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Gaining the Trust of a Rescue Cat

Category Cats
Rescued pets have often suffered neglect and, even worse, abuse from previous owners. This is a guide about gaining the trust of a rescue cat.


Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

By 1 found this helpful
November 18, 2009

My recovered abused cat has an extremely high sensitivity. He easily gets his feelings hurt and sometimes misreads my intentions. He either flees or hides when my intention has been to spoil him with a treat or if I wasn't attentive at the very moment he wanted me to be.

How can I build up his self assurance properly? This has been going on for some time, I've tried to reassure him, shower him with love and affection, and treat him like the wonderful creature he truly is. However, he still has such great doubt about how much he's valued. I don't want him to question his self worth any more.

Unfortunately, he's around 3 years old and might be set in his ways, but cats are more able to adjust than most would think, so I hope I can help this one. I can't afford a cat psychologist, but if anyone can guide me, with time, patience, and love I can do this; I just need some direction that helps us move beyond the point we're stuck at.


By Cornelia from OR


November 20, 20091 found this helpful
Best Answer

Oh, it sounds like you're doing a great job! Cornelia, you really are doing everything right- and just like a human child, this little guy is going to have to take time to heal. DH and I have several former shelter and rescue cats, and some of them were pretty obviously abused, when they came to us- all that you can really do is continually offer love, and the time will come when the switch will go on in their heads. Your little guy may be skittish for the rest of his life, wouldn't you be? But he'll come around, and will get better. Nekocat's right- cats reason, as people do, but just like people, fur-folks take time to develop trust again, once it's been broken. Don't give up. Blessings on all of you who have chosen to take on the 'challenging' cases- they need us! :o)

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January 10, 2018

I have just gotten a rescue cat from a abusive home. She is always scared. What can I do to help her?


January 10, 20180 found this helpful
Best Answer

You have to speak in a soft voice to the cat and dont move quickly when you walk towards it. I had a friend whose cat was beaten with a shoe. That cat hid under the bed whenever sbe went to her closet for her shoes, and she took excellent care of the cat.

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January 12, 20180 found this helpful
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Give her time. She needs quiet, food, water, shelter and a place to hide--perhaps a box.


Over time, she will come out of it. No loud or sudden noises or moves either.

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By 0 found this helpful
March 7, 2018

I just recently adopted this kitten. He is about 10 months old or so. His name is Tobi. But, I have been having a hard time getting him to trust me. He hides for days on end and hardly lets me touch him. I don't know much about his past encounters, due to getting him from a local shelter. But, I try giving him treats, I don't scare him or anything. I try to avoid that if possible. I have another younger kitten named Hiccup whom I've had for almost 5 months now. Hiccup seems to like Tobi, but not the other way around. I really want him to come around, but I'm not exactly sure on how to go about it.


March 7, 20180 found this helpful

I had a cat that was completely wild and totally mean. The cat would try to scratch or bit you if you tried to touch it. I finally let it out of the cage and it went to hide under the bed. I just left the cat there. I would place the food in the normal spot, but it refused to come out to eat.


I finally had to place the bowl and water where the cat would see it. I sat on the floor away from the cat and watched it come out to eat, but when it saw me would run back under. I would move the food just a bit closer. The cat would eat the food while staring at me. This took about a week of doing this. I started to move a bit closer each time I fed the cat.

Then all of a sudden one night the cat came out and jumped up on the bed and laid down next to me. He let me pet him and scratch him behind the ears. However, this cat was savaged to anyone who came near it except me. I was the only one who could pick up the cat or even feed the cat.

More than likely this will happen to you. You will have to let the cat out of the cage, but when you do, make sure you can keep it in one area so it won't run away. When you go to feed the cat, place the food down and sit on the floor to watch the cat eat. Don't try to touch the cat yet. You can leave afterwards. Give the cat time and they will come to you when they see you are feeding them and not hurting them at all. It will take time for this to happen. This will all depend on you and how persistent you are about this. I would give my cat food like 4 to 5 times a day. Not very much, just a little bit at a time so I could make sure it ate all the food and I could watch him do this.

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March 7, 20180 found this helpful

You have no idea about the cats life before you got him. He could have been abused.


He may remain the way he is. You can try to keep doing what you are doing and he may come around, but his personality may be formed already.

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March 9, 20180 found this helpful

This is sad because you have no idea as to what circumstances this little one has had to endure and this will make it even more difficult for you to bring it around to being at ease in your home.

  • First, you need to understand that he must be terribly frightened and that is more prominent that hunger.
  • He may never (or at least for a long time) really be a "lovable" cat in that he may always want to be the one in control and may let you pet him but may never let you pick him up without "struggling" to get away.
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  • It seems that kittens personalities are formed at a very young age and that is why if you want a really lovable cat you will get one from a family that has nice kids that love kittens.
  • It is really difficult to know very much about a kitten/cat you get from a shelter but they all still need and want homes.
  • I would suggest that you try to keep the kittens in separate rooms as long as it seems necessary and put cloth items from each kitten in with the other cat (switch laying cloths). I would also put something that you have worn in the room area with the new kitten so he will get used to your scent also.
  • You may have to put a litter box as well as a water dish in both rooms. Feed both cats same time but maybe two times a day. Don't try to force the kitten to come out of his hiding place but leave them be for a few days.
  • I have heard that it helps if the "master" talks to the frightened kitten as much as possible (or just talk on the phone etc) where they can hear your normal tone of voice.
  • Try to let the kittens see each other when possible but let them take their time making friends.
  • All of this will take time and a lot of patience but it may work and hopefully you will have 2 loving cats.
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March 11, 20180 found this helpful

Good advice here from those who have been there. It is quite likely you cat will come around with some time. If he does not, you have the option of allowing him to become a barn cat. Most rescues will not let you adopt a cat without telling you if the cat is feral (wild). So I will guess your kitten will come around, and he is just scared. You can always call the rescue and ask if the cat has been socialized (or not). Some cats that are not properly socialized do not warm up to humans. Rescues know this and adopt these cat out as barn cats where they have shelter and someone to feed them in return for keeping the mouse population down. Good luck.

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March 12, 20180 found this helpful

UPDATE: Tobi is coming around finally but my other kitten still isn't getting along with him. So, I'm just highly worried I might have to give him back to the shelter that I got him from, but I really Dont wanna do that, he's so sweet and loveable it's just my other kitten dosent seem to care for him. I've tried everything that I've been suggested so far

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By 0 found this helpful
February 11, 2016

Max was a young, stray cat who showed up in my yard 4 years ago. He was definitely under a year old. Another one of my cats, a female named Cricket who was also rescued as a stray tends to bring cats home with her. Anyway, it was summertime and I made sure to feed him, but assumed he belonged to someone. I have never believed he was feral because he doesn't have a bit of aggression in him, but he is terrified of humans.

When summer was ending I became concerned that he would freeze to death come winter because he had taken up residence in my rickety, wooden garage. So I stopped feeding him for several days and then put a bowl of tuna inside the house. I have a deck that leads to our main living room. As soon as you walk in the couch is there so I put the bowl past the couch and actually pretended to be asleep and left the screen door open, hoping he was hungry enough to bravely enter. It turned out he was and as soon as he reached the bowl I was able to jump up and close the door behind him.

After this trauma, he took up residence is my front sitting room under a love seat. This has been his home for 4 years now. This was fine for the first couple of years, but two years ago my son moved in and was given primary custody of his two sons who are now 6 and 9 years old. They were raised with cats and other than play in that room, they never do anything to bother him.

When I am home alone he will come into the room with me to look out the back door and every night I split a can of wet food with the three cats and he will actually come into the kitchen meowing his head off for his plate. I have touched him once in four years. He somehow got out of the house and after searching for 10 days I found out he was once again living in the garage. This was summer time and it was very obvious he has become infested with fleas. I have never had to treat him because I treat all the other animals so they don't bring anything in with them. But this time he had fleas and it took three of us to catch him. I needed to give him a Capstar tablet and put Frontline on him. When I picked him up he was so afraid he actually pooped on me. It just about broke my heart.

He always loved my two older dogs who were/are a Maltese Dachshund mix because at night he would come in and rub up against them. But recently one died and the other probably will soon too as they were littermates and 17 years old.

Does anyone have any suggestions how I can get him to trust me? If I enter the room when he is out from under his loveseat he will run the other direction as though I were going to grab him. He isn't neutered for this reason and I have to clean his litter box three times a day because he sprays in there. I have thought about asking the vet to give me something to sedate him before taking him there and bringing him home before he fully wakes from the anesthesia. I am afraid if he realizes I took him there it will set him back years.

I really don't feel he was feral since he has no aggression whatsoever rather I have believed he was abused and thus it resulted in his fear of people. The fact that he will come into a room with me is huge progress. I am a smoker, but do not smoke in the house and sometimes and he will actually come up to the door where I am standing and won't run away. My biggest issue is having him neutered not just because of the spraying but for his health and, god forbid he got out again, we don't need any more kittens that will be homeless. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for listening.


February 11, 20160 found this helpful

Hi Maureen, thank you for taking in a stray cat and trying to help him. As an owner of 2 rescue cats, I will try and give some tips that I think might help. My second cat was quite skittish when I first got her so my answers will be from what I did with her to get her to socialize and trust me. First, with any new pet, please take Max for a complete checkup if you have not done so already to your local vet or pet rescue center, etc. to eliminate any medical concerns that may be making him distressed. If you have done so already, great! Also, they may also make some great suggestions as well. Okay, back to Max's withdrawn behavior. It sounds like Max has already claimed his area (the room he is in) and now we just have to get him from hiding. I suggest boarding up the area he is hiding under (cardboard is fine) so he cannot crawl underneath it. You can leave out a box in one area that he can crawl into if he wants to until he feels secure. I make this suggestion so you don't have to crawl underneath furniture. I would also suggest a cat tree for him to climb on. My cats love them and I'm sure Max will too. My cats are possessive of their trees and don't usually share them but it seems they claim them for their own and that's their safe area. He may not use it at first, but eventually if you plant some treats to it, he will climb to discover what they are and then get comfortable. Try by planting treats to get him to get interested in it. But also try and keep your other cats away from it (they might try and claim it). You did not mention treats, I did give my very shy cat Temptations tumblers but it's the way I gave them to her I think that helped. I would inch my hand close to her and leave some and then leave. Next day, pull back a little from where she was hiding (underneath a bed) run my hand over the carpet or put a sock of something with my scent on it and a few more treats. Eventually, I had the treat onto the floor. Within a few days, she was curious and came close to my hand and i just left it there and then give her a couple treats. Don't pet him yet, let him sniff your hand and again leave a treat. He is now associating both you and reward of a treat. Then as my cat did and I am sure your will, he will eventually let you pet him and further down the road he will be looking for you and just want you to pet him and reward him. Speak to him in low soothing tones. All of this does work but it does take awhile to earn his trust. You mentioned your grandsons are living with you. Any new person in your household is going to make Max retreat until he is sure they won't hurt him. Likewise, your boys could also try the treats too. But I think it is best for you alone to try the above first to earn his trust. I would working on gaining his trust before the surgery, so you can comfort him post surgery. But it's up to you, I can understand how you want to do it right away. I hope the suggestions help. It does take a lot of time for them to trust but my cat does come to me when I call her and I hold her all the time, etc. I also play with my cats everyday. That's pretty simple. All cats love feathers. If you tie a feather to a piece of yarn and drag it near them, they just love to pounce and chase it. The interaction just reminds them I am fun and they can play with me. But even with everything I have done with my shy cat, she can regress if I have a relative stay over which I think is just her nature. If the guest stays for awhile, she seems to learn their scent and when she feels there is no threat, she goes back to being social again. I'm not an expert and I'm just relating what I did to gain her trust. I hope this will work for Max too.

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February 14, 20160 found this helpful

I agree with beachgirl. He seems to be motivated by food. Use small pieces of tuna or canned chicken as treats because the smell is very strong, and do this before feeding him his regular food. Canned meat and fish isn't really good for them, but okay in small quantities and you want something he can smell.

I also agree he needs a safe place to run into so he doesn't go under furniture. A box would work, or you can get an inexpensive "cat condo" or cube at WalMart.

You need to be aware of your own emotional state. If you get excited that he's responding to you or feel frustrated that it's going slowly he'll sense it. Try deep breathing/relaxation when you meet this cat.

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