Question: We just moved here with our 12-year-old cat. He traveled well, and for the first few days roamed through the house. Then something spooked him because he ran into the utility room closet and won’t leave that area. He eats and uses the litter box, but if we pick him up and start walking to the main part of the house, he escapes and scrambles back to the closet. It’s been a month now. What to do?
Answer: There are good reasons why “fraidy cat” is a time-tested taunt. We’ve just never run across any until your question. Based on the way Accessory Dog reacts to motorcycles, vacuums and crinkling plastic, “scaredy canine” is a perfectly acceptable substitute. But since most dogs don’t cower when a few stray kernels pop inside the microwaved bag, we’ll accept Accessory Dog is overly timid.
This is a good time to remember that all cats, even “fraidy: ones, have sharp claws that can cut before you know you’re bleeding. Keep that in mind if you try to force your cat to do something it does not want to do.
And in this case, you certainly can’t force your feline to accept comfort and security until he’s good and ready, said Valley cat behaviorist Jane Ehrlich (cattitudebehavior.com). So pull on your patience hat, set your watch for cat time and settle in for a long, slow adaptive process.
Close the utility room door and usher him to a quiet back room. Give him a brief tour consisting only of the highlights — food, litter box, a few favorite toys or a blanket. Put up a cat perch, if he likes that sort of thing.
This is merely the start. Just because your cat recognizes the comforts of home, it won’t necessarily mean he’s comfortable, Ehrlich said. Be sure to refrain from picking him up because he must set his own pace.
Feel free to encourage him to settle in. Every now and then, leave one of his favorite treats in the doorway. If they quickly disappear, place a few more further inside. You can also plug in a Feliway dispenser, which spreads calming pheromones. Dispensers are widely available online.
If your cat refuses to stay in the room any longer than it takes to eat and do his business, try the same set up in a different room. The more he is urged to explore, the more likely he’ll be to feel save throughout the house rather than in any food-infested rooms.
Odds are good he will come around as long as he’s able to do it on his own time.