Help settle our nervous ex-stray!


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Welcomed an ex-stray into your home? Our behaviourist shares her advice about settling his nerves.

(Q) We managed to catch a stray cat that had been visiting us and had the vet neuter and test him. He has been with us for nearly four weeks and I'm worried that he's not settling in well.

He spends most of his time hiding under the bed and comes out only in the evening for food and to use the litter tray. He allows me to give him some fuss but is absolutely petrifi ed of my husband, although he did allow my mum to stroke him.

We feel sad for him as he probably had a better quality of life being outdoors with us feeding him. Do you have any tips on how we could help him settle into our home and build up a relationship with my husband?

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Behaviourist Francesca Riccomini says: It is possible that this little guy was not well socialized with people when he was young. If cats do not have good experiences with people of both sexes and different ages between the age of two and seven weeks, they do not form a good template for relating to people. He may have been badly treated by a man or simply never got very close to men before. His reaction may be worse if your husband is imposing in stature.

Don't try to touch the cat. Instead, use your voices, constantly talking in a gentle, quiet but monotonous tone, crouching down, avoiding eye contact. You could just sit in the same area reading and chatting, perhaps extending a hand behind you without looking at the cat or throw a toy as an 'invitation'. Aim to make your presence as non-intimidating as possible. You could also fi nd a tasty treat and offer this on a cloth with a very high dose of your husband's scent (an old T-shirt or towel that he's slept on) to try and build up positive associations.

Above all, the secret of success in these circumstances is having realistic expectations and being patient. You could also help him feel safe by using Feliway to create a reassuring environment and creating lots of hiding places. Cats prefer high up, dark places. If ultimately you decide that it is not fair to keep him as an indoor pet perhaps you could give him an outdoor environment, say a shed with a cat flap, and give him everything he needs there, as least you'll know he'll be safe, well fed and healthy here.