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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
In Short: Jack was found as a young cat/larger kitten outside after Hurricane Gustav in Baton Rouge, starved, wet and very frightened. Since then my boyfriend has kept him indoors. I moved in with them about a year ago. His entire life, Jack has been terrified of people, even us, to the point of shaking and even peeing out of fright. If you come near him he hisses and spits and will always run. We have tried everything. I do not want to live with a feral apartment cat forever. We could really use some advice.

In Detail: When Jack was a kitten (although I didn't know him at that point) he would play with strings with my boyfriend but always had to be coaxed out. Now he wont come near a string if you are holding it but will play nicely with the laser pointer. He lives with his wife (Sunny) and their daughter (Vanessa) and is very social with them. Occasionally he will come up and beg for dinner scraps, he will not take them from our hands but if you leave them he will come and take it. I am personally afraid to grab him after watching my boyfriend get scratched so many times, but if he is held on a lap (against his will) for several days in a row he tends to be more outgoing. By that I mean coming into the room where we are and not act so afraid. When we do pick him up he tucks his face away under your arm and trembles. Sometimes at night he will cry and cry. I am afraid that he suffers from some kind of nervous disorder and that the stress is very hard on him. We have tried everything from pheromone collars to herbal treatments. Sometimes I will lay on the floor about 8 feet from him and just act calm so he gets used to having us near him but still every time we come near him he hisses and spits. It is not a good situation for him or us and I think he sets a bad example for Vanessa, who will mimic his behavior in a playful way. I need advice on what to do with him. Is he a lost cause?
 

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I'll leave it to the experts here to answer that, but I just wanted to mention that I've been intensively devoting myself to the strays downstairs here in the park, practically living for them, and only now, after 5-6 months, they don't jump and hide when I'm near. They STILL try to swat my hand if I get too near, even though I'm the only kindness they've known all their lives. However, the fruits of routine, regularity and perseverance can be seen and are a wonderful reward for me. One of them, who was little more than a screaming ball of nerves and swatting paws, now lays in the little bed I made her behind the bushes almost all day, with dreamy eyes, and when I come up to her, instead of running away she gazes at me with such calm and sweetness in her eyes it drives me to tears. I believe there's always hope...
 

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lays = lies

I think that when you're not expecting improvement all the time, improvement happens one day and surprises you.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I'll leave it to the experts here to answer that, but I just wanted to mention that I've been intensively devoting myself to the strays downstairs here in the park, practically living for them, and only now, after 5-6 months, they don't jump and hide when I'm near. They STILL try to swat my hand if I get too near, even though I'm the only kindness they've known all their lives. However, the fruits of routine, regularity and perseverance can be seen and are a wonderful reward for me. One of them, who was little more than a screaming ball of nerves and swatting paws, now lays in the little bed I made her behind the bushes almost all day, with dreamy eyes, and when I come up to her, instead of running away she gazes at me with such calm and sweetness in her eyes it drives me to tears. I believe there's always hope...
He has never known anything but kindness from us.. it has been almost three years. Every time I think we are making some sort of progress he regresses to his wild state again. I can sometimes catch him napping on the stairs and steal a quick neck scratch before he hisses and runs off. We are actually considering getting a type of "kitty prozac" from the vet. But I have read mixed reviews.. Since he is a permanent member of our family it almost seems like a must.. just dont want to do something that would be unhealthy long term.. you know anything about it??
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
lays = lies

I think that when you're not expecting improvement all the time, improvement happens one day and surprises you.
I really do hope to be surprised. It is just that in the two years he has been a part of my life I have seen none at all. He is as nervous as the day I met him...
 

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It might seem mean, but I might recommend isolating him from the other two cats for a while. It sounds like he spends most of his time with them and not you and so has never had to learn to become friendly. You are just the people he is forced to live with and put up with.

Try spending time with him in a bathroom or other small room. Just him and you or him and your boyfriend (so he doesnt feel outnumbered). First week just talk to him, don't even bother trying to touch him (those kisses you sneak in sound scary for him, dont do that anymore), second week, just practice holding out your hand to him (still not touching him, just gaining trust with him that you aren't going to hurt him when your arm moves towards him), third week try lightly lightly touching him, fourth week petting, etc.
Honestly it shouldnt take that long, I've dealt with scared cats before and its mostly just that people are too overwhelming. They get impatient and try to force the animal into liking them when its too soon. (And I understand it's been 3 years, but like I said it sounds like he's been living in the shadows, never really being socialized in a formal way, just chasing him around the house.)
 

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I agree with MinkaMuffin. Go to the Feral Cats section here and start reading. That's what you have here.

It has to be 100% on his terms. He needs a safe room or large crate off the floor with a smaller carrier in it so he feels like it's his den.

You cannot initiate touch. It has to come from him. He is so freaked out that you have to start over.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
It might seem mean, but I might recommend isolating him from the other two cats for a while. It sounds like he spends most of his time with them and not you and so has never had to learn to become friendly. You are just the people he is forced to live with and put up with.

Try spending time with him in a bathroom or other small room. Just him and you or him and your boyfriend (so he doesnt feel outnumbered). First week just talk to him, don't even bother trying to touch him (those kisses you sneak in sound scary for him, dont do that anymore), second week, just practice holding out your hand to him (still not touching him, just gaining trust with him that you aren't going to hurt him when your arm moves towards him), third week try lightly lightly touching him, fourth week petting, etc.
Honestly it shouldnt take that long, I've dealt with scared cats before and its mostly just that people are too overwhelming. They get impatient and try to force the animal into liking them when its too soon. (And I understand it's been 3 years, but like I said it sounds like he's been living in the shadows, never really being socialized in a formal way, just chasing him around the house.)
I think that is a wonderful idea actually. He is very sweet and affectionate to the other cats, so he clearly craves socialization of some type. Maybe if he didnt have their attention for a while he would find our attention more appealing. We could move him into the spare bedroom. He would have his own window and litter box but no wife and daughter. :( Tough love I guess. I have had cats all my life, but they have always been so easy to get along with. I dont really know the first thing about dealing with this type of behavior. I really appreciate the encouragement! I feel really good about this idea. Thank you!
 

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Eh, male cats don't see their mate and offspring as "wife" and "daughter"...he sees them as other cats he knows and is friendly with. You wouldn't be a cruel homewrecker by separating them. :)

As MowMow asked, is he neutered and the females spayed? This affects behavior.
 

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You're welcome Nessibean ^^
I may be a noob around here, but I have a very good knack for understanding cats, usually even more so then other cat fanatics I know. (Not trying to brag, I just watch people interact with their kitties and I can practically feel the distress coming off of them and wonder 'How do you not notice this??!? X___X')
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Eh, male cats don't see their mate and offspring as "wife" and "daughter"...he sees them as other cats he knows and is friendly with. You wouldn't be a cruel homewrecker by separating them. :)

As MowMow asked, is he neutered and the females spayed? This affects behavior.
:) i know he doesnt but i like thinking of them as an adorable nuclear family.. and yes they are all fixed
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
You're welcome Nessibean ^^
I may be a noob around here, but I have a very good knack for understanding cats, usually even more so then other cat fanatics I know. (Not trying to brag, I just watch people interact with their kitties and I can practically feel the distress coming off of them and wonder 'How do you not notice this??!? X___X')
yea.. well the distress is definitely noticeable... :?
 

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While I see the advantage of minkamuffin's idea with a new cat brought into the home, I wonder if separating the cats might just create more stress since they are probably bonded. I know that my cats tend to freak out if they are every separated for any length of time. Perhaps you could confine all of the cats to 1 room together? That way, your feral cat can watch you interact nicely with the other cats as well without feeling separated/trapped away from the others. Like the others have said, it has to be on his terms and at his pace. Start with special treats (maybe some cooked bits of chicken, beef, shrimp, whatever he really likes) and toys that let him keep his distance. Then you would slowly work towards treats out of your hand more interactive toys. Make sure that you don't make any sudden movements, talk to the cats, and don't loom over him (sit down on the floor to interact).
 

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I live in a one-room apartment, except the bathroom...which is tiny (sink and toilet... to shower, I have to go up 2 flights of stairs to the top level of the house!).
I really have no place to isolate cats, but I still do the method of just letting them get used to you on their own time.

Paizly was rescued as a feral kitten 10 years ago. She's still kind of feral, but that's because my ex teased her (guess I should have been smart at the beginning and dumped him, rather than "waste" 9 years with him!).
Nebbie was also very skittish when I first got her, and would dart off if I held out my hand (I think she was hit by her previous owners). It took a good 6 months for her to not flinch away, and let me TOUCH her a moment. After a year, I could actually pet her with a few strokes on the shoulders. She still shies away from being touched on the head, but otherwise she's okay. Sleeps on the bed, and everything!
Paizly still gets scared if I move too quickly and/or stand at my full height when I'm near her.

I also tamed a couple feral kittens that way... just let them get used to me being around, and not forcing them to be held or petted.
Though kittens are easier to tame than older cats. It's why it took Nebbie 2+ years to get used to me, because she was already nearly 2 years old.

I do agree that having him in "cat room" with ONE person at a time for daily visits (probably 3 visits, 30 minutes max?) would be the best way to go until he realizes you're not a threat.

Good luck! :)
 

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While I see the advantage of minkamuffin's idea with a new cat brought into the home, I wonder if separating the cats might just create more stress since they are probably bonded. I know that my cats tend to freak out if they are every separated for any length of time. Perhaps you could confine all of the cats to 1 room together? That way, your feral cat can watch you interact nicely with the other cats as well without feeling separated/trapped away from the others. Like the others have said, it has to be on his terms and at his pace. Start with special treats (maybe some cooked bits of chicken, beef, shrimp, whatever he really likes) and toys that let him keep his distance. Then you would slowly work towards treats out of your hand more interactive toys. Make sure that you don't make any sudden movements, talk to the cats, and don't loom over him (sit down on the floor to interact).

I totally agree, seperating him from the only living beings he finds comfort in might be a bad idea. Keep them all in a room and have him watch you calmly and gently interact with the other cats a couple times a day. Don't make any attempt to pet him. If he comes to you let him sniff around and smell you and offer him a treat so he sees you in a positive light. Talk in a calm, gentle and soft tone of voice. It's going to take patience and determination, and both you and your boyfriend to make this work, but it can happen.
 

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he seems more like a ferral/wild sort than a domestic cat. Perhaps he was very young when he became on his own and that made him take on wild habits. He must have been very scared to face the world on his own at such a small age. Nothing to worry really, even ferrals can become great pets, give it time and de-sex him (that helps in taming the wild side)
 

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It might end up he just needs a few more years. My Zoe went from a scared screamer who wouldn't let me near her save for the odd pat if she walked up to me, to a sweet and VERY Snuggly kitty when she was about 6 yrs old. It was nearly an overnight change in her. Prior to the change she would play with me, occasionally come near me, but if I moved she would hiss or scream and run. She never knew anything but lovies and patience from me. Kitties have their own personality and, like Zoe, Jack might just be a skittish/vocal/cranky little boy. I'm curious if he'll settle and become a snuggle muffin later too. She never warmed up to anyone other than me & my ex. Everyone else was met with screams and spitting (when it goes beyond just hissing!) even though she really would never have hurt anyone. She was super territorial.

I agree with the mini-den idea just for him. Zoe had her little corners where she'd go sulk or sleep or just hang out if she was feeling put out because I had company visiting or wouldn't give her people food!
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
So I just finished setting up the Jack-in-isolation room. It has eats, litter box, toys, window, scratching posts and comfy sleeping quarters. Everything he needs for kitty jail time.

@ swimkris & RowdyandMalley: I have the same concerns (that separating him from the others will be very stressful). They are best friends and they have never been apart before. I don't want his isolation to feel like a punishment and honestly I do sort of feel like I am being a meany, but I also feel this way on trips to the vet, which are obviously for his own good. So I do plan to go through with it. I am only hoping that without social contact with them he will begin to look to us for socialization instead of to the other cats. Do you think temporary visits from the other two would be a good thing? I just wonder if he would get his attention fix and not feel a need for human interaction. Or I guess he could feel like we took away his only friends and resent us for doing it. I need a cat psychic. The idea of containing all three of them in the room might be a last resort. Vanessa has slept on my pillow since she could climb into the bed. She would very much dislike not being able to and I would also rather not do without her. They are all used to having free reign of the house and Sunny even likes to go outside. I do not want to punish or anger my girls if it can be avoided.

@ Minkamuffin: no stress ;)

On another note, I have this stuff called Calm Down by Pet Organics. It is a liquid that you put into the drinking water. It supposedly contains an herbal remedy for cat stress. When I am stressed out I take B vitamins and I believe that it helps. So while I am skeptical, I am hoping that it will calm his nerves a little. If anyone has any experience with the stuff or has any comments about it I would love to hear them.

I really don't consider him a feral cat.. I guess that might just be because he has lived indoors in relatively close quarters with people for almost three years. Maybe I am just ignoring the obvious. Anyways, he does respond well to treats. We have used various lunch meats in prior attempts to domesticate him and I do think its a good idea to continue the lunch meat training. I like the idea about only treating him when he approaches us. So he will associate outgoing behavior with treats...which is good :)

As far as taking no action and allowing him to gradually come around on his own, I am just afraid that the older he gets the more set in his ways he will become. I feel like we should have done this last year.. I expect him to always be skittish.. I am just trying to wean him of his mean streak.

Thank you everyone for the advice! This forum has been extremely helpful!
 
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