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My Pet World: Helping a traumatized cat trust his environment again

By Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

After seven months missing, our indoor cat was found by a neighbor. The poor cat suffered through below zero temperatures. We are assuming he lived in a garage or barn. Our neighbors were not aware our cat was missing. They found him eating out of one of their cat dishes in the middle of the night. They trapped the cat and brought him to us. The cat immediately ran down a hallway and hid under our bed. This is very normal for him to do.

It has been three weeks. He continues to live under the bed coming out in the middle of the night to use the litter box and to eat. The past few days we've dragged him out (from under the bed), and he has let us pet him for about five minutes. Then he goes crazy and runs under the bed.

My question to you is, can he be saved? I miss the old friendly cat, but understand he's been through a lot. -- Marti, Coventry, CT

Dear Marti,

Your poor cat! It's not easy for a comfortable housecat to suddenly be outside in the frigid cold. Thank goodness your neighbors found him.

Your cat has suffered a trauma and needs time to feel safe again in his home. Talk to your veterinarian about giving your cat some medication, like Prozac, to reduce your cat's fears. Don't grab him to medicate him. Instead, crush the medication and sprinkle it on some wet cat food.

Next, put a few hidey hole cubbies around the house to give your cat some additional places to hide. This may encourage him to come out from under the bed and try a new hiding place, eventually making his way to you.

Finally, sit in the room where your cat is hiding and talk softly to him. Toss treats onto the floor or get a ribbon toy to entice him out from under the bed. Once he is out from under the bed, don't make any sudden movements to grab him or pick him up. He is startling very easy right now, and we don't want to reinforce his fears.

It could take weeks or months for him to recover, but please don't give up on him. He can recover. Your cat just needs your love and patience -- and a little medication -- to trust his environment again.

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