Why should I avoid adopting a traumatized cat?

Difficult Persian when adopted became loving and relaxed with tender loving care
See Michele’s story on this page. Pictures by Michele Russell.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

You shouldn’t avoid adopting a traumatised cat and the question in the title begs many more questions such as:

  • Who says the cat in question is traumatised?
  • What evidence is there that the cat is traumatised?
  • Is this a shelter cat and is the shelter saying that the cat is traumatised?
  • Is the owner of the cat saying that the cat is traumatised?
  • How do you recognise that a cat is traumatised?
  • Is it possible to rehabilitate a traumatised cat?

Those are just some of the questions I would ask. There will be more. Sometimes shelter cats can be labelled traumatised not because they are traumatised but because they are currently living in a shelter which is traumatic to them. They are agitated. Remove them from the shelter and put them with a foster carer and they start flowering.

They soon might no longer appear to be traumatised. They start to behave like one would expect a domestic cat to behave. That is one example of how labelling a cat as ‘traumatised’ can be dangerously misleading because in shelters “bad cat behaviour” can spell death.

RELATED: Gentling shelter cats

You can’t assess a domestic cat on how they behave at a shelter as the facility will often if not nearly always provoke fear, anxiety and in some cats defensive behaviour which in turn can lead to aggression and scratching.

Or perhaps an owner tells a neighbour that they want to give up their cat because he’s been traumatised and behaving badly. It may be that the owner themselves is traumatising their cat because of a failure to provide an adequate environment in which to live. Sometimes people are blind to the requirements of domestic cats.

Sometimes a cat might be genuinely traumatised, perhaps because they’ve been involved in a road traffic accident or been abused but this kind of traumatic event does not, in my view, normally imprint on the cat’s brain. They’ll often forget and move on. Cats are resilient.

And cats don’t usually harbour grudges like people. They will forget and they can be rehabilitated with tender loving care in a good environment. If a cat comes to a person who is a good cat caregiver and they are timid and fearful because of poor experiences in the past, the new caregiver can bring the best out of that cat. They nearly always will. The genuine mentally ill cat will be exceedingly rare. I’m not even sure they exist. And then you can resort, if you have to, with veterinary advice, to tranquilizing drugs of some sort but those are very much a last resort.

RELATED: Gabapentin substantially improves adoption rate of shelter cats rescued from a hoarding environment

And another point: there is a wonderful reward to take in a cat who might have been traumatised to a certain extent and to turn them into a loving, whole, friendly companion again. The rewards are immense.


I’ve always thought that and it’s been confirmed by a story on social media from Michele Russell who happily declares that she has been owned by cats all her life.

She says that it is the traumatised cats that need to be adopted the most. She adopted an 11-year-old Persian who didn’t like people (see photos at top of page). She doesn’t say where she adopted him from but probably a rescue center, to where he had been relinquished. She does say that he had been surrendered three times over his 11-year lifespan. Persians give the impression that they are laid back but they are a nervous breed. It does not surprise me that he was difficult. I’m sure it was because he had one bad owner after not being properly socialised and subsequent owners failed to deal with this and gave up. This cat may have been the product of a poor cat breeder.

She agrees that she had to work on a socialising him and improving his behaviour and she put him on a strict diet because he had digestive issues causing vomiting. And being a Persian, he has long hair as you can see in the photograph but he failed to groom himself perhaps because he was so pissed off with humankind! She had to groom him.

And, as predicted, she gradually teased out of him his true character and he became a “wonderful boy who is funny and quirky. He no longer needs a special diet because his anxiety issues are resolved. He’s in his forever home and knows he’s loved.”

After seven months she confirmed that “he is an absolute sweetheart. With a unique and amazing personality who grooms himself impeccably and pulls your hand with his paws for pats and chin scratches.”

She was told that her Persian didn’t get on with other animals but she decided to take in her sister’s cat when she died. She was hesitant she said but they got along famously! There you are. The kind of story I like and one which tells all that you should never listen to anybody who says that you should avoid a traumatised cat. Ask those questions and then adopt him.

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