How to Care for An Abused Cat - PetPlace (2023)

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Table of Contents:

  1. Types of Feline Abuse
  2. The Cat’s Reaction
  3. How to Rehabilitate an Abused Cat

It is a sad fact of life that many cats suffer abuse of some kind during their lives. Abuse can take the form of physical assaults or punishment – but many cats suffer from the silent abuse of neglect. When abuse occurs during a sensitive stage of a cat’s development, it can have a profound impact on the rest of their life, even if the cat is subsequently removed from the abusive environment.

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An older animal may bounce back from a bad situation, but a young, impressionable cat will show lasting mental scars. He or she often has to be coaxed out of a shell of resistance and will likely never be fully trusting.

Types of Feline Abuse

Cat abuse takes many forms, including the following:

  • Unnecessarily early weaning (maternal deprivation)
  • Social isolation (partial or complete)
  • Deprivation of proper learning experiences
  • Physical restraint (tying, small crates or cages)
  • Verbal or physical punishment (yelling, hitting, beating)
  • Improper care and maintenance (improper or indifferent feeding, hygiene, grooming)
  • Deliberate or thoughtless infliction of chronic stress or pain

The Cat’s Reaction

Whether dog, cat, or other species, the universal response to abuse is one of mistrust, social withdrawal, physical inactivity, and depression. The thoroughly defeated cat often hunkers in the corner of a room or under the bed, not daring to explore its environment. This fear can extend to the outside world, giving an appearance of agoraphobia (fear of open spaces). Severely affected cats may not want or know how to play. They remain vigilant, reclusive, and often quiet.

These are general signs. Specific signs may reflect the type of abuse the cat suffered. For example, if a young cat has been forced to spend many hours alone, it may fear a return of this situation with such intensity that they become overly attached to a caring owner and may show extreme anxiety when separated from him/her. Alternatively, affected cats may simply fear being left alone – a slightly different situation.

An abused cat that has not been exposed to people during the first 7 weeks of life never becomes fully accepting of people, and rarely makes a good pet. Cats that have been mistreated by people during the same period may become positively hostile to strangers for the rest of their lives.

Abuse and neglect have other serious ramifications. The behavioral flaws arising from inappropriate rearing can threaten cats’ lives because affected cats do not know how to respond appropriately to different situations.

How to Rehabilitate an Abused Cat

First of all, don’t expect things to turn around overnight and do not have high expectations for the final result. It often takes a year to transform a reclusive, abused cat into a family-friendly companion. Even so, do not expect a miracle: You are unlikely to achieve complete resolution of the issues. Previously abused pets can become accepting of their human family members but making them into well-rounded social successes is an almost impossible task.

That said, to attempt such therapeutic work can be a rewarding challenge, and those who have been met with success in the past never regret the decision to make a formerly miserable pet happy.

How to Proceed with Rehabilitation of an Abused Cat

  • Make your cat feel needed and loved
  • Allow your new cat to become accustomed to you at their own pace – never try to force the issue
  • Protect your cat against whatever they fear
  • Build the cat’s confidence by introducing them to situations in which you arrange for a positive outcome
  • Strive for clear communication with your cat
  • Always ensure adequate exercise and a healthy diet
  • Give your new cat a safe place where they can go to get away from it all

10 Specific Rehabilitation Measures

  1. Always speak quietly and encourage others in the household to do the same. Whisper “commands.” There’s never any advantage to shouting. It doesn’t make the message any clearer.
  2. Try sitting in a quiet room at night with your new cat. Prevent them from totally dismissing you and avoiding your company by strategically closing certain doors. Sit quietly on a couch or bed and read a good book. Make sure the cat is hungry before you start and arm yourself with delicious treats. Toss or slide the occasional food treat across the floor toward them. When a paw emerges from beneath the sofa, you are on the right track. When they take a pace or two toward you, you’re getting warmer. “Baby steps” should be incrementally rewarded with additional food. It is the best way to engender confidence and trust. Never try to hurry things along.
  3. If your cat shows separation anxiety, arrange for them to have plenty to do when you have to go out.
  4. If strangers terrify your cat, protect them from any outsider’s well-meaning advances.
  5. Engage a “reverse dominance” program, in which your cat has everything they want and need for free. Do not make them work for food, praise, toys or your attention. These should always be available at no cost.
  6. One excellent way to build a cat’s confidence is through click-and-treat training (a.k.a. “clicker training”). In this type of training, the pet is “empowered” by having the opportunity to find a way to make you click and thus receive a reward. Once cats figure out how the game is played, they may prefer the “game” over the reward. Think of click-and-treat training as a means of non-verbal communication. Signals or voice cues can be added at a later stage.
  7. Take care of the cat’s basic biological needs by providing aerobic exercise and a healthy diet. Cats need an opportunity to release energy in explosive bursts to dissipate their predatory tendencies. A tired cat is a good and happy pet!
  8. Once appropriate background measures are in place, and the cat is on the mend, it is time to consider active rehabilitation in the form of desensitization. Desensitization is the behavioral equivalent of homeopathy: A little bit of what ails (a step-wise approach to feared person or situation) is employed under close control to do some good.
  9. Desensitization is best performed in conjunction with counter-conditioning – a process in which animals’ fear cues are associated with a positive (or, at least, different) response. The usual strategy is to replace a previously fearful response with an appetitive response using delicious food as the conditioner.
  10. With reference to training, as ethologist Konrad Lorenz once said, “Art and science aren’t enough; patience is the basic stuff.” This is especially true when it comes to rehabilitating formerly abused animals. Such animals present the greatest challenge, because they are not blank slates for inscription, but rather have already been exposed to unerasable, unfortunate learning. However, this is not to say that amazing turnarounds cannot be achieved – for they can – only that trainers must work hard with such pets to superimpose new learning that will submerge earlier adverse learning experiences.

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FAQs

How to Care for An Abused Cat - PetPlace? ›

How to Proceed with Rehabilitation of an Abused Cat
  1. Make your cat feel needed and loved.
  2. Allow your new cat to become accustomed to you at their own pace – never try to force the issue.
  3. Protect your cat against whatever they fear.
Feb 25, 2022

How long does it take an abused cat to trust you? ›

It really depends on his age: kittens up to 10 weeks are generally easy to socialise (it will take you a few months), and older cats are mire challenging (can take up to a few years) but not impossible!

Will a cat forgive abuse? ›

If a cat has been systematically abused, it will be psychologically scarred. Traumatic events form part of a cat's long-term memory and stay with the cat forever. The cat will never forget its ordeal but may be prepared to forgive abuse if given enough time.

How do you treat a traumatized cat? ›

Cats with severe PTSD usually get treated with medication, exercise, and play therapy. Lil Man does not have severe PTSD, and I usually calm him by loving on him, baby-talking him, giving him tuna, and cuddling with him. It soothes his fear.

Do cats remember traumatic events? ›

Experts think that the long-term memories that “stick” the most in pets are those having to do with very positive or very negative events, “such as those related to food and survival, and events that have an emotional impact,” as PetMD puts it. Some cats will remember traumatic events for the rest of their lives.

How do you tell a cat has been abused? ›

Signs of Animal Abuse
  1. Tucked tail, flinches at human contact.
  2. Unexplained fractures or limping.
  3. Unprovoked aggression, whining, or whimpering.
  4. Overly submissive (rolling onto back, tail tucked, urinating)
  5. Suddenly avoiding any physical contact.
  6. Attempts to bite or scratch when petted.
Sep 6, 2018

Can you rebuild a bond with a cat? ›

The good news is, despite their reputations for being antisocial, cats love bonding and they do forgive and forget. So, if you're at a loss as to how you're going to rebuild trust and affection with your cat, don't fret.

How do you adjust a scared cat? ›

Put off loud chores or events like vacuuming, moving furniture, or dinner parties until later. It helps to play soft music and use calming scents to make the environment more comforting to the fearful cat. Talk softly and move slowly around your cat.

How do you say sorry to a cat? ›

How to apologize to a cat? Give your cat some time to calm down, then apologize softly while blinking slowly at them. Remember to praise your cat and reward them with treats or catnip. Spending some quality time together, with lots of petting and games, should ease your cat.

How long does a cat hold a grudge? ›

So, even if a cat can hold a grudge, the grudge shouldn't last for more than a few hours at best. Cats are extremely forgiving animals and will forgive you in a matter of minutes if you make an invitation to friendship.

How long does it take for a cat to get over trauma? ›

It usually takes about one to two weeks for your cat to recover from a soft tissue injury, but you should restrict activity until several days after limping is gone.

How do traumatized cats act? ›

Signs of Emotional Trauma in Cats and Dogs

Trauma can also manifest as “shaking, hiding, urination and/or defecation when the trigger attempts to interact, howling, pacing, excessive vocalization, and panting,” says Pia Silvani, director of behavioral rehabilitation at the ASPCA's Behavioral Rehabilitation Center.

Will a scared cat starve itself? ›

A cat will literally starve himself to death,” says Dr. Lander. If a cat does not eat for a few days, other problems can ensue: Fat becomes mobilized in the bloodstream and can clog the liver, causing liver failure.

What happens to an abused cat? ›

Abused cats often run or hide when they recognize anything related to that abuse. They may become aggressive and take out their anxiety on other animals or people. Breaking down and changing these behaviors can be a difficult, lifelong process.

Can cats be mentally abused? ›

Yelling, raising your voice, or using disciplinary tools such as flyswatters or water guns the wrong way can lead to emotional damage. If you continue to use the wrong means of discipline on an emotionally damaged cat, the cat can become mean or lethargic. When a cat turns mean, it's not always a bad thing.

Will my cat ever trust me again? ›

Once a cat has become scared of a person, it really can take weeks, or perhaps even months, to regain her trust.

How do I get my cat to love me again? ›

How to Get a Cat to Like You: 6 Easy Tips
  1. Watch Your Body Language. If a cat feels fear, she's more likely to hide or avoid you. ...
  2. Let the Cat Approach You. Cats can be irresistibly adorable. ...
  3. Observe the Cat's Likes and Dislikes. ...
  4. Keep Calm and Stay Positive. ...
  5. Use Treats Strategically. ...
  6. Play with the Cat—But Know When to Stop.
May 4, 2017

Can I gain my cat's trust back? ›

The first step in earning your cat's trust back is to not corner her or insist she interact with you. Encourage your cat to come to you by using the method of formally greeting cats while you are sitting or crouching a few feet or across the room from her. Extend one finger towards her at cat-nose level.

How long will a scared cat hide? ›

A very startled cat may hide for 1-5 hours or until the scary thing stops or leaves. If a cat is new to your home, it may hide for 1-2 days after being startled. If the cat was a stray, it might hide for up to 7 days, especially if it's upset by all the new stimulus in your yard.

Do cats remember when you yell at them? ›

Cats don't understand when you scold them or tell them off. Scolding makes sense to humans, but it won't make any sense to your cat because it lives in the moment. When you scold cats, they have no idea why you yelled at them. Your cat might start avoiding you or feel uneasy around you.

Can you hurt your cat's feelings? ›

Shouting at the TV when your cat is curled in your lap is a guaranteed way to hurt your cat's feelings. Don't be surprised when they get up and leave. Making loud noises shows you don't always respect your cat's sensitivities, and it could cause your cat to avoid spending time with you.

Should you hiss back at your cat? ›

You shouldn't hiss at your cat because they might perceive your hissing as a threat and become scared. Since cats use hissing as a defensive mechanism to express discomfort, stress, or fear and to avoid confrontation, you should also avoid using hissing to discipline them.

How long does it take for a cat to forget its owner? ›

You may be wondering if your cat will remember you after you've been away on holiday or if your friend's cat remembers you after you spent a week pet sitting. A cat's short-term memory lasts around 16 hours (if it is something that your cat thinks is important to remember) and their long-term memory is indefinite.

Can cats get mad at you? ›

If a cat is mad or annoyed with you, they might leave the area you're in or sit and stare at you from across the room, just observing your movements. Sometimes it's best to just give your cat some space to calm down, especially if there is something that is stressing them out.

Can you earn a cats trust back? ›

The first step in earning your cat's trust back is to not corner her or insist she interact with you. Encourage your cat to come to you by using the method of formally greeting cats while you are sitting or crouching a few feet or across the room from her. Extend one finger towards her at cat-nose level.

Will my cat ever trust me again? ›

Once a cat has become scared of a person, it really can take weeks, or perhaps even months, to regain her trust.

How do you apologize to a cat? ›

How to apologize to a cat? Give your cat some time to calm down, then apologize softly while blinking slowly at them. Remember to praise your cat and reward them with treats or catnip. Spending some quality time together, with lots of petting and games, should ease your cat.

How do you adjust a scared cat? ›

Put off loud chores or events like vacuuming, moving furniture, or dinner parties until later. It helps to play soft music and use calming scents to make the environment more comforting to the fearful cat. Talk softly and move slowly around your cat.

How can I make my cat feel safe? ›

Ways to make your cat feel safe at home
  1. Stick to a routine. Few things please a cat more than routine. ...
  2. They need their own space. ...
  3. Always try and remain calm. ...
  4. Introduce new things slowly. ...
  5. Use their sense of smell. ...
  6. Provide plenty of physical and mental stimulation. ...
  7. Ensure they have easy access to litter boxes.

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