Recently, new adopter Nick contacted me for cat behavior counseling regarding his cat, Lance. Lance was hiding under the couch and Nick was concerned.
I told Nick that when Lance is hiding just sit next to him on the floor and read, do work, or talk on the phone. Don't make any overtures toward him so that - from Lance's point of view - Nick comes off as non-threatening. Lance will eventually feel that it is safe to come closer and investigate Nick on his own timetable. It helps to get down to the cat’s level when interacting with him instead of towering over him.
Another idea is using a cat tunnel. Many cats like these for when they do venture out since it gives them a safe place to hide, yet they are out from wherever they are hiding. It's a stepping stone. Even going from the hiding place to the tunnel is a good step.
Another thing Nick can do with Lance is to use an interactive play toy (a fishing pole type toy) and try to spark his interest in play. Even if he is just interested in the toy and only watching it, he is focusing on something else other than his fear. When Lance does venture out from his hiding place, even just a little, Nick should engage him in a little play session to help calm him and be sure to offer him a treat as a reward.
Once Lance begins to see Nick as his provider, he will warm up to his new pet parent. I advised him to visit with Lance as much as possible and care for all of his basic needs. Be calm, encouraging and supportive. Let Lance go at his own pace.
Whenever Nick goes near where Lance is hiding, he should casually greet him with his voice. When Lance does venture closer, maybe sniff at Nick or his shoes, he should just act as if nothing is earth-shattering. Keep it light. Let Lance do the investigation at his own pace. It may take several sessions of Nick sitting near him, playing with him, offering treats, but let him set the pace of the progress.
I also instructed Nick to be sure not to try to drag Lance out. He’ll only run away and have a hard time trusting Nick. Lance is not hiding because he doesn’t like Nick—it’s his way of adjusting and trying to cope with all of the changes. Try tempting him out with a tasty treat or fun toy and he just might forget his fear. Feather toys or string toys attached to poles are great devices to coax him into coming closer. But it is OK if he wants to stay in his safe spot - in these matters, it is always best to go at the cat's pace.
Food can be used as a bonding tool. Feed cats special treats at a scheduled time in addition to offering the cat dry food at all times. This will help him make a positive association between you and the food. Try a particularly smelly brand of wet cat food or traditional cat treats to entice him. "People" tuna fish is good, too.
I counsel everyone in these situations to lavish love and attention on their cats, even if it just telling your cat that you love him. Keep earning trust with new cats through daily care, playtime and routine!
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