every cat is an individual. Give yourself credit for doing something that not everyone would be up for. It’s a very generous thing to open your home and life to an abused cat. By taking things at your cat’s own pace, you take the pressure off and give your cat a beautiful gift.