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It can be hard to help a traumatized cat. The best cure is time, patience, and play.

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

Macy Gray is about 1-2 years old, and I adopted her last Tuesday from PAWS in Philadelphia. She was a feral animal control pick-up from West Philly where kids had been shooting at her clan with a BB gun. She had a BB lodged in her right shoulder. Then she went through surgery for the BB, and rehab at PAWS. Two foster homes, and on the day she returned to PAWS I adopted her.

She has not eaten since I brought her home. I do not know if she has drunk water as she only comes down from her “bed” in my bathroom windowsill after midnight. She will not eat anything–at least when I am watching–not wet food, dry food, Meow Mix, or even fresh catnip! I did hear her scratching in the litter box the other night, so my trick of a drop or two of ammonia in the box before she arrived seems to have worked.

At around 2 a.m. for the past few nights, she has been very friendly, lets me pet her and I let her prowl around the house, during which time she yowls a lot. But if I try to pick her up, she freaks and becomes Wild Cat. She sleeps all day and only is active at night after I have gone to sleep.

Is there anything else I can do to help her get over this? I was hoping for a cat that is at least partially diurnal and friendly when I am conscious. The not eating also worries me. I also worry she may stay this way permanently.

I know she needs time to recuperate and that is fine, but I prefer she be in her “nest” on the window-sill so I can give her a pat or two to reassure her that I am not a monster. I let her roam all night and this morning she was in the tiny passageway under the stove. I made her leave that place and eventually got her back into the bathroom and onto her ledge but I worry that such episodes might exacerbate the problem. But I cannot let her live under the stove or anywhere where I cannot have contact with her. I need to be able to see that she is alive, well, and hopefully eating.

Please help a nervous dad.

~ Midnight

Thomas: First of all, thank you so much for adopting a cat! By doing so, you’ve saved a life. Even though PAWS is a no-kill shelter, your adoption makes space for another kitty who might not be so lucky.

Bella: It’s especially kind of you to adopt a traumatized cat who needs some extra time and patience to come out of her shell.

Tara: I was in a similar situation when I arrived here. I’d been left outside and had to fend for myself for a while, and when I found my home here, I also found Thomas and Bella. They were so excited to play with me, but I wasn’t ready, so I got really scared and hid all the time.

Thomas: But right now, Tara’s sitting in the window chattering at the birds! It took her more than a year to get to this point, but Mama worked really hard to help her–just like you’re working to help your Macy Gray.

Bella: So, the most important thing, as you know, is to make sure she’s eating. If she’s not eating what you put down for her, try some chicken or turkey baby food. Make sure you get the kind without garlic, though! Garlic is really toxic to kitties.

Tara: She may also like some super-stinky cat food like tuna. Mmmm, tuna!

Thomas: Once Macy Gray is eating–even if she’s only eating a little bit at a time, and only eating when you’re not watching–then you can try switching her over to regular cat food.

Bella: The next step is to increase her confidence. This can be hard to do with a traumatized cat, but if you’re patient and gentle, she will come out of her shell.

Tara: Our first recommendation is that if you don’t have one already, you get Macy a tall cat tree that you can put in your living room. That way, she’ll be able to watch you and your home from a high place where she’ll feel safer.

Thomas: You’ll also want to get her a nice, soft covered bed for when she wants to be low to the ground. Put the bed in a quiet corner and anoint it with a little valerian–something that even cats who aren’t into catnip like!

A hooded bed in a corner can be a safe spot for a traumatized cat.

A hooded bed in a corner can be a safe spot for a traumatized cat.

Bella: You’ll also want to get some Feliway diffusers. Feliway (also known as Feliway Comfort Zone) has an artificial “happy cat” pheromone that helps to reduce stress and anxiety. It’s marketed as a tool to stop inappropriate elimination, but it has all kinds of other good effects.

Tara: Mama used Feliway as one of the tools to help me feel better, and although it didn’t do the job alone, it really did help. You can buy Feliway at pet stores or online.

Thomas: The next thing you’ll want to do is engage her in some play. Play does wonders for helping a traumatized cat to feel more confident. It’ll also help her to start associating you with fun, which will increase the bond you have with her. We recommend “thing on a string” toys like Da Bird, or maybe a nice peacock feather.

Bella: The trick here is to do gentle play with quiet toys. Wiggle the peacock feather or the string toy near her hideaway, and we bet you’ll see her starting to get excited. In fact, the next time she hides under your stove, you could try to coax her out by playing with a toy.

Tara: Don’t be surprised or frustrated if she doesn’t respond right away. It takes time for a traumatized cat to start realizing she’s safe.

Thomas: Your sweet Macy Gray will start to feel less scared, and eventually she will most likely come up and sit next to you.

Bella: When she does that, follow her lead. Don’t be too quick to reach for her. If she snuggles up next to you, let her be there and speak quietly and lovingly to her, letting her know how much you care about her. Reassure her that she has a forever home with you and that she’s safe now.

Tara: We know Macy Gray doesn’t think you’re a monster. She’s just scared and it’ll take her a bit of time to feel truly comfortable and trust you. A traumatized cat is a lot like a traumatized person in that regard.

Thomas: Meanwhile, rest assured that you’re doing everything right, as Mama’s sister sometimes tells her when Mama’s feeling all anxious and upset.

Bella: We’re sure Macy Gray has lots of love in her heart, and if you’re quiet and patient with her, she’ll come out of her shell. It’s just going to take time and gentle effort on your part.

Tara: What about you other readers? Do you have some tips for Midnight about how he can help his traumatized cat? Please share them in the comments!