An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

"Don't Touch Me" Cat Wants Advice on Handling Human

Dear Greyce,

Chaplin and Her Sister Skittles
My purrson is concerned about my don't-touch-me nature.

I am one-year-and-a-quarter years old and was adopted about three months ago along with my sister, Chaplin. We look a lot alike except she has long hair while mine is short.

We lived with a cat hoarder and were not used to people. After we were rescued, we stayed in a shelter and were then adopted. Now we live in a home with Himself, Herself and their baby. The latter two are home most of the time.

When we arrived in our new home, Chaplin was skittish and I was terrified so whenever anyone entered the room I was in, I ran and hid. Thankfully Themselves have been very patient and have respected our need for space. Chaplin is now an attention-getter but I still don't want to be touched. I will play with people as long as there is no contact.

I let Themselves come within inches of me and no closer. Once, Himself was able to pet me because I wasn't looking and thought Chaplin was touching me. She and I are inseparable. I sit wherever she is and I no longer hide as much. And I prefurr to be down low (nearer the floor) rather than higher up.

We free feed on dry food. Food doesn't really excite me although I will sometimes take treats.

My lack of desire for physical contact with purrsons bothers Himself very much. What can I do?


Dear Brave Cat Skittles,

Yes Skittles, you ARE a very brave cat who has come a long way and I am very proud of you. Within the space of three months you have gone from being terrified to being able to be within inches of your purrsons - as long as they don't touch you. That is remarkable progress.

Themselves may be expecting you to be more like your sister because you are related. But even siblings have different purrsonalities and so Chaplin's more adaptive nature is not a reflection on you. You have your own talents and need to blossom in your own time. You may even be one of those cats (and there are some) who are happy playing with their purrsons, purrhaps even sitting beside them, but definitely do not want to be touched. Before we reach that conclusion, however, let's try to get you comfortable with touch.

Before attempting even that, let's make sure you measures are taken to build up your confidence and give you a greater sense of security. Try all or any of the following:

- install a Feliway diffuser in the room where you hang out most with Themselves. Feliway is a synthetic facial pheromone and gives us cats a sense of comfort. It is available from pet supply stores and some vet clinics. Just remember to get the diffuser rather than the spray. Then it can be left in a wall socket for up to a month and still do its work at helping you relax. (For further information consult my entry, What Good is Feliway? April 30, 2010).

- encourage the use of hiding boxes (used cartons with an opening in the front and in the back - for entry and escape),  as well as big paper bags with the ends rolled into a collar so they hold their shape - either can be  suitable hiding places. Also suggest that furnishings be kept a bit away from the walls so they create a safe corridor for you to travel from place to place without having to go through the middle of the room.

- ask for a cat tree (NOT a cat tower) for Chaplin and yourself, especially if the baby in the house is becoming a toddler. It is difficult for toddlers to resist us, especially our tails, and a cat tree offers a safe means of escape while enabling us to remain in the same room. For more information on cat trees, consult my entry: A Cat Tree for Every Cat (February 7, 2010).

Okay, let's move on to touch, itself:

Always make sure you get enough interactive play.  Encourage Themselves to consult the tab at the top of my blog on this topic because it is full of tips. It won't make you more easy to touch but it WILL lower your arousal and stress levels. THEN suggest the use of a Peacock feather for interactive play because it is long and very, very gentle. (I get mine at the local dollar store.) If you like to follow the feather, it can be drifted over your furs to start getting you used to contact. Let them start with just one light stroke and s-l-o-w-l-y work up, never exceeding your tolerance level.

Try a wet food treat - using a small can of wet food which, purrhaps you could share with Chaplin at a special time in your day. Wet food takes longer to eat that a piece of kibble, which is why I suggest giving it a try. But if you don't like it, then use a kibble treat instead. Have Himself present you with a small portion on a spoon or popsicle stick. Start with the spoon or stick left at a comfortable distance (say, 6 inches) from where you are. (Obviously he would hold the spoon or stick). Slowly (say about 1/2 inch a day) he can work up to decreasing the distance between you and the stick.

At some point while you a licking the food, his index finger might gently breeze by your cheek - just once, just lightly. If you are okay with that, then he can s-l-o-w-l-y work up to having his finger gently rub your cheek while you are eating . . . and work up from there. The key words are gently and slowly so that your tolerance is not exceeded. If it is too much for you, have him back off a bit, decrease the distance and keep it there for several days before progressing forward again.

Also consult my entry: Skittish Cat Meets Demonstrative Human (August 11, 2013) for more tips on getting you used to touch and Kitten Scared of Humans (April 28, 2013) for information on the use of Tellington T Touch and a technique I call, the hidden hand.

And don't forget to remind Themselves to take a few deep breaths before working with you on touch, just to lower their own anxiety levels and allow everyone to have a relaxed time. Short, slow and gentle sessions are the key to success.

If none of these works for you, then I think everyone just need to give you a lot more time and purrhaps recognize that you are not a "touch me" cat. Some of us aren't and that is okay, too.

I wish you every success,