You adopt a couple of rescue cats. And if they are siblings and if they get along well, you’ve done well. They can entertain themselves which takes a certain amount of responsibility away from you to entertain them.
You walk into your home and release them from their carrier and they immediately go behind the sideboard or they squeeze into some small space behind a large item of furniture which is collecting dust. They stay there resolutely. The hours tick by, even days sometimes, and they won’t come out. What do you do?
It is completely normal for a single cat or a couple of cats freshly adopted from a shelter to hide when they enter a new environment. This is a closed, contained human environment which is alien to them. They are with a stranger – the person who adopted them. This is a dangerous scenario for a domestic cat and so inevitably and instinctively they protect themselves by hiding.
It doesn’t matter how wonderful you are, and how sensitive you are to their welfare and emotions. They have got to be given the time to know you, to understand that you have their welfare at heart and therefore can trust you.
Importantly, you have to allow this process to unfold at their pace. It requires patience. And I think that you will find that all the experts agree that the most important advice in respect of the human-to-cat relationship under these circumstances is “patience”.
Let them hide. Don’t move the furniture. Leave things as they are. Simply provide food and it should be the tastiest cat food that you can find or even a treat such as slightly warmed up prawns (that was my new kitten’s favourite when I teased him out of his hiding) and water and wait.
As this process might take several days depending upon the individual cat or cats, you might provide a litter tray nearby which they can sneak out to at night. This is what might happen: they may stay behind the radiator as you see in the photograph or if they are small kitten under an item of furniture during the daytime and then come out at night to explore. This is no bad thing because they can explore their new world when it is quiet and when there is very little human activity.
You simply have to check up on them from time to time, talk to them nicely, keep the food treats coming and you might employ a cat tease which is a feather on a stick, to tease them out.
In addition to food, play is a great motivator for a cat to be themselves. For a domestic cat, play is hunting. Domestic cats instinctively hunt. They can’t stop themselves. You present a cat tease in front of them and they want to have a swipe at it. And when they do that, they forget about the dangers around them and start to integrate into their new world.
So, if you can get them to play with you, they will not only start behaving normally in your home, they will understand that you are interacting with them in a safe way. This is a trust builder for cats. It really is the best way to get them on your side and by your side.
When I adopted a tiny seven-week-old kitten about seven years ago from a rescue centre he wriggled under my sideboard and stayed there, as mentioned, for several days. I teased him out with prawns. King prawns are still his favorite. Eventually, after about four days, I was able to play with him and a few days after that he was on my lap. Here he is below a few days after emerging from his hiding place.
That may be the kind of timetable you encounter but it may well be much shorter than that. I would doubt that it would take longer. It depends upon the individual. Some cats are very confident and some are timid. There are different feline personality types.
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In fact, a lot of rescue cats will simply wander into their new home, settle down and behave as if they been there all their life. It’s when it’s not like that and they are timid and fearful that the new owner has to be the gentlest and most patient person that they can be. They will be rewarded.
Postscript: hiding places for domestic cats should be available at all times throughout the life of a cat in the human home. From time to time they might need it. It’s a normal defensive mechanism which should be respected and the facilities provided to them to allow them to express this form of behaviour.
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