The Thinker

Coaxing the Cat

Language is a wonderful invention. If only we could talk to the animals like Doctor Doolittle, perhaps life’s little adventures with our pets, like trying to pill a cat, would be much less stressful on all concerned.

Our three year old cat Arthur has been with us almost two months. Whereas he used to spend 90% of his time hiding in fear behind the couch, now he spends about 25% of his time there. He can come out when coaxed a bit, and sometimes when not coaxed. When he comes out we lavish him with attention, which mainly consists of petting and belly rubs. He purrs outrageously.

But he is a cat from a shelter. He spent a year in a cattery with thirty plus other cats. So it is not surprising that he is skittish. He is used to being vigilant 24/7. He is constantly watching for threats. In short, he has not learned to trust us, probably because he was abused by a previous owner. If we approach him he generally backs away toward a safe distance. We usually have to get on the floor or assume a non threatening posture before he will move toward us. Our approaching steps give him plenty of warning. He assumes the worst: that there is some evildoer out to kill him. He figures it is better to be safe than sorry. So behind the couch he goes.

Arthur must have lived a Spartan life. He does not know how to enjoy life. We bought him a nice, comfortable cat bed and even tried placing him in it, and he runs away from it. We also have gotten him a scratching post. He will not go near it. Instead of a nice cushy cat bed, he chooses to sleep behind the couch. There he feels relatively safe, but he is always facing with his eyes looking outward so he can react to potential threats. Our last cats liked nothing more than to rest in the sunbeam in the middle of the living room floor. He either doesn’t understand its allure or sees being out in the open like that to be too much of a threat.

He likes the safety of our screened in deck. When weather allows we send him out there. He vigilantly looks down upon the lawn in search of other animals. A cat wandered into our yard once. That got him very excited. The days are now shorter and cooler now, so it is harder to send him outside. However, he must petition us endlessly even if after going outside in 40 degree weather he quickly decides maybe inside is better. He is very polite about petitioning though. He will sit a few feet from the door and stare at it. Surely, he must think, if I stare at it long enough it will open. Of course if the weather permits we let him out. We do not have a pet door.

He has also discovered the basement. Aside from the deck, it is his favorite place. He traipses down the stairs and sits on the old couch in the family room, facing the door. This way, of course, he has plenty of warning if predators are approaching. I think this is where he finds the most peace. He has at least thirty seconds to hide, if necessary. It is quiet and cool in the basement. I come down in the evenings to say hello. I often bring a kitty treat or two. He is a bit reluctant to let me sit next to him, but eventually accommodates. Getting a tummy rub is too much of a temptation.

Arthur is also an oral cat. Thankfully he is not particularly aural. His meows are more like high pitched squeaks, which makes him rather enduring. He would just as soon lick you as have you pet him. His sandpaper tongue is a bit annoying, but it is his way of saying he loves you. He would be thrilled to lick your finger or, better yet, gently gnaw on a digit or two. Arthur is amazingly respectful for a cat. He has never scratched us or bit us out of malice. In fact, his one game with us is to gently push our hands away with his paws when he is lying on his back. He is inured to typical cat toys. Even a peacock feather failed to elicit a playful reaction from him.

For a homeless and likely previously abused cat, Arthur is adopting rather well. Still, earning his full trust will require many more months, at least. On occasion he can be coaxed on to our laps, but only for a moment. Like virtually all cats he has the ability to jump on couches and countertops. However, he prefers the floor. Maybe he figures they are forbidden territory.

So earning his trust is a long term project. This is why his recent bladder infection was particularly unwelcome. A few weeks ago we noticed the pungent smell of urine when the heat went on. In fact, it was so bad I nearly had to leave the house. We investigated the heating grates and sure enough, there was evidence that he left his markings. We have had enough cats to suspect what the issue was: a urinary tract infection.

Off to the vet he went. He did better getting into the cat carrier than I expected. Still he whined all the way to the vet, but calmed down once he was in the office. They had to keep him all day in order to get a urine sample. Sure enough, the UTI was confirmed. We were given a two week supply of pills. But they also wanted us to put drops into his ears and eyes. Uh oh.

At first, getting the pills into him turned out to be rather easy. They have these Pill Pocket thingies now for pets. You place the pill inside and generally the cat or dog just gulps it down. They think they are eating chicken or fish or whatever. As for the ear and eye drops, they quickly became impossible to administer. Arthur simply did not trust us enough. Both my wife and I have scars on our arms from valiant attempts to keep him restrained while the other person put them in. In fact, medicating him made the situation worse. He spent more time behind the couch, not less. Eventually we decided the trauma we were inflicting was counterproductive. We gave up on the drops for now.

Then a few days ago Arthur figured out that there was something funny tasting inside those pill pockets. He became reluctant to eat them. We could have picked him up and tried to shove them down his throat, but we knew that would exacerbate his trust problem. So we were reduced to coaxing. And if you know cats you know how well that worked. I was reduced to putting it in his food dish and waiting until he got hungry enough to eat it.

A return trip to the vet yesterday gave ambiguous results on whether the infection had cleared up. Fortunately we returned with a different flavor of pill pocket, this one salmon flavored. Arthur decided this one was okay to eat. With less than two days of pills left, we may get through the UTI problem. Still, our house still smells somewhat of cat urine. I have cleaned the heating grates with a professional cat spray odor remover. I did the same thing to the wood floors. I sprayed parts of the carpet. The odor still lingers from time to time. I hate it.

Hopefully the UTI and spraying problems are now behind us. He hasn’t been digging at his ears as much so we are hopeful there too. Perhaps we can now regain his trust. Perhaps eventually we will reach the point where he will realize we are there to help him, not to hurt him. We are looking forward to it because while he is a skittish cat, he has a fundamentally sweet nature.

I keep hoping that one of these days he will nestle into my lap like my last cat Sprite so enjoyed. He may not be a lap cat at heart. I have coaxed him up on our bed a few times, and he enjoyed the attention he got. But the road to winning his full trust will likely be a long one. Perhaps if he has a long enough respite from further medical issues, he will feel like a full member of the family.


One Response to “Coaxing the Cat”

  1. 5:24 pm on November 3 2006, Molly said:

    They are tough, those cats. Eventually he will be underfoot and in your face all the time. You guys are doing a good job trying to make him feel at home. Cats are really more adaptable than we give them credit for.

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