Barn Cat Issues - Need to vent & some advice - Cat Forum : Cat Discussion Forums
 
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post #1 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-15-2019, 09:28 PM Thread Starter
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Barn Cat Issues - Need to vent & some advice

Hello all,

I seem to have gotten myself into a situation and I'm not sure the best way to proceed.

On my property, I have a large (3,600 sq. ft.) outbuilding. We call it a barn, but it's really just a very large garage with a built-in apartment - the guy that built this place built the barn, put an apartment in and then lived there while building the house. Anyway, it has a living room, three bedrooms, bathroom and kitchen (though the bathroom and kitchen are no longer in service). I work out of this building, plus store a hot rod in there and this winter, I had multiple issues with mice. After doing some research, my wife and I decided that barn cats were the perfect solution. Our plan is to have the be "indoor only" barn cats, let them eventually have free roam of the entire building but keep them inside.

My wife and I toured the local humane society and talked to the woman that runs the barn cat adoption. There is a lot of information online about acclimating barn cats (specifically, keeping them in large kennels for a couple of weeks as they get used to their surroundings). The humane society had two cats that were already acclimated with each other, so we took them (both females). Because of the apartment setup, the woman that runs the program agreed that we didn't need the kennels - we could just put the two cats in a room together and be done.

Last Thursday morning, I picked up the two cats and got them situated in the room. Two litter boxes, multiple beds and places to hide, toys, etc. That's when everything basically went bad.

Friday morning, I found urine on the floor near a litter box. I cleaned it up and changed the type of litter. Their food - dry food, in two bowls - was mostly gone. I went back in the house and my wife went out to check on the cats and said she couldn't find one. I went back out there and was horrified to discover I missed something really, really big - the walls in the apartment section were only 9 ft. tall and ended before the ceiling. The cats were able to climb them and get to other areas of the aparment. We eventually found the cat on top of one of the last remaining kitchen cabinets, but she's not the type of cat you can grab, hold or pickup, she's very skittish around people.

We eventually opened up the bedroom door and gave both cats full access to the whole apartment. I added a third litter box, moved some of their beds around and made sure there was nothing in any other room that could cause problems. I use the apartment for lumber storage/wood-working so there is a lot of wood stored, saws not in use, etc. Nothing that can hurt a cat, but a lot of places they can hide.

Saturday morning, there was urine outside a litter box (a different one) again. The litter box itself was full, so we are now cleaning all 3 twice a day, morning and night. Since then, we've had no urine issues.

But, here are my issues:

1) It's very hard to find the cats, see the cats, etc. I try to spend time over there so they get used to me but on most occasions, I don't even see them. Not sure if me being there is doing any good or not. I'm also petrified that I'm going to have to try and catch one or both of them and...I just have no idea how I'd do that and it's stressing me out.

2) The cats don't seem to be eating enough. Since that first night, the two of them combined are eating maybe 1/2 a bowl of food. I've tried three different foods, blends, etc. and they just don't eat much. I left some wet food out for them tonight, I'm hoping they eat that.

3) Because of the issues we have seen them, I installed a Wifi camera in their "main" room so I can see them moving around. One of the cat's steps in and out of the litter box sometimes, without using. Not sure if this is normal? The same cat also sniffs at the food a lot but doesn't eat much.

4) Tonight on the camera, I saw the cats fight. It wasn't long or really bad, but one cat chased the other and batted at her and both had very aggressive postures. I was hoping to avoid this since they were roommates at the humane society.


I'm a long time cat owner, we currently have three that are full-time indoor cats and I'm not sure I'm cut out to own barn cats - I get stressed out wondering where they are at, if they are eating enough, the fighting, etc. I know it hasn't even been a week yet and I'm not thinking of returning them or anything like that, I'm just not sure what I should do.

Last edited by marie73; 05-15-2019 at 10:35 PM. Reason: language
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post #2 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-17-2019, 10:48 PM
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I haven't had any experience with feral or barn cats, but just wondering if their food intake is less because they are finding mice to eat or some other animals such as baby rabbits? It's possible the squabbles between them are the fact they are in a new environment and really have adjusted yet, and are jumpy and wary of everything that is new to them. Hopefully they will settle down, and become calmer around you. All the best!

"There are no ordinary cats.";"Time spent with a cat is never wasted."~ Colette
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post #3 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-22-2019, 09:11 PM
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Great response, I totally agree with you.
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post #4 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-22-2019, 09:15 PM
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You are expecting too much too soon. Your spending time there is definitely helping the cats get used to you. But
remember these are semi-feral cats and it will take time for them to trust you. Just leave them be and if they approach
you call them in soft tone "kitty kitty" or if you have named them that is even better. Bring over some tasty cat treats if hey do come to you as a reward. But as the other poster said, probably catching the mice so not a huge appetite for the
cat food. Try different flavors and see which one they prefer. Good luck.
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post #5 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-24-2019, 03:30 PM
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Are you using the same kind of litter that they used at the humane society? If it's a very different scent or texture, they might not recognize it as litter.
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post #6 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-29-2019, 11:32 AM Thread Starter
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Thank you for the replies, and sorry I haven't updated this for a while - things have been pretty crazy!

Things are mostly better, with a few key exceptions.

First, a question: if one or both of the cats are eating mice, wouldn't there be some sort of...leftovers? Do cats eat an entire mouse? Also, we recorded all movement via our Wifi camera and never saw either cat chase/catch anything.

MsKitty nailed it - I was expecting too much, too soon. I posted my message on Wednesday, less than a week after getting the cats. By Friday night, Chaos (our black & white cat) started wandering around us when we were out there. On Sunday night, my wife and I were talking in the apartment out there when Theory made a quick appearance - she ran by us from one room to the other, but it was the first time either of us had seen her. But, it was like you flipped some sort of switch. The next morning, Theory greeted my wife and even accepted some pets. Later that day, I went and sat down in a camping chair I put out there and within about 5 minutes Theory was on my lap, purring and rolling around - she is such a sweet girl. Chaos was out and about, too, circling us, though still would keep her distance.

Anytime my wife and I went out there, Theory would greet us, sit on our lap for a few minutes and then eat a ton of food. If Chaos got too close, Theory would growl and hiss. Eventually, we separated the cats and Theory started eating like crazy - wet food and dry food, but no treats. Chaos was nibbling, not really eating too much.

Over the last couple of weeks, Chaos has gotten friendlier and allowed us to pet and scratch her. She loves treats, and will even sit on our lap for brief periods. She will eat wet food, but still won't eat much dry...unless you hold it in your hand - then she eats like crazy. I have no idea why this is, but if her food isn't touched for awhile my wife or I will grab a handful and hold it to her and she'll chow it down.

So, while all that is good...we had (or have, I guess) a health issue with Theory. The one night that my wife was over there, she smelled something and looked inside Theory's cubby and found bloody diarrhea. Then in the morning, there was more in the litter box. I took her to the vet and was prescribed liquid medication to give her twice a day for two weeks. Getting her in the carrier and to the vet was surprisingly easy, and she was very well behaved at the vet, but trying to medicate her twice a day...yikes. All the goodwill/trust we built up is out the window, she's back to hiding and staying away from us. We've been spending a ton of time out there, talking to her, trying to entice her with tuna and wet food (she won't give any sort of treat a second look). As soon as we can safely grab her, we do and then medicate her, which causes her to run and hide for hours again. We are six days in, I'm worried about being able to wrangle her twice a day for another 8 days.
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post #7 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-29-2019, 12:13 PM
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Thanks for the great detailed update.....You've made great progress with your cats with them loving the pets and sitting on your laps even! And even the vet visit seemed to be a breeze! It's too bad Theory got diarrhea and now is distrustful again. Try and disassociate her from you both administering the medication. If you can get her in a room for a few days, suggest you withhold a meal so she's really hungry and them put the liquid medication in a smaller quantity in some strongly scented food such as tuna/salmon or sardine oil with some chopped sardines, and she may not be able to detect the medication. You're going to have to make an effort again with treats to gain her trust, and it likely will be difficult and take longer now.

As to leftovers from mice....most cats will eat everything but the gallbladder, and sometimes a foot. At least that was my experience when I had indoor-outdoor cats many years ago. One of my cats would only eat the head of baby rabbits, and leave it's decapitated body on the porch! Yuck! Good luck!

"There are no ordinary cats.";"Time spent with a cat is never wasted."~ Colette
"A loving cat can mend a wounded heart." ~ Unknown Author
Alkitotle aka "Alkee", "Lambie" (July 2/04 - Oct. 2/15) -- white Devon Rex
in avatar. "Always in my heart."
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post #8 of 10 (permalink) Old 06-11-2019, 07:40 PM Thread Starter
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New Barn Cats Fighting with Each Other

Hello all,

I previously posted about some issues I had with two new barn cats. Things have basically settled down, except for one issue - the one cat (Chaos) constantly attacks the other one (Theory).

Both cats are females, roughly the same age (as far as the humane society could tell) and both have been spayed. When we adopted the two, they were sharing a room at the humane society and were already "acclimated" with each other.

Because Theory was sick and had to be medicined, we separated them - one cat is in her own bedroom and the other is in the rest of the apartment in the barn. When separate, Theory is a very sweet girl that loves to be scratched, hangs out in the room with you, etc. Chaos can be sweet, too, but is a bit bitey. We don't want to keep her locked away in one room, so we've been trying to let her out but the minute she gets out, she makes a beeline for Theory and will almost always just jump on her and bite her or swipe at her. Once in a while, she'll just walk up to Theory and sniff and meow gently at her, but as soon as she gets close Theory will growl, pin her ears back and lower herself down. Eventually, she'll run off and Chaos will chase and attack her. We'll get Chaos back into her room but Theory will stay hidden, sometimes for hours.

Theory is a climber (Chaos isn't), so when we leave them together we've moved some food and a litter box up high, but the apartment is basically empty so there isn't a lot of space for her.

Also, one time we let Chaos roam and came back to find pee outside one of the litterboxes that Theory uses. Neither cat has any litterbox issues when left in their separate areas.

We've been trying to tire Chaos out by running her/playing with her a lot before letting the two get together, but it doesn't matter - as soon as she comes out, she runs right to Theory and usually attacks.

So...do I have any hope of getting these cats to play nice? For the fighting, I feel like Chaos often wants to play and Theory just wants nothing to do with her, but other times Chaos is very aggressive. I can keep them separated in the barn, but (1) it's going to be a major pain and (2) it sort of defeats the purpose of having two cats to keep each other company.

Any advice on things to try?
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post #9 of 10 (permalink) Old 06-12-2019, 12:06 PM
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Since Theory likes to be up higher than Chaos, I think she would benefit by some "Catification" of the walls, with shelving, ladders, etc. There are books about Catification such as one by Jackson Galaxy "Cat Daddy".

"There are no ordinary cats.";"Time spent with a cat is never wasted."~ Colette
"A loving cat can mend a wounded heart." ~ Unknown Author
Alkitotle aka "Alkee", "Lambie" (July 2/04 - Oct. 2/15) -- white Devon Rex
in avatar. "Always in my heart."
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post #10 of 10 (permalink) Old 07-08-2019, 02:33 AM
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You could try the feliway plugins to try and calm Chaos down. You can also try getting some bach's pet rescue remedy and putting several drops in their water dish every time you change it. Hyland has the homeopathic remedy Gelsemium 30x that is good for anxiety. One or two tabs in their food twice a day. I'd dose both. You can get Hyland Gelsemium Semp at swanson vitamins for a really good price. I know it says for headaches and flu on the page on the swanson website but the traditional homeopathic use for Gelsemium is for anxiety. I have used it successfully for my animals.
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