Fearful foster cats

Protocol for working with fearful cats in foster homes

Setting Up

Have a quiet space (room/condo) set up for the cat prior to taking out of carrier. The space should include:

  • Litterbox, preferably uncovered and large enough for the cat.

  • Food and water bowls in an area as far away as possible from the litterbox.

  • Hiding area (a box, bed or cubby area – milk crates are usually good!)

    • Try to have this area tipped on the side so the cat can easily walk in and out of the hiding spot.

    • Block off hiding areas that will not allow you to get to the cat (i.e. under furniture).

  • Soft area for sleeping (this may or may not be the same as the hiding area in the beginning).

  • You may want to add lavender or honeysuckle scent to a bed – a little dab’ll do ya – don’t add too much as the scent may be overwhelming to a cat. They have a more sensitive olfactory system than humans do.

  • Available toys (anything NON-edible, keep pole toys or long string-like toys for interactive play only).

First 24-48 Hours

Allow the cat time to explore his new space quietly.

  • Spend time sitting in the room with the cat, especially around feeding time.

  • Do not try to pet or otherwise interact with the cat unless he solicits attention from you.

  • If the cat chooses to avoid you, let him.

  • You may want to play classical music at times in the room.

  • Keep notes about your interactions and observations.

After the First 24-48 Hours

Feed the cat on a schedule:

  • Give 2-3 small meals per day (unless otherwise instructed by the veterinary department).

  • Leave the food available for approximately 30 minutes at a time, and then remove when you leave the room. We want to pair your presence with good stuff!

  • If the cat will not eat when you are in the room, spend a few minutes in the room when you provide the food (10 minutes or so) then leave the cat alone for about 30 minutes to see if he eats while you are gone.

  • If the cat still won’t eat when alone, then leave food available overnight in his space. Some cats are more comfortable eating at night.

Introduce play time.

  • Start to play with pole toys, try tossing small mice or balls for the cat to chase.

Allow the cat to safely interact with you – let the cat touch you first!

  • Try to sit still and do not move your hands toward the cat when they are approaching, rubbing on, sniffing you.

  • You may start to hold out your hand to allow the cat to approach. If he rubs his head on you (headbutts) then you may gently start to try to pet him on his head, chin, or shoulder area only.

  • Provide treats and/or toys as rewards for coming near you.

Keep notes about your interactions and observations.

Weekly Check-In with Foster Care Department

  • Please include your daily notes about your interactions with, and observations of your foster cat.

  • You may provide video/pictures if you think they would be useful.

  • Your cat’s behavior modification plan may be adjusted based on an individual’s behavior history and progress as noted on your weekly check in.

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