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Old 11-13-2011, 03:19 AM   #1 
purplemuffin
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Advice for a forever-feral cat

You would not believe how hard it is to google this problem, lol!

Last year my family adopted a "stray" cat. She was a family cat until they moved away and left her(jerks) and she became the neighborhood friendly cat. Anyway, we decided to give her a home as we were moving onto a farm property and she would have land to roam and hunt while being away from the highway(she was not willing to be an indoor cat, at least not fully. She was snuggly at night though!). Turns out she was pregnant!

We set up a little bed for her in the house where she gave birth to three little orange kittens. Yay, babies! Two days later, there is a fourth kitten, a grey one. This is the problem kitty. The reason I mentioned her birth, is I partially am curious if her delayed birth could be related to her mental state.

We raised the kittens in the house. From the moment they were walking around you could see their personalities forming. Forest, the smallest one was orange and white was spunky and bold and obnoxiously in your face(and he still is to this day, LOL), the 'twin' boys who were identical other than their meows, Geter and Russel were more laid back and liked to be on their own, though they purred ferociously when you even looked at them and just loved getting belly rubs. We gave Geter to a friend where he is living like a king, and Russel lives here with us, still lazy and loving life(and still purrs louder than a car engine I swear)

The little girl, though, always had fear issues. But only with people. Pet her as a baby and she'd scream for her mother. She'd play rambunctiously with the other kittens, but try to play with a feather toy and she'd run away as if you were trying to beat her. Even as an infant, picking her up caused a complete panic. We've tried to be gentle with her and tried to let her come to us on her own, but clearly she had issues with that. And it made it REALLY difficult to do simple things like vet checkups or going to get fixed. Just getting her in the carrier meant lots of bleeding and mentally scarring her further.

She's calmer when the other cats are near her, and oddly enough has fallen head over heels for our hyperactive dog and always has to be with her. Sometimes when she's sleeping you can pet her gently, and as she wakes up, she realizes she likes the pet and will even (quietly) start to purr(or drool, lol)

I have been very patient with her, and have been making some progress. She does like me, you can see she wants to be with me, but when I get close, she panics. We noticed interesting things. We had always been afraid to pet her because she'd attack your hand. Well, one night I decided not to flinch back when she attacked and just deal with it. She growled and moaned and patted my hand(which wasn't even near her, just out) until eventually she rubbed it and purred. I started to pet her and she purred more. I stop petting her, and she attacked again. She'd grab onto my hand (with claws) and pull it towards her face, where she'd rub it against her forehead.

There were a lot of weird mixed signals going on there haha.


People who meet her think we just grabbed a cat from the streets and tossed her in our house. She's got that whole feral cat fear about her. But it's a little different. You'd have to really be here to witness it, but you can see that she doesn't really understand how to be a cat. She doesn't even get along with her siblings anymore as well because she doesn't understand play or how to ask for attention. She does the same 'grab with claws' routine until they will nuzzle her, but that usually just ends up with her getting beat up. She's afraid of a lot of things--storms, new furniture, people, noises, whatever. She tends to respond to that fear very negatively, and it's hard to comfort her. She looks very confused, and it's difficult for her to learn new things. When we move something, it throws her for a loop for a long while. Despite how she acts, she is probably our most loyal cat. She always stays near us(out of reach) and even when the door was left open and the cats got out, she was the only cat to stay right by the door and run to us when we came home. She's also very needy in her own odd way.

I feel really close with her, despite her overwhelming fear issues. Those times when you do break through that shell and she nuzzles and purrs or even sits in my lap(only happened twice) are huge memories and really special to me. It's difficult, it feels like we have a lot to go through for her to fully trust us.


Does anyone have any advice for helping soothe our fearful little girl? Do you think this just may be the way she is? I love River, and I do wish she wasn't so nuts, but it's alright that she is, she just needs a little extra help I guess. I just want to make sure I can be the best owner possible for her!






The three kittens we kept




and of course, the embarrassing baby pictures :)
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Old 11-13-2011, 06:03 AM   #2 
Bellus Bellator
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I'm a veterinary nurse and I'd would guess that there's a few things going on here.

Firstly,her birth wasn't perfect.Truthfully if you'd called my work and said that your cats given birth but you can still feel a kitten and it's been over a few hours I would have told you to come in straight away.Having said that it can take up to 48 hours in some cases.I do not know for sure if this has affected her negativity as these sorts of births where the kitten is born large, strong and healthy are rareish.It may have been a lack of oxygen but I'm sure that you would have noticed if your mother cat had been straining for two days,I am assuming that she wasn't which means that the kitten was probably still safe inside it's placenta and nowhere along the uterine horn.However she may have still had a long labor even if she was safe for 24hours or so and I wouldn't be surprised if maybe lack of oxygen has played some small part.I would have a guess that being exposed to stress hormones at such high levels for so long may have affected her.I think this has been noted in humans and our brain chemistry is affected by it,however this study is over the entirety of the pregnancy.

Secondly she is what we at work call a naughty tortie (tortoiseshell/calico come under this banner,always female.) I have noticed that tortoiseshell/calico cats can be as nice as any other cat but are more likely to be a terrible patient than not.I for example have a nice one but when I first brought her home she was a terror. she will still bite occasionally and hates to be picked up.I don't know why this is but obviously the gene that allows this color/patterning also has companion genes that affect personality in some cats.

Thirdly she could just be an weirdie.(and she is a young female,give her time)She lacks simple social skills and whether this is because of some inherent personality trait or some neurological issue I can't say.But never fear there are plenty of odd pets out there.Recently a colleagues cat has just stopped interacting with them,just like that and will have pretty much nothing to do with them.Another friends cat went form cute, friendly,playful kitten to murderous adult.Who knows why?

I would guess that she would have always been a little bit this way but that maybe her difficult birth did not help.I would also say that it is too soon to tell what she'll be like forever.I have noticed in both my cats that they have had difficult "teen" years(essentially from the moment they can breed 5/7 months to about 18 months)
My youngest is still going through it,and does all sorts of things,attacking us,running away when we go to touch him,thundering around the house yowling at the top of his lungs, jumping on margot from a great height and just general frustrated, angsty teen behavior.A lot of the time I think he's testing his strength and skills and us

I don't know if anyone will ever be able to give you definitive answers.I would continue to interact with her as best as you can,without doing those things that set her right off.keep trying to get the occasional sneaky pat in there (maybe give her treats while you do it like roast chicken) and wait and see.I hope she mellows with age.
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Old 11-13-2011, 06:08 AM   #3 
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P.s At least she's beautiful! :D
Oh and I forgot......you can get a pheromone diffuser/spray called feliway.I've used it when we've moved house and it seems to work.Also next time you see the vet and there has been no change in personality ask them about medication to relax her,they can work wonders!

Last edited by Bellus Bellator; 11-13-2011 at 06:13 AM.
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Old 11-13-2011, 01:17 PM   #4 
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There are a lot of stress relievers you could try. Acupuncture would be one. Aromatherapy would be another. On the other hand, I have never really seen anyone be successful in changing a cat's personality. Yes, I have seen plenty of formerly feral cats be tamed down (it's on their terms though!), but you have had her from a kitten, a newborn kitten!
I have this theory about cat colors being related to personality. Obviously you will always find exceptions, but in general I have found calico and tortoiseshell cats to have severe socialization issues. We acquired a calico that was just nasty towards people. Always unpredictable. You could be petting her, and the next moment she is hissing and clawing at you. She also disliked other cats so much that she would mark everywhere when she so much as saw another cat, even though she had been raised with her sister and daughter (though we did not raise any of them). Most aren't this severe, they tend to just dislike "insert here", not try to eliminate. For torti, I have seen more shy behavior than aggression.

I know this might sound odd, but is she getting enough exercise? Do you have enough cat trees for her to climb? Interactive toys so she can "hunt". It could be that she is just a very physical cat and is kind of taking it out on you that she is bored and needs something to do. A laser pointer, cat wheel, or one of those toys that waves a wand around could help. I know that a cat wheel is expensive, but if you start exercising her more and notice her behavior is improving, you might consider investing in one.

http://www.catwheelcompany.com/home.cfm
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Old 11-13-2011, 02:17 PM   #5 
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Thanks so much, guys!

If I was home at the time of her birth we probably would have gone to the vet. My parents aren't the best with cats, they both grew up with barn cats and expect them to pretty much do their own thing. But the mama kitty definitely didn't seem to show signs of still being in labor, she was very focused on her kittens--being a little wild she could have been hiding the pain though. She was born late and a little weak, but nothing like the little kittens that don't make it. She was always a little slower to drink milk and the last to learn to eat solid foods but it wasn't by much(maybe a day or two after them)


Since she has started to calm down with age a bit I'll give her more time and be patient with her until she starts to feel safer. :) If she's always skittish, that's totally fine. I just would love to get to the point where I can hold or at least examine her if anything ever went wrong and she got hurt!


Well, she does have cat trees and climbing areas, but she's never been good at human socialization/play. So like with laser pointers she will stare at the laser, maybe gently paw at it, but never really chase it. Same thing with feather dancers and such. She's sort of a gentle cat when it comes to play time. she does climb and attack window blinds(lol no idea why, she loves/hates them) and we are planning to build them a cool enclosed outdoor deck area with a big cat tree in the center so they can have all that outdoor smell and sight stimulation without a chance of them running away or getting hurt. :) The only 'play' she seems good at is clawing and climbing, she never chases or wrestles or plays with toys much. We do have plenty laying around for her, lol!
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Old 11-13-2011, 05:12 PM   #6 
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You've made lots of progress with her! I had a feral cat for several years. For the first year, he lived under our car (except when we drove it, of course) so we built him a little house in the front yard. He was a sweet cat but he would not let you touch him. Never. I always wanted to take him into the vet but I never could catch him.

Anyway, my point being is I'm not sure River is feral. Feral cats don't really let you touch them and won't even go into houses, in my experience. I think River is just . . . psycho. It happens. My neighbor has a cat who is like that. She meows for attention and walks toward you purring and then will all of sudden attack your ankles. She was psycho as a kitten too although in her case, I think it's because they delayed getting her spayed for over a year and the poor thing was perpetually in heat. She was the living definition of a gutter snipe because she was always rolling around in the gutter waiting for a male to come around. o.O

I think the best thing you can do is follow all the great advice you've been given and keep on loving her. You're a great person to keep her and love her.

I think I rambled here. Oops.
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Old 11-13-2011, 08:54 PM   #7 
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I also want to add that my aunt got a kitten, and the kitten acted normal until they went on vacation and let the neighbor watch her. The neighbor had like 6 kids or something, and the poor kitten (now cat) never was the same since. She still can hardly stand to be around anyone. Of course we still aren't sure what happened, and I doubt that something like this happened with your kitty, but just one traumatic event can seriously mess up a cat for life.
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Old 11-13-2011, 09:05 PM   #8 
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I must say, Torties are... beyond moody. I have one, and they are often called a certain five letter word describing female dogs (no offense Ashes!).

I can't answer any questions about her birth. But I Can tell you my tortie girl can be every bit as moody. She kicks and wiggles and screams when she's picked up. Sometimes she'll let you touch her, other times she'll swat or bite.

Sorry I Can't give you any actual advice, beyond patience and more patience. She's definitely a moody tortie girl. Hope you have many happy years together
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Old 11-13-2011, 09:06 PM   #9 
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A neighbor of mine has a cat that was born out in the woods and lived outside until my neighbor adopted her. She was about 6 months old, I think. Ninja was an indoor outdoor cat until her owner moved here, then she became strictly indoors. She's adapted to staying indoors and she has got to be the most affectionate cat I've ever been around. She always wants to be in your lap and follows you around. I petsat for her and she would jump in my lap and purr and lay her head on my shoulder. lol It's hard to believe that she lived outside her first 6 months of life.
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Old 11-13-2011, 09:08 PM   #10 
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My cat was half Siamese and very independent. She only wanted to be touched on her terms. If she didn't want to be bothered she'd growl and hiss and I still have scars from when she would scratch the daylights out of me.
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