Why won't my cat let me pet him?

by Patricia
(Mississauga, Ontario)

I recently adopted two cats from an adoption service. The previous owner had died suddenly, so no background info was available. One is a one-year-old Russian Blue, and the other a two-year-old seal point Siamese.

I gave the "boys" time to get to know their new home. They went into hiding for about 6/7 days. The first to come out for attention was Shadow. He "bowed" down paws stretched out, head on paws and accepted my loving pets and soft words of encouragement.

Next came Milo but with much more hesitation. He quickly got over his shyness and is my side-kick.

Shadow shies away from any attempt I make to pet him - he won't come for his food until I leave the room.

I've tried playing with him, talking softly with him but nothing seems to work. The two cats love each other and sleep curled up together during the day, and keep me awake at night thundering through my home.

I just wish Shadow would let me pet him and get closer to me. I've never owned a cat who didn't end up acting like a dog, rolling over for tummy pets, talking and interacting with me.

Any thoughts out there about my situation?


Reply from Caroline (Admin):

You don't say, Patricia, whether Shadow is the Russian Blue or the Siamese. (From his name, I'm thinking he may be the Russian Blue?)

But either way, I feel he may just need more time. With rescue cats, it's sometimes difficult to know what they were like in their previous lives.

Cats are very much creatures of habit, and I've heard of some adopted cats taking up to six months to come to terms with their new circumstances - new owner, new home, new surroundings, new feeding patterns, new toys ... all rather confusing!

Cats sometimes respond best to a little 'healthy neglect' and people who ignore them - so why not try this for Shadow?

Beyond feeding him and making sure he has enough water, leave him completely alone and let him come to terms with everything in his own way.

Play with Milo as much as he'll allow you to - that way Shadow will see that you're not someone to be scared of.

Hope this helps, do pop back from time to time and let us know how they're getting on.

Any other thoughts, anyone? Please use the 'Comments' form below if you have any ideas for Patricia.

Comments for Why won't my cat let me pet him?

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May 25, 2013
Update on CoCo
by: Sarah

I was just reading "Meezer Musings" for the month of May and really enjoyed Luke's "Rags to Riches" story. This cat seemed to be quite adaptable to humans but not other cats.

Meanwhile, my cat CoCo who seems to love other cats but not humans, continues to make creeping progress. She now meows at me once a day just before dinner time. She also slept in the bed with me two nights in a row during a recent temperature drop, but has not been back since. I was quite surprised to wake up at 2 a.m. and find her curled up behind my knees.

Having said that, we seem to be back at square one again, and I still can't touch her without her running away or biting. I did try pheromones as per your suggestion (got them while on a jaunt to the U.S. for $20 at PetCo).

The vet has also introduced me to a Royal Canin Feed called "Calm". It is supposed to release Tryptofan into the cat's system over an extended period and relax them.

She and Baltazaar are now due to be fixed next week. I have bought a second carrier and a pair of PVC gloves. I hope she will not be able to scratch or chew her way through that because I have definitely seen her draw human blood before.

Reply from Caroline: Good luck next week Sarah, let us know how it goes. Progress can be so slow, but it does sounds as if you are making progress! At least she now sees you as a source of warmth and food and trusts you enough to sleep beside you, even if only temporarily. The Royal Canin food sounds like a good idea, I haven't heard of that so will investigate and look out for it.

Apr 27, 2013
Meezer Musings
by: Sarah

I just finished reading your wonderful newsletter for the month of April.

I really enjoyed seeing CoCo in the headlines. I have been following your advice. So far, nothing has changed but I will continue to be patient. I will let you know if things progress.

She is due to be fixed at the end of May. I explained some of her behaviour issues to the veterinarian and he tells me that rather than having me give her medication post-op he is going to inject her with a slow releasing morphine that will help with her pain for three days. I feel that this is a lot more humane that trying to shove pills down her throat.

Thank you for your interest and support, it really makes a difference!

Reply from Caroline: Glad you liked the newsletter, Sarah! You may find of course that CoCo's a different character after being spayed; sometimes females do settle down then. Good idea of the vet's about the slow-release pain-killer too, to avoid you having to handle her unnecessarily.

Good luck! You've done a great thing by taking her and giving her a loving home, she loves your other cat, and I hope your other cat loves her. She will come round - maybe not today, next week, or even perhaps next month, but probably when you least expect it.

Apr 15, 2013
Thank You
by: Sarah

Thank you for your kind words Caroline, they are greatly appreciated.

I will try acting indifferent as you suggested. I will also try the pheromone spray as well. Certainly a much better deal than the vet suggested. She is not a bad cat. She is clean, well behaved and seems highly intelligent, even for a Siamese. Even when she bites and scratches at me she is gentle when she does it, so I know she feels she is defending herself.

When the situation does get to me I remind myself that I am still blessed to have the affection of the Chocolate Point (I named him Baltazaar he is "My little wise man").

Thanks for your encouragement. I will keep you posted and let you know if I get any further with her.

Reply from Caroline: Thanks for your comment, Sarah. Good luck, and do let us know how you get on. I once read a story by a woman who'd adopted a Siamese from a rescue, and it took about six months for the cat to accept her. Once she was accepted, though, she was totally loved and they ended up having a great friendship. She also used this 'indifference' method!

Apr 14, 2013
For Sarah
by: Caroline (Admin)

A few thoughts for you, Sarah. I'm sorry this is happening; it's heartbreaking when the animals we take in don't take to us straight away, and even more so when they remind you of your previous cat. However, the fact that CoCo and your Chocolate Point get on well is a HUGE plus, as for many people the problem is that it's the cats that have problems with each other.

Perhaps you remind CoCo of someone who ill-treated her in the past - and if so, it may take longer (and a lot of patience) for her to accept you.

Sometimes a healthy dose of indifference can help. Cats can be suspicious of people who try too hard, so try ignoring her (apart from providing for her basic needs, obviously). Don't try and play with her or pet her, or even feed her by hand - just keep on talking to her gently to let her know you know she's there.

And wait for her to come to you. This may take quite a long time (many months, even) if she was ill-treated in her former life, but when she does accept you it will be worth it.

I don't know which pheromone product the vet suggested to you, but I've always recommended Feliway - Amazon sell the bottle version of this at $20, not $40, as you can see here:

Feliway Behavior Modifier Spray 75 ml

Just a spray or two in the corners where she normally hangs out or around her bed, might help. I have a bottle and it's lasted me ages - you don't need much!

Sounds as if you're already doing great if you've got her eating out of your hand now - but cats (like children) need a lot of time and patience if something has gone wrong in their lives in the past.

Apr 14, 2013
CoCo Very Unhappy With Me
by: Sarah

I recently took in a Seal Point female Siamese by the name of CoCo. I had lost my greatest friend, a seal point male, after 16 wonderful years together. He was a rescue as well so I was encouraged to try it again. Problem is, CoCo has hated the sight of me since day one.

When I went to go and pick her up she took one look at me and starting jumping up and down in the cat carrier in sheer terror. I took her home, where she promptly hid for two weeks. Now I see lots of her and she is looking much healthier but she won't let me touch her. If I even try she will hiss at me and bite me.

She will take food out of my hand but that's it. Bologna ...the great mediator.

Whenever I move my hands she becomes totally fixated and you can clearly see this angry look pass over her cute little face. She also does not meow, which is very unusual for a Siamese cat. When she get upset she makes these little huffing sounds, it sounds like she's running a marathon.

Meanwhile, I also have a chocolate point male that I purchased, and the two of them love each other. I do not want to give her up because she is clearly very happy with everything but me (lol) and the male loves her. He is very sweet and affectionate.

I pet him and talk to her to show her she has nothing to fear, and I swear she is looking at me like I am the biggest fool on the block. I tried catnip spray. She turned up her nose at it for a week straight.

The vet told me I could buy this pheromone spray and she might associate me with "happy feelings" that way. Turns out these "happy feelings" cost $40 a crack.

I tried toys. As soon as she sees my hands attached to the end of it she turns away. Since she looks so much like my Seal point who died, this is very disconcerting. Her mother was a very affectionate cat. I am having her fixed soon.

What gives? Any more suggestions? I have had her three months now.

Oct 30, 2012
New Seal Point Cat
by: Anonymous

I just became the owner of a Siamese Seal Point. Both his human parents are in a nursing home. From January till last weekend, Coco has been at their house alone, with a friend coming over daily to feed him.

I had just lost my kitty, and told Gwynn I would take Coco when she felt the time was right. She kept thinking she would get back home, but that is not her future.

I had been around Coco, but now he is mad at the world, hissing, growling, batting at me and my husband. We had to put him in a carrier (that was a hard job, thank goodness he didn't have claws) for a three hour car ride.

He is very vocal. He has been hiding ever since. I know he will come around - today, three days later, he let me touch his head, then turned around and went to hide again.

I have two old poodles, partially blind and deaf. I think they will be friends one day because they used to sleep with my sixteen-year-old cat, they used her as a heating blanket. I miss her so much, loving, never hissed but would talk with you - she would meow and it would sound like "Mama" - every morning and night.

I had never had a male cat before, and was sorta worried, but Coco loved both of the other people. They had him so spoiled that they would be using the massager on their shoulders and Coco would get in their face for a massage, it was an every night thing for him.

Wish me luck, he will either turn out to be the most loving animal, or the "No See Him" cat.

Clara, Denver, Colorado


Reply from Caroline, Admin:

Clara, it was so kind of you to take in Coco, and I'm sure his owners must be thrilled that he's found a home with you.

It will probably take some time for him to settle in - don't forget that his whole world has been turned upside down. He's no longer in his own quiet and familiar surroundings with 'his people'. As I said above, cats are creatures of habit, and you'll need to give him time to accept you and the dogs and your home as his own patch.

But I'm sure he'll come round. We once had a lovely story from someone who rescued an abandoned pair of Siamese - it took them a very long time to come round but they did, eventually, and I'm sure it won't be so long for Coco, who's used to having people and a home to love.

Good luck, just take things very slowly, and let him learn to accept you in his own time.

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