Before we begin today’s column, we want to let you know about a new Paws and Effect feature. We’re going to start answering letters that only need short answers on our Facebook page! If you’re on Facebook, become a fan of Paws and Effect and our posts will appear on your wall. (If you’re not on Facebook, you’ll still be able to see the content of our page, so don’t be shy.)
Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
Two years ago, we took in two cats that had been abandoned by their deceased owner’s daughter. We’re not sure how long she had had them. We think one of them had been hit. I don’t really know much about their background, except they apparently didn’t like their names. The male cat was never really affectionate and wouldn’t sit with people. Now all of a sudden he is climbing on my lap and snuggling. Why would he start that?
Siouxsie: Well, Tracy, it’s probably a good sign that your cat is finally comfortable enough with you that he’ll climb on your lap and snuggle.
Thomas: When cats go through the trauma of losing a beloved human companion, we grieve and suffer from depression. It’s very hard to lose our humans because often we don’t get to see them and understand that they’re no longer in their bodies, and therefore we start feeling like we’ve been abandoned. I know quite a bit about this because I lost my first human in a very similar way.
Dahlia: If you add to that original trauma some other traumas like being frightened or hurt in the new home, you can only imagine how hard it is for a cat to cope with all this.
Siouxsie: Most people don’t understand that cats suffer from feelings and traumas just as much as humans do. Try to imagine losing your parents and then being sent to another home or into foster care, where you’re treated differently than your parents treated you and perhaps even abused or neglected — and imagine yourself being 2 or 3 years old while all this is going on.
Thomas: As you can probably guess, it’s very important that a person who adopts a traumatized cat be very patient and kind and reassuring. Even if your traumatized cat hides or acts aloof, he still needs to feel your love and compassion.
Dahlia: It sounds to us like your work and patience may finally be paying off and your cat is starting to feel safe with you.
Siouxsie: Keep praising him and giving him love when he comes to sit with you, and thank him for being so brave. Tell him you love his cuddles and snuggles. If the other cat is similarly skittish and doesn’t enjoy the company of people, she may take a lesson from her companion once she sees that you don’t bite … so to speak.
Thomas: We should point out that behavior changes can be a sign of illness. But this usually goes the opposite way: A normally friendly and cuddly cat begins hiding or starts swatting when you try to touch him, he stops eating and/or looks lethargic, and so on.
Dahlia: You didn’t mention if your cat’s behavior has changed in any other ways. If his appetite is good and he’s drinking and eliminating waste normally, if he’s not losing weight and his fur is shiny and well-groomed, if his eyes look bright and engaged rather than glazed over or dull, then he’s probably just fine and he’s decided it might not be such a bad idea to accept love and affection.
Siouxsie: Keep up the good work, Tracy, and remember that your cat’s new-found feeling of comfort and safety is probably still very fragile. If he gets even slightly traumatized — for example, with loud voices or small children chasing him around — he may retreat back to his aloof behavior, and it may be a while before you see him on your lap again.
Thomas: Thank you for adopting these two cats who so desperately needed a loving, safe place to live. Giving a cat in need a second chance for a good life is a wonderful deed, in our purrsonal opinion!